Faint Cinder


AMC's New Series "Halt And Catch Fire" Los Angeles Premiere - After Party

Halt and Catch and Fire was one of the greatest character dramas made and no one watched it. Maybe its name scared too many away thinking it would be a smart-assed comment on technology, or another meander into 80s and 90s nostalgia. In its funny and passing moments it functioned this way but pushed far beyond. In the end, after 40 episodes over 4 seasons, H&CF was about a sad fact: having an idea is not enough. Whether this was because of the turgid sexism of the tech-industry (to say nothing of the world) or because one is too old, or because one is too damaged, the general lesson of the series is that ideas require a lot of birth pangs, compromises, and self-damage and this often twists them into something else. But if none of this occurred, then the idea was dissipated without notice.


While this is something familiar in the tech industry (Betamax lost to VHS, the Jaguar was too early, Sony was right on time with the Playstation Sega was too late with Dreamcast) it is something we hear but never really hear about ourselves. It is altogether a different thing to think oneself has arrived too early, or too late, or has become trapped in an idea that is nostalgically fused to the past, or careening drunkily into a future that we actually cannot see.

Cameron’s game Pilgrim was ‘too cerebral’ and arrived during the rise of the first person shooter (Doom soon to be followed by Quake), Donna got pregnant too early, Joe could see the future but only because he couldn’t stop running, Gordon with his nose in the hardware could see the near future but worry stopped him (some of the time) from leaping when he should.


The show also quiet subtlety showed us how Cameron might become Gordon and Donna could become Joe but neither of them did. In fact, while Cameron was seen as the one who runs it was Joe, in the end, who was the escape artist. And while Donna seemed to become a pusher, torturing her underlings, once she got full control she did not forget what it was like to be at Mutiny.

It is telling that one of the most memorable scenes of the show involves Donna playing Cameron’s Pilgrim as PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” plays in the background. The show was about what could have been but never in a bitter sense. Better than any other show Halt and Catch Fire made the pragmatic consequences of the technological optimism of the 90s palpable.  Not in the lazy sense of a plethora of references and visual cues but in the sense that the social was going to bend in ways that were hard to prepare for.


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