“Halt and Catch Fire”
didn’t stoke many embers ratings-wise, but its second and potentially
final season went out, on the show’s understated terms, in a blaze of
glory. AMC’s attempt to craft another “Mad Men”-esque period piece from producers
behind “Breaking Bad” remained as chilly and emotionally distant as its
high-tech setting, but the second-season gambit of dramatically
altering the relationships and narrative largely worked, creatively
speaking, if not in terms of earning a reboot from the audience. The
finale, moreover, deftly left the story open enough to continue while
providing appropriate closure if this serves as a full halt.
Blessed with the benefit of hindsight about how computers and digital
technology have impacted our world since where this season began 30
years ago, the show remained at its best when exploring those business
machinations, and less compelling in its web of relationships. Simply
put, watching Gordon (Scoot McNairy) fall apart emotionally while his
wife Donna (Kerry Bishe) flourished running the game startup Mutiny had
its moments, but never popped as much as this well-informed look into
the roots of the tech boom.
For that reason, the finale (and SPOILER ALERT
if you haven’t watched) came around to a reasonable and logical end
point, which felt both true to the characters (mostly) and savvy about
allowing viewers to mentally plug in the gaps about what the future
likely holds for these fictional pioneers. That culminated with the
“California, here we come” finish, and the promise of moving this whole
act to the fertile fields of Silicon Valley.
Still, the show’s dramatic heart remained the slick-talking visionary/salesman Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace),
whose adventure trying to settle down personally and professionally –
work for an imperious tycoon of a father-in-law (James Cromwell, who
tends to class up whatever joint he visits) – seemed doomed from the
get-go. Yet the fact that Joe would take what appeared to be his
downfall and turn that back into a Phoenix-like rebirth – using Gordon’s
genius to embrace the burgeoning possibilities of launching an
anti-virus business – reinforced the sense of a guy with nine lives,
someone who would always manage to land on his feet, usually at the
expense of others.
“Real security is trusting no one,” Joe said, not only tapping into
the paranoia that digital technology has unleashed long before the
current era of hacking, but also anticipating the slogan for “The
X-Files.” The sequence in which he sells the new product by
demonstrating what it can do was an example of the show at its very
best, displaying Joe’s daredevil streak while exploiting everything we
know about computing circa 2015.
As noted, series creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C.
Rogers left the door open to proceeding with this story, but that final
image of Joe staring out at the glittering landscape spread out before
him felt if not like the end, at least an end. And
after giving the series a second chance, one could hardly fault AMC —
which has renewed Sunday-night companion “Humans” and the
ratings-challenged “Turn” — for not beating its head against a wall on
another enterprise with passionate but narrow appeal. (AMC has said an
official decision on “Halt” will come after the season ends.)
Granted, “Breaking Bad” gradually broke out into an unqualified hit,
but despite talk about seeking to broaden “Halt’s” base, even in today’s
binge-oriented age that’s a rare exception. On the plus side, the
network did provide “Halt” fans a chance to see the series play out long
enough to reach a more satisfying finish – on the eve of that digital
dawn when the geeks began to inherit the Earth.
photo credit: http://wegotthiscovered.com