A year ago when Halt and Catch Fire premiered I eagerly tuned in. A show about the 80s home computer boom sounded interesting and I loved Lee Pace in Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies. Plus, I don’t watch Mad Men (don’t hate, I can’t watch everything) so any comparisons to AMC’s flagship series, for better or worse, was kind of a moot point for me.
I thought the pilot was strong and was excited to see that the core group of characters included a female coder, Cameron. You see, after growing up on a steady diet of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I can’t help but look for female protagonists that are intelligent, interesting, and independent in just about everything I watch. Even Netflix knows this about me, at one point the site was offering me up movies that featured a strong female lead.
But as the first season of Halt and Catch Fire progressed, my initial enthusiasm waned. While Cameron excelled at her job, she was being manipulated by Lee Pace’s character Joe MacMillan. Now to be fair, he was manipulating literally everyone. But then Halt and Catch Fire’s other female character, Donna, was seemingly being pushed into the nagging wife role despite having computer skills of her own. And to make matters even worse, the first few scenes between between Donna and Cameron were fraught with animosity. I couldn’t help but think, great of course they hate each other.
But then the series turned everything on its head as it marched towards its first season finale. Donna’s knowledge of computer hardware was finally put to good use and she was pulled into the A-storyline, Joe’s selfish motives were exposed, and Cameron parted ways with Cardiff Electric to start her own company Mutiny. By the time the credits rolled on the finale, Donna had joined her in what looked to be the humble beginnings of network gaming startup.
Now that’s a show I could get behind. And from the looks of it, having only seen the first episode of the second season, it’s where they are going. Donna and Cameron are front and center as the series picks up 20-months later with Mutiny enjoying both the success and chaos that comes with working at a company that’s forward thinking but not all that interested in structure.
It’s refreshing to see two women, that’s right two – we’ve moved past the token girl stage – not only running their own company, but a tech one at that. And with a season under their belt it’s clear that both are very competent at what they do. These women aren’t relegated to the under-appreciated secretary or the ‘only got the job because of her looks’ role.
Within Mutiny both women are respected too. Cameron was able to get some of her Cardiff Electric coworkers to follow her even though Mutiny was nothing more than an idea and a spray painted logo on her wall and even though Donna doesn’t want to be the mom of the group it was clear from the opening sequence walkthrough that she’s calling at least some of the shots. They respect each other as well. They might not be BFFs, but trust, support, and civility has replaced their once catty, defensive, and petty encounters.
With Donna and Cameron in the spotlight, Halt and Catch Fire is also able to tell multiple stories from the female perspective, one of which being of the working mom and the other being of the more free-spirited visionary. That may not sound like a big deal, but you’d be surprised at how many drama TV show casts still look like a boys club, especially ones that are so early in their runs. Keep in mind, we’ve only seen eleven episodes thus far, so major kudos for the course correction and new found gender parity.
Like Cameron said at the end of the first season, “A lot of people are gonna want us to fail. But that’s because we’re the future and there’s nothing scarier than that”. (“1984” 1×10)
New episodes air Sunday nights on AMC, and you can find season one on Netflix.