[spoilers] Collateral attractions: Halt and Catch Fire, episode 6

If you only watched the show and not the “about” vid, you may want to not read this. I’m not exactly sure what to advise. I had a substantially different feeling about the episode after seeing the vid, which I watched after watching the episode.]

Screen shot 2014-06-08 at 11.55.31 PM***

220px-Cabbage_patch_kids_logoI should probably say: I really loved this episode — it may have been the best one yet for me. I just loved the apparent contradictions the scriptwriters built into the show around the question of appearance vs authenticity. My reaction to the way they scripted what looks like it will be a decision to go with a more interactive BIOS is still a bit mixed; I’m always wondering if the symbolism in this isn’t too much. It’s not too much for me. But it often seems heavy-handed.

Let me say that I loved Gordon’s ongoing, increasingly dogged search for the Cabbage Patch Kid. Hilarious. (Here’s the culminating scene.) I didn’t have one, not having had a lot of dolls other than Barbies, but my younger cousin sure did! I remember that frenzy, and trying to buy one for cash from a stranger or breaking into a shop window to get at one during a hurricane would have totally been with the realm of possibility. Parents were crazed.


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Who is more beautiful, Joe (Lee Pace) or the LCD screen? About to push start on the prototype in episode 6 of Halt and Catch Fire. Screencap from material at amctv.com


Dad was bored. Computers were always just machines to him even though he did systems analysis and so his personality, if not his technical skills, were more like Gordon’s than Cameron’s. And not much tech to geek out over in this episode; the main question is whether the OS Cameron’s developing should have interactive features similar to those that the early text-based computer games had.

Cameron has the important insight (unfortunately at the expense of one of her colleagues, who seems to be a bit in love with her) that one can fall in love with a machine to which one assigns some sort of emotional valence, and that this can be enhanced by making the machine appear interactive. The result was entrancing — and it had been known since the development of the computer software ELIZA in 1966 — but the general public was just beginning to discover the charms of natural language processing in the early 80s. Our TRS-80 Model III had a version of ELIZA that ran on a tape drive, and I remember playing with it for hours to see what it would say to me. It was also incredibly calming. This is great drama — I think — more about that question below — but it leaves the tech in the dust.


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Joe asks Cameron why she cares about the truth behind his scars in episode 6 of Halt and Catch Fire. My cap.


So what about the drama? The episode opens with that great scene where Joe is making love with Cameron (he looks like he’s a fairly generous lover, which I would not have expected) and Cameron once again puts the identity question: where did you get those scars? The question is now as much metaphorical as it is literal. In answer, Joe tells her two stories that she recognizes as lies (thankfully, because as a viewer one is now more or less convinced that he will never tell the truth in a personal situation), and when she puts him on the spot, he asks the intriguing question — “Why do you care, Cameron?”

This moment is intriguing on a number of levels. First, I don’t know why Cameron recognizes these stories as lies — to me, it’s not from Pace’s acting. Maybe from the script or something about what he says? (This becomes an important question for me later.) Second, it gets to the problem that we’ve been wondering about all along — is there enough humanity to Joe to make him a followable character? — and seems to say, wait, why do you need to know the truth about me anyway? Again, I think the script is essentially rejecting, at least at this point, the “relatable” approach to interesting viewers. It gives us Joe’s totally credible and obviously defensive brushoff, to paraphrase: you’re only asking this because you want more and I don’t. Cameron’s answer is practical: to lead the project effectively, you must be authentic.

The next scene seems to tell us why he needs more authenticity — because Joe’s obviously doing his salesman shtick about the premiere of the mockup and the crowd goes for Bosworth to put start. Joe’s expressions and body language obviously indicate that he realizes Cameron’s right.


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Joe (Lee Pace) offers pained responses to the project team’s enthusiasm for Bosworth, in episode 6 of Halt and Catch Fire. My caps.


If, like me, you were capping the “about” video from AMC while you were writing your narrative, you’d be thinking two things at this point. First, the supplementary vid seems not to be taking Donna’s blooming affair with her boss very seriously, which makes me wonder how much of a risk it really is. But second, at this point, Pace makes a fascinating comment, to the effect that Joe realizes that the team needs to see him as more human in order for him to be more effective. Bookmark that for just second. After the meeting ends and everyone hugs everyone else, Gordon invites Joe over for dinner, hoping to ease some of the tension of the last few episodes.

