This isn’t to say that Joe and Gordon have nothing to do, but their season arc doesn’t really come into light until the third and fourth episodes. The two muddle in and out of storylines – Joe getting a job at his girlfriend’s father’s big oil company, Gordon accidentally getting Mutiny into a bit of network trouble – but it isn’t until hour four where the rest of the season’s thrust begins coming into focus.
The two guys are still interesting as well, especially as played by Pace and McNairy, both so casually comfortable in the period wear of leather jackets with pushed-up sleeves and bright red Adidas jogging suits you’d swear the two had a more personal, adult relationship with the eighties that their late-seventies birthdays argue against. They’ve changed interestingly since last year, too, Joe becoming a more soft-spoken, leather bomber jacket-wearing drifter, and Gordon usually cracked out of his mind in a drug daze that somehow never becomes eye-rolling or maudlin (yet).
What Halt and Catch Fire continues to do well in season 2 is present an idea that appeared radical in the mid-eighties, but that dramatic irony points viewers to accepting as completely normal. With season 1’s thinking, personal computer out the window, this year brings multiple levels of ideas, mostly centered around an online community. Cameron’s eureka moment of what essentially equates to a rudimentary Call of Duty provides one such bit, but even Donna gets in on the creativity, creating and nurturing “Community,” an online network centered around a group of chat rooms divided into various topics with no gaming functionality. Essentially an underdog story told through a tech field lens, the show is as strong as ever when it presents its characters not only as passengers in the tech-fueled craze that was barely even beginning to explode in the mid-eighties, but as agents of its creation as well.
“To your son and his friends, Mutiny is their church,” Bosworth (Toby Huss) tells a worried mother who cancelled her son’s subscription to the company’s games in attempts to get him to socialize. “It’s where they find community. Sometimes it’s the only place.” While the show can tiptoe into preachiness in its fictional re-purposing of technological discoveries, its heart always feels firmly embedded in that endearing sense of 1980s rebellion culture, where marching to the beat of your own drum constantly circumvented finding and aligning with the status quo. Halt and Catch Fire is a messy show, for sure, and lacks any sort of subtlety in comparison to the network’s now-dead critical darlings, but as a sort of younger, hipper, too-cool-for-school cousin to something like Mad Men, it feels positively exhilarating.
Great acting, addictive drama and an uncontainable fizzy energy help Halt and Catch Fire present a satisfyingly girl-powered second season, with none of the stop-and-go story ruts that plagued its freshman run.