A bit of disclosure up front: I bailed on Season 1 of Halt and Catch Fire. I don’t even really remember when. All I recall is that it wasn’t doing it for me, and I saw a few stories pop up about it not doing great in the ratings, and at some point I just said “Feh” and moved on. This is a practice I recommend wholeheartedly, for the record. Be fair about it, obviously. But also be brutal. Life is too short and prestige dramas are too many to tie yourself to ones you’re not passionate about. #NoRegrets
But then a funny thing happened. The reviews for the first few episodes of the show’s second season started trickling in a couple months ago, and even some of the harsher critics of the first season were saying it improved dramatically. I really didn’t want to go back and binge all 10 episodes in three or four days just to get caught up on a show I had already tossed aside once, so I decided to try just jumping back in with the new season’s premiere to see if it stuck. This is a practice I also recommend wholeheartedly, if only because sometimes the “Who’s that guy? And why’s that lady over there now? Where’s the blond girl with the hair?” part of jumping into a show mid-stream can be kind of fun. You’re solving mysteries! Like a detective! Or something!
Well, we are now six episodes into the second season, just past the halfway point, and I feel pretty confident I can confirm: Halt and Catch Fire went and got pretty good.
For the benefit of anyone else who jumped ship, here’s a quick, lightly spoiler-y sketch of where things are. Cameron and Donna (Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé, respectively) are all-in on their web-based video game start-up, Mutiny. They’re basically working and/or living out of a creaky old house with a dozen or so dirtball young programmers. Donna’s husband, Gordon, took his big fat Cardiff check and proceeded to start sputtering around, fiddling with this, fiddling with that, and mucking up everything he touched. Joe, who did not get a big fat Cardiff check, shacked up with Jimmy Darmody’s wife from Boardwalk Empire (Aleksa Palladino), who happens to be the daughter of a billionaire, who happens to run a company that has a lot of servers that aren’t being utilized to their full potential, which leads to about a dozen devious light bulbs popping up over Joe’s head.
What’s made the show so much more compelling this time around is that, by splitting everyone up and sending them off to do their own thing, we end up getting more interesting stories. So, instead of the Jobs/Wozniak element between Joe and Gordon that drove the show at its start, the main thrust of Season 2 has been Cameron and Donna’s work with Mutiny, and how their work impacts the people around them. This has been a refreshing development, partially because it’s a story about two women trying to break into the male-dominated field of online gaming before the field of online gaming even really existed, and partially because pushing Joe and Gordon into the periphery — even if it’s just temporary, as the last few episodes have indicated — prevented them from turning into caricatures. There’s only so much “Gordon is a putz, Joe is a dead-eyed manipulative shark” the show can hold, you know?
As the show moves past the midpoint of the season, however, it’s starting the process of sending everyone crashing back together. Donna, in trying to help her husband find a purpose after Cardiff, allows Gordon to tinker. Gordon, in trying to help his wife, loops in Joe. Joe, in trying to help Joe, happily inserts himself in the middle of all of it. And Cameron just wants to scream about it all, consistently and repeatedly, at anyone and no one and everyone. The result has been some really intriguing television, all leading up to this week’s excellent, explosive sixth episode. Halt and Catch Fire is good now. This is the point I am trying to make.
So, what did we learn here? Two things, hopefully: First, that you should consider giving the show another crack if you gave up on it last season, or even giving it a first crack if you never tried it at all. I was able to get caught up pretty easily without doubling back for Season 1, so if the concept of a frantic 16+ episode binge watch to make it by the finale is what’s dissuading you, feel free to skip it all together. Maybe a little light Wikipedia research. You’ll be fine.
The second thing we learned? Sometimes, being an impulsive baby who drops and picks up shows on a whim pays off. Hooray!