When Cameron’s insight into the salability of an interactive BIOS hits, it’s interesting to me that while Joe rejects the idea, he doesn’t tell Gordon that he’s rejected it. Joe is still playing both ends against the middle. Pace’s interpretation in the video, drawing a parallel between Cameron’s attitude toward him as someone without authenticity and the necessary patch for the computer being the “soul” in the machine doesn’t read as obvious to me, here — I thought Joe was scheming, not wavering, at this point.

(Discussion-worthy, although they interested me less tonight: sexual politics in the Cardiff office, and Cameron’s reveal to Bosworth that computer club was like water in the desert to her.)

And then — the long evening when Joe shows up for dinner at the Clarks’ while Gordon is busy committing a B&E to kidnap the dolls from the adoption center. This totally worked for me dramatically because it’s so plausible — people who don’t want to be together, who have different notions of hospitality (’66 Bordeaux in Dallas/Fort Worth in the 80s? since I can’t believe that’s a miscalculation it seems like total oneupsmanship) trapped in a house during a storm while the person who connects them is elsewhere and they have to manage. And lots of really interesting things happen in that sequence, including Donna’s hard sell for keeping the computer design the way it is, and Joe’s reluctant transformation into just the kind of guy the little girls would like to play with. A blanket fort! (shades of a favorite fanfic of mine involving Pace and a blanket fort) and two hurricane zappers.

How Pace plays that aspect of it is fascinating to me, and I’m sorry I don’t have caps to share. At first he seems like he’s going to be that guest who doesn’t want kids’ sticky fingers all over him — but then, as the storm intensifies, he decides to be accommodating as heck. There’s a weird reserve in Joe’s charm at first, though, as if we’re supposed to know that he’s still annoyed about the sticky fingers but is going to make the best of it. At this point, I find myself thinking back to the scene near the beginning, at the car wash, where he sees a billboard model in the reflection of his car (how symbolically laden — I’m always trying to decide whether the semiotics of this show are too obvious) and modifies his own clothing to match it. It’s almost like he’s decided to try on the insight that he should be more authentic, except that since he doesn’t know how to actually be more authentic, he’ll settle for appearing to be more authentic. (Can’t help mentioning that philosophically, Baldassare Castiglione rears his ugly head here.)

But then — hurricane zappers. The girls love them. They name them. This immediately clicks back to the theme about the “soul” of the computer. And Joe goes out into the rain and uses the hurricane zappers and impresses the heck out of the girls. After Gordon arrives home, Joe goes over to Cameron’s. And those scenes. Those scenes.


Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 12.31.25 AMJoe (Lee Pace) shows up at Cameron’s apartment as the hurricane is ending, in episode 6 of Halt and Catch Fire. My cap.


So I read this as: Joe realizes, when the girls play with the flashlights, that Cameron’s right (Donna’s sales pitch notwithstanding). He realizes he has to get back in good with Cameron, who’s left in a huff. He shows up at her door, soaking, and asks her if she’d have anyone to call while stuck in a hurricane. Smart move, Joe, indicate that authenticity and humanity. She brings him in and shows him her computer, which is what he really wants to see — he asks, “Show me what you’re working on.” He plays with it briefly and realizes she’s right. He distracts her by telling her another story about where those scars came from. For whatever reason, she believes it (why does she believe it, when she didn’t before? this was not entirely plausible to me from Davis’ acting) and they share a very scorching kiss.

This was quite well played, I thought, based on what I was thinking — that Joe has to convince Cameron that he’s not lying this time. First, there is the painfully serious, almost suspicious look on Joe’s face as he begins to tell the story about his mother.

Screen shot 2014-07-07 at 12.32.12 AMScreen shot 2014-07-07 at 12.32.46 AM

And then, he winces when she kisses him, as if he can’t bear her kindness. Then he tells her that what she’s been working on is great. End of show.

My conclusion — this was largely another ploy on his part. I’ve been so singed by his constant lying for the last month that I figure, okay, he knows she’s right about the technical issue and to get her on side personally he will make himself appear to follow her advice. He knows how to appear to be authentic, he’s been practicing all episode, with Gordon, with the little girls, and now he’s perfected his act with Cameron.

Then I watch the amctv supplementary vid in order to get some caps — and they seem to be saying this kiss is a major turning point for Joe! He lets down a barrier here!

So yeah, my head is kind of spinning. Pace undermined Joe’s credibility so much by this point that I really can’t find I believe anything he says — and yet, I have to admit, the gestural language for a transformation, beginning about the point at which he invents the hurricane zappers, is really perfect. I just can’t credit it because of the way he’s killed his language of sincerity in the previous episodes. (I wrote about this question — how to kill a character’s credibility, the way Armitage does with Lucas North / John Bateman in Spooks 9 — a long time ago as well.)


