We love TV and we love recaps, but a lot of times it’s not the big-picture plot developments that make a show great. It’s the little things; the details in the dialogue, set design, props, and performance. With Close Up, we’ll be taking a look at the coolest moments and most interesting details in some of our favorite shows. Today we’re looking at the latest episode of Halt and Catch Fire: “Close to the Metal.”
Joe MacMillan has never showed any qualms about hurting people to get what he wants, and in “Close to the Metal” he nearly causes a company-wide meltdown in the process. Anxious to get some good press for Cardiff Electric, he gets a reporter to visit the company for a possible story. The writer is less than impressed with Joe’s sales pitch, however, so he needs a little drama to make things interesting. Cameron is just days away from finishing her coding job at this point, but Joe stages an “accident” that destroys her data — and when they check her backups, they’re all mysteriously blank.
Gordon calls in his wife Donna to help, and she demonstrates his smarts and savvy yet again by spelling out how she can manually recover the data from the destroyed hard drive. Unfortunately, Cameron’s started spiraling, and decides to trash Gordon's house when she learns that he and Donna have been calling her white trash behind her back. A last-minute visit from a neighbor causes her to rethink her actions, and it’s a good thing she does: Donna has saved the data and put the project back on course. Even better, the reporter suddenly finds Cardiff a very interesting subject for a story.
But Donna is the smartest person in the room, and deduces that Joe faked the whole thing. He admits the ruse when she calls him out, claiming that it was for the greater good and suggesting she not share the information with her husband. Later that night, Joe is ambushed by two police officers that are providing a little payback on behalf of the potential investor Joe manipulated in last week's episode. The clone project may have cleared another hurdle, but Joe MacMillan’s facade is falling apart piece by piece.
When Joe gives a rah-rah sales pitch about Cardiff's progress, his boss John Bosworth is a bit more cautious. "I will feel the excitement when a clone, with our logo, encased in fancy plastic, running Lotus 1-2-3, is on the shelves over at Sears," Bosworth tells him. It's exactly the kind of software choice Bosworth would be focused on. We mainly live in a Microsoft Office and Google Docs world today, but in 1983 Lotus 1-2-3 was the premiere spreadsheet program for personal computers. The application had a stranglehold on the market throughout the 1980s, and Lotus aggressively took any competitors to court if they thought people were getting too close to the look and feel of 1-2-3.
However, Microsoft slowly began to gain ground with its own spreadsheet program. Excel was actually a Mac-only application for two years before it arrived for IBM PCs in 1987, and as it began to pick up steam Lotus 1-2-3 fell behind due to update delays. Eventually, the Excel juggernaut became too much for 1-2-3 to fend off. IBM ended up buying Lotus in 1995, and while the brand stuck around IBM officially pulled the plug in 2013.
Ignore Alien t-shirts
Cameron may be a coding genius, but she’s not the most put-together individual. She lives on orange soda, sleeps at the office, and has a rather limited wardrobe — and in this week’s episode she’s living in a T-shirt that reads "Ignore Alien Orders." The origin of the phrase is a question of some debate — it appears in a promotional matchbook for The Grateful Dead’s 1973 album Wake of the Flood — but we bet Cameron likes it because of Joe Strummer of The Clash. His signature instrument throughout the band’s history was a 1966 Fender Telecaster that had been painted black and adorned with stickers, including one that read "Ignore Alien Orders."
The legacy of the floppy disk
When Cameron’s code is lost, the first step is to check the backups she saved to 5.25-inch floppy disks. It was the de facto disk format for PCs of that era, but the floppy disk actually had a larger, 8-inch predecessor that was introduced in the early 1970s. (If you want to get a look at that one in action, just check out Matthew Broderick’s home computer set-up in WarGames.)
5.25-inch floppy disks first held around 110 KB per side when they debuted in the late ’70s, and they were incredibly fiddly by modern standards. Not only did users have to keep them protected in special envelopes to avoid data corruption, but the disks actually had a form of built-in file protection. To write to a disk, a user would have to physically cut a small notch out of the side, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for users to cut notches out of disks that came with commercial programs in order to re-use them.
Different formats in varying sizes were introduced in the following years, but the true successor was the 3.5-inch floppy. The original Macintosh, the Atari ST, and Commodore’s Amiga were some of the machines to first adopt the disks, which were encased in a hard plastic shell and initially stored around 360 KB per side. (The casing led to many non-savvy computer users inaccurately referring to 3.5-inch disks as "hard disks.")
Gordon gives Joe a chance to come clean
One of the underlying dynamics of Halt and Catch Fire is how Joe is able to stay just one step ahead of everyone by appealing to their hidden wants and desires. Most of the pilot was devoted to his seduction of Gordon in this exact way, and for the most part it’s been working. But in last night’s episode, Donna tells Gordon that Joe faked the entire disk corruption scenario.
At first Gordon only cares about whether the reporter is writing the story, but the next morning there’s a brief but wonderful moment where he tests Joe. In the kitchen (and right in front of the Ranger soda machine), Gordon muses that without Donna’s help "who knows where we’d be." It’s the first time we’ve seen Gordon really try to manipulate Joe into admitting something, instead of the other way around — and given the look on his face, Joe knows he’s being called out.
But he’s incapable of saying anything either way. Gordon just gives him a sad look, takes a donut, and walks away. It’s one of the best, most subtle moments between the two that we’ve seen yet, and a reminder that outside of all of the gee-whiz early tech wizardry, shows like Halt and Catch Fire live and die on character alone.
What did you think of this episode of Halt and Catch Fire, and what were some of your favorite details? Sound off below — and let the spoilers fly!