Lunchtable TV Talk: Halt and Catch Fire

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Halt and Catch Fire has been hit or miss in its first two seasons, but I liked it. I feel like the show did hit its stride in some ways within the second season. Recently the show was renewed for a third. The way season two ended, it could have gone either way. It would not have felt like a tragic loss had the show not won its reprieve, but the big changes hinted at meant that a third season could be an interesting shift.

Where things went right: the exploration of women working in tech, very early in the game. It’s refreshing to see, even if unusual. I sometimes think people have expectations that are too high for television characters. I read a lot of “analysis” taking different shows to task for their lack of diversity. And when there is diversity, there’s a lot of nitpicking about whether it’s the appropriate or representative kind of diversity. And in fact, real life is not always as diverse as people would demand. Were the early 80s a hotbed of activity for women in tech development? Sure, they existed but were probably anomalous. I haven’t done any research on the topic, but I am not doing a real analysis here. I find that TV viewing (or the practice of “reviewing” as a career) is a little bit muddied but the demands critics in particular place on the stories, the characters and the richness and depth of their lives. Sure, I like that, too, but there is really only so much a character can embody and accomplish in an hour each week for ten weeks.

I suppose this is why I find Halt very satisfying. The two women leads, Donna and Cameron, are very different, working together but at very different stages of their lives. They often work at odds, and handle things very differently, but ultimately come together for a common cause (especially in the face of adversity). I was particularly interested in Donna’s development, while Cameron is supposed to attract attention as the unstable wunderkind. But because Donna has been the stable one professionally and personally, she has been the backbone of the company she co-founded with Cameron, and she has been the backbone of her marriage with Gordon. She has always been the one to work in a stable job (until taking a risk on the gaming startup) to support her husband Gordon’s crazy ideas but eventually embraces the calculated risk – probably because she has the stability and experience to know it will work for her. She is also a mother, and one of the quiet but important stories in season two was her personal and discreet choice to have an abortion. The show did not make a big deal out of it – no one did. She is a married mother of two, in a troubled marriage, deep into the chaos of her startup company, and it was bad timing. It was clearly a difficult decision but always came across as intensely personal and right for her. It was pivotal in the development of Donna’s character and delivered subtly and beautifully by actress Kerry Bishé.

While the show started off being more about Gordon and Joe and their race and personal quest to build a personal computer, it morphed into a show that parallels the story of a scrappy startup with the story of two very different women swimming upstream, forging stronger, independent identities, in the formation of this startup. It has been quite fascinating. Gordon and Joe became secondary to the story, and they are no longer driving the action forward by the end of season two.

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