Tearing out my hair. I think what’s bugging me is that it seemed at the beginning of the show that the script was saying it was going to be very edgy — rejecting the idea that we have to know anything true about Joe — and I bought that, given how much prevarication has been going on all through this series. Joe doesn’t have to be relatable, I thought, and that’s okay, and it was under that light that I read his development in the episode. But then — what if it’s real? In which case the dramatic development of a likable character is underway, but I find myself a bit disappointed by the conventionality of the whole thing.

Well, one thing that’s still clear after the episode: boy, can Lee Pace kiss.


To maintain an important weekly tradition, the totally gratuitous screencaps of Lee Pace entrancingly waving his right hand.

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The floor is open.

~ by Servetus on July 7, 2014.

16 Responses to “[spoilers] Collateral attractions: Halt and Catch Fire, episode 6”

  1. Hmmm… I took that admission at the end as real. I felt it was well earned and didn’t think it was Joe spinning a tale,but that being said I am naive.

    I think I need to re watch this episode. I love seeing Gordon in the merde. Every week he’s knee deep in it. Some primal part of me was like throw that brick.

    The scene with Joe and the kids… I like how they went against expectation there. We sort of expected joe to be a jerk because what was in it for him …

    Loved the revealing the pro type scene were joe was going to press the button to start up the machine and Cameron stooped him to have bigs worth press the button. Nice non reaction reaction from pace

    Cameron kissing Gordon … I like how she is changing and growing …


    • I would totally have thrown that brick. Totally.

      I have to disagree though that there was a “non reaction” from Joe — there are clear cues in his facial expressions that he was upset / disappointed.


  2. Well, I finally got caught up with the show, watching the last two eps this morning on the DVR (way too much stuff I like comes on Sunday nights, it seems). It’s so hard for me to know anymore whether Joe is lying or telling the truth. He’s like the boy who cried wolf now for me—I feel a tad cynical.

    I did love the hurricane storyline, poor Gordon in his relentless pursuit of those darned ugly dolls (I remember how crazed it all was), the awkwardness of Joe with the kids and Gordon’s wife–and then how he suddenly was behaving like, I don’t know, my husband playing with our nieces.

    There are glimmers of humanity there, but just how much is real and how much is manufactured for Joe to win over someone else to his side?

    On a purely prurient note, boy does Mr. Pace look nice in his undies. And wet shirt. And yes, he does know how to kiss.


    • I’ve really come to look forward to those shots of him getting up, framed against the windows.


  3. That is what I meant … he was trying so hard to have a
    non-re-action … but you could see it simmering under the surface he was not happy … I loved it.

    We got to see another side of Joe this episode.

    Pace has charisma that is for sure. He is a hottie. I look forward to sunday night more than a girl should.


  4. I totally thought Joe was lying about his mom doing drugs and tossing him from the roof. I couldn’t imagine someone like his dad being with a druggie, it would ruin his reputation. But then again, dad may not have been around much. That would have been the 1950’s too, so maybe not the kind of drugs I’m thinking. It seemed like the perfect story that someone like Cameron would believe. I was totally shocked at the commentary as well, the only way I could see an honest self-disclosure from Joe is if it would be to his advantage. Question, was that Debbie electrocuted near the toy store?


  5. I was thinking prescription drugs Momma’s Little Helper. I ‘re-watched and I still think Joe was,telling the truth. Not sure that he had a,reason to lie there.

    At first I thought that Gordon was hallucinating the dead body there because the Nan looked like Joe. Then I thought maybe it was the toy store owner who was,waiting for Gordon to show up to buy the doll???


    • good idea re: pills.

      reason to lie — he dissed her idea before, he wants to know what it is now, he was cruel to her before, he wants her not to withhold.


  6. At the top of the episode joe was looking at his reflection in his car against the cologne bill board and he was the mirror image of the suave single man.

    Then after hanging out with Gordon’s family, he looked at his reflection and saw the sad single guy with no one to care about him.

    He could’ve got Cameron to show him what she was working on without all the drama and theatrics.

    I think there is a real attraction btw them and she is influencing him to grow a bit. Joe’s revelation was well earned and seemed authentic to me otherwise he is more than boarding a on being an absolute psychopath.


    • dunno. If he has changed, it’s too sudden a transformation for me to have noticed it, I guess. No doubt the people who wrote the scripts know, but it was still at least highly ambiguous based on just seeing the episode.

      I don’t think I said he was an absolute psychopath.


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