‘Halt and Catch Fire’ Episode 3 Recap: High Plains Hardware
Cardiff Electric’s PC venture is well underway in episode 3 of Halt and Catch Fire, but Joe’s ambition seems to be hitting the computer cooling fan — whether it’s Cameron stalling when it comes to the BIOs code, or Gordon’s team struggling with Joe’s laptop vision, the upload speed for Cardiff’s PC mission has slowed to a crawl.
Like the pilot episode, “High Plains Hardware” opens with the death of an animal — this time, a bird outside of Gordon’s home. Gordon solemnly watches the bird struggle, and even offers to take it in to get help. Donna and his neighbor, however, tell him to let the bird pass. Gordon’s sadness over the death of the helpless bird would soon be better understood — that day at Cardiff Electric, he would be forced to lay off 46 people.
The bloodbath at Cardiff (a consequence of the PC venture and exodus of clients to IBM) leaves Gordon with a small team of engineers tasked with building Joe’s near-impossible PC design: a portable computer the size of a briefcase that weighs less than 15 pounds. Most of the engineers scoff at that notion, though Gordon maintains cautious optimism that they will be able to accomplish the build.
Meanwhile, Joe is courting venture capitalists to infuse Cardiff with money for the PC venture, but gaining little ground. Investors know about the drama with IBM and are skittish when it comes to getting involved with Cardiff. Bosworth, however, has pull with old-money investors in the South — investors that completely undercut Joe’s brash authority. One man agrees to invest in Cardiff so long as Bosworth is in charge of all financial decisions; Joe reluctantly agrees.
But when Bosworth totes Joe to a dinner at wealthy woman’s home, he reaches his boiling point — the wealthy woman treats investment like a social accessory, and offers $10 million for an 80% stake. Joe is flabbergasted by this lowball offer and subsequently flips out on her during dinner.
Cameron’s BIOs rut is briefly alleviated when she receives her first paycheck. She blows some of it on junk food, but also befriends some punk squatters and ends up buying a hotel room for them to all party in. The boozing and dancing helps distract Cameron from the work at hand, but she cannot escape her Cardiff mission for long — a shoddy stick and poke tattoo on her arm of geometric shapes inspires a manic coding mission on the hotel bathroom mirror that ends up going nowhere. She leaves the hotel, frustrated.
We once again see how far Joe is willing to go to manipulate people to get what he wants. In order to capsize the deal between Bosworth and his wealthy female friend, Joe privately seduces the wealthy woman’s “boyfriend,” who Joe discerned earlier is actually gay. In one glance after the hookup, the woman realizes Joe sees through her showy relationship with the man and is humiliated — she pulls out of the investment deal, leaving Bosworth to ask Joe what the hell he did or said to throw it under the bus.
(Later, it’s implied he and Cameron sleep together once again — the attraction between them seems to grow when work becomes intense.)
Throughout “High Plains Hardware” we watch Donna quietly battle with her own perception of her husband — Gordon is having trouble assuming a managerial role at Cardiff, given his docile nature. And during a meeting at Texas Instruments (where Donna works), Donna encounters an old high school peer with whom she seems to share a spark — when she embarrassedly recalls being in the high school band, the handsome, charming exec replies, “You were just marking time, waiting for something better to come along.” His comment reads on Donna’s face — her clearly thinking of Gordon.
It doesn’t help that Donna’s mother is in town to remind her of the life that is available to some women in the world — travel, luxury. Nevertheless, Gordon and Donna do share a bond. It is Donna who inspires Gordon with a sophisticated way to tackle the Cardiff PC space issue, though Gordon does not credit Donna when he presents it to his team. Donna is intelligent, but craving more from her marriage.
Gordon and a Cardiff employee — who has been rubbing Gordon the wrong way throughout the episode — are driving in a car when they are suddenly T-boned. The near-death experience shifts something in Gordon, and he promptly fires the man from Cardiff on the spot, still in the smoking car.
When he arrives home, Gordon swears he can still hear the bird chirping outside, struggling through its final breaths. It did not die that morning, or the next day, or the next day. Donna asks Gordon to handle it, but Gordon, bloodied from the car accident and bleary-eyed from work, refuses.
Donna has to take matters into her own hands, carrying out the task that would typically be ascribed to the “man of the house.” She goes to the garage and picks up a shovel — from High Plains Hardware — and heads outside. There, she finