The two camera shots above from the first episode of "Halt and Catch Fire" were intended to tell us something about one, or really two, of the characters and about the story. They did achieve that goal. But....
The reality is that most Americans in 1983 didn't peruse the latest issue of Byte and had no idea what "open architecture" meant - in fact most Americans had never seen the insides of a microcomputer. And I don't think most Americans today know what difference "open architecture" has made in their world.
That tech history orientation could potentially make "Halt and Catch Fire" seem less accessible at the outset. We hope, and the show's creators hope, that the four principle characters in the show will draw in and hold viewers - we know they have interesting backstories and their future together could make a stimulating primary story arc.
Let's hope so because even those of us who had a vested interest in someone creating open architecture competition with IBM aren't going to find watching people develop BIOS code interesting. (I explained my own vested interest in the thread "Halt and Catch Fire" premier Sunday on AMC - high hopes for a great show.)
Before moving on to the characters and story, it helps to know just how difficult it was to face down IBM. The article below from the July 10, 1984 issue of PC Magazine describes the complexity and the threat including offering up a descriptive phrase - "the lone programmer" - which relates to the task facing one of the characters in the show.
And simply for fun and context, the following is a full page (p. 55) ad for Stride Microcomputer ("formerly Sage Computers") from the September 1985 10th Anniversary Edition of Byte which includes pictures of the company's President Rod Coleman.
Yes, he was a real person who looks like he ought to be in the show. (For anyone who might want to download it, I've uploaded in a 325 MB PDF file that 10th Anniversary Edition.) Anyway...
As this pilot episode opens, we see an armadillo in the road which has an unfortunate encounter with a Porche 944 (there were only 5,490 944's in the U.S. in 1983 the first year it appeared in this country) being driven by Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace). We then shift to a college classroom full of budding computer engineers where MacMillan is introduced: "Today's discussion is postponed as we have a very special guest. He's played an instrumental part in the debut of the IBM PC which has now on the verge of becoming the industry standard for corporate America."
By the end of the episode we think we've learned a lot about MacMillan. He obviously was a hotshot sales rep for IBM - "200% of quota" he says showing his W-2 while interviewing for a job. And we've learned that he simply disappeared from IBM - his face should have been on a milk carton.
Besides having superlative sales skills honed at IBM, an exotic $20,000+ car ($50,000 in 2014 dollars), and an understanding of computers, the only other thing I believe we know about MacMillan is that while ostensibly he came to Cardiff Electric to get a job, he actually went there to partner up with Gordon Clark (played by Scoot McNairy).
We know somewhat more about Gordon Clark, an engineer at Cardiff Electric. He's married with two kids. His wife, Donna (played by Kerry Bishé) is a programmer for Texas Instruments. A few years before, together they designed and built the “Symphonic” a personal computer that Macmillan describes as “ahead of it’s time.”
Gordon is depressed by the failure of the Symphonic - his job and everything he has done since is depressing. Donna is just trying to keep it all together and chooses caution, a reasonable choice when you're trying to raise two kids. By the end of the episode MacMillan successfully entices Gordon to take a major financial risk and Donna decides to support Gordon, whom she obviously loves.
What we know is that this ongoing story arc represents a real risk for this couple, financially and emotionally.
While in the classroom at the beginning, MacMillan meets engineering student Cameron Howe (played by Mackenzie Davis). Not surprisingly Howe is jaded and unhappy Lisbeth Salander type - and also apparently a bored genius.
MacMillan asks the class: "Tell me one thing that will be true about computers 10 years from now."
Howe answers: "Computers will be networked together across one network with a standard protocol."
MacMillan: "Like phone lines."
Howe: "Obviously like phone lines."
MacMillan: "What's your name?"
To make a long story short, they "hook up" (before the phrase became became slang for having casual sex) while MacMillan is adding her to his list of people he might want to work for him.
The key episode story arc is that Clark and MacMillan spend a long weekend in Clark's garage reverse engineering the BIOS of an IBM PC. MacMillan apparently then tells IBM which threatens to destroy Cardiff Electric with legal action forcing Cardiff to actually try to develop a BIOS for an IBM PC clone.
But they cannot employ anyone to do it who has ever, ever torn down an IBM PC. And so Howe will become "the lone programmer" for Cardiff.
And as the pilot episode closes we see the small army of suits from IBM marching in. It is important the we remember it was a pilot and that it will take a number of episodes before the show might feel comfortable.
I won't compare it to other shows that over a number of seasons fans have come to love - that isn't fair. With that said it was pretty well done. It does have one appeal for some of us.
"Top notch" was Steve Wozniak's description and he added: “I saw lot’s of people I know from tech in Halt and Catch Fire, including myself and Steve Jobs.”
I'm not sure what to make of the dead armadillo.
Edited by phrelin, 02 June 2014 - 11:21 PM.