Halt and Catch Fire: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

     Director: Jonathan Lisco
  • Format: Blu-ray
  • Language: English (Dolby TrueHD 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: May 5, 2015
  • Run Time: 435 minutes



              AMC’s “Halt and Catch Fire” is well written, has some good performances from a few solid cast members, and is based on an intriguing premise borrowing from real events. There were times while watching the first season that I desperately wanted to like it, but found myself irritated by many of the choices made. Other times I was so annoyed with it that I wanted to hate it (and was successful during some of the season’s more obnoxiously manipulative moments), but somehow found myself obsessively binge-watching anyway. I will continue watching despite the constant contrivances and distasteful characters, mostly because 10 episodes aren’t enough to make a definitive decision about the tech-heavy melodrama.


             There are two essential elements to the series: the fact that it is loosely based on real events, and the complete fabrication of the characters involved in these real events. Not unlike Showtime’s “Masters of Sex,” the truth behind the events is often dismissed in favor of petty melodrama and outrageous character development. Though the initial premise of the show is based on advances in PC technology that arose from a trio of men stealing the inner workings of a patented IBM computer, the facts and characters have mostly been fabricated. Every so often throughout the season we are given nuggets of truth, clever little references that tech fans will appreciate, but the focus mostly remains on the creation of fictional relationships within this process.


              The series takes place in 1983, located in Texas despite IBM’s New York headquarters and the rise of computer programming in California’s Silicon Valley. Former IBM employee Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) arrives to work at the fabricated Texas’ Cardiff Electric, immediately manipulating and using those around him in order to accomplish his personal goals. More businessman than creator, Joe begins by recruiting others to help him with the dirty work so that he can later take credit. This includes a bored and disheartened engineer named Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and an obnoxiously arrogant computer programming student named Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), who Joe talks out of college and into his bed.


            Changing one of the three men into a woman may have seemed like a clever way to inject social agenda into the show, but the character of Cameron Howe is often a double-edged sword for feminism. Although she is punk rock and defiantly independent, Cameron simultaneously feels more like a computer programmer’s fantasy. The entire character ends up feeling contradictory and endlessly irritating. While she has short hair and dresses like a punk, seemingly because she does not care about her appearance, Cameron also never appears without heavy make-up to highlight the fact that an attractive actress was hired for the role. Despite seen to have all of her possessions in a single duffle bag, Cameron has endless outfits to show off the fact that she never wears a bra. Davis’ nipples are so distracting predominant in the show that they deserve higher billing than most of the cast.


            If Cameron’s character is a failed attempt at infusing feminism into the show, there is almost a successful counterpart in the role of Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé), the wife of Gordon the engineer. For the first half of the season, Donna proves that a female character can be intelligent without being condescending or arrogant. She proves that a woman can be both an excellent mother and an indispensable asset to the workforce, both a supporting wife and an admirable moral guide. This helps offset the self-destructive over-sexualized characterization of Cameron for the first half of the season, before the show’s writers mistakenly enter Donna into a derivative adultery sub-plot and allow her to suddenly transform into a weak and passive character. In the final episode she is seen drunk, stoned, and thrown from car like a ragdoll in three separate sequences, completely tearing down the character development from the first half of the season. Even the children seem to go missing from the storyline in the last few episodes.


            This is the problem with “Halt and Catch Fire;” no matter how interesting the true aspects of the story are or how well the actors are able to commit to the roles, it feels as though the characters are written by different writers from one episode to the next. Either that or all of the characters are bipolar. Even when I found myself fascinated by the period setting, engaged by clever writing, or drawn into the contrived melodrama, the huge personality flaws of all four main characters made “Halt and Catch Fire” nearly impossible to like. And I also could not help but feel that the title theme music was ridiculously derivative of the title music for British computer nerd sitcom, “The IT Crowd.” I hope this was an intentional homage, because otherwise it borders on plagiarism. Don’t believe me? Check out both intros below and decide for yourself.


            The Blu-ray release of season one includes all ten episodes on three discs, along with a Digital HD copy. There are also four featurettes, very briefly covering some of the show’s elements. There is a making-of featurette for the first ten episodes, one covering the 1980s setting and elements in filmmaking needed to recreate it, and featurettes that go into a bit more detail about the true facts and technology behind the show’s story.


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10

    Historical Significance:  6/10

    Special Features: 5.5/10

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