Halt and Catch Fire, a term in the early PC era that referred to a command that would shut a computer down completely, is a show that feels so incredibly sincere that you may find yourself invested within minutes. A big part of this sincerity are the two main characters — Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy, 12 Years a Slave). MacMillan is a loud, strong-willed, and almost over-confident salesman in the early 1980’s, initially selling PCs for the world’s then-leading PC manufacturer, IBM. In complete contradiction to him, is Clark, a quiet, frustrated man with little self-motivation, who works for a smaller, and completely fictional company. It is important to note that both these characters are also completely fictional, a fact I had to confirm after viewing the pilot because of how plausible and well put together the story was constructed.
Besides these two well written and compelling characters, we also get to see something so rare that I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen it done well in the last ten years — it takes a niche and obscure subject, and handles it with a near-perfect amount of reverence, respect, and grace. It is what made Mad Men so compelling, that we were seeing these incredibly interesting characters play out their lives, set against the backdrop of an advertising agency in the 1960’s. It was voyeuristic in a way that was satisfying, and exciting. Showtime’s Masters of Sex did the same with pioneers of human sexuality. Now Halt & Catch Fire does it with today’s money maker, tech and those who make that tech possible. The show doesn’t use the subject matter as a bit, or as window dressing, but shows it the respect it deserves. The pilot feels honest, in a way that allows you to become invested in not only the characters, but in why they’re doing what they’re doing.
Of course, this great story wouldn’t come to life in the ways that it does without Pace and McNairy delivering exceptional performances. McNairy plays a sometimes timid, and usually self-laothing Clark with ease. You feel equal parts frustration that he won’t stand up for himself and sympathy that nothing ever seems to go his way. Pace, by design, is the more stand out of the two though. He reminds me a lot of a younger Kevin Spacey, pouring charisma and confidence into his performance, the likes of which we rarely get to see. The two also balance their juxtaposed personalities extremely well, and it makes for chemistry on-screen that’s fun to watch.
Halt and Catch Fire‘s pilot episode is full of promise from beginning to end, with Mackenzie Davis bookending the episode and promising a lot more to come as the series’ ten episodes play out this summer. You’ll find you may have a very specific appreciation for this show if you’re interested in the early days of the PC boom or technology in general. But even if the world of technology we live in today frightens you, annoys you, or is just something you’re simply indifferent about, Halt and Catch Fire is still a show you should watch. Because everyone loves a great story, and that is exactly what is being told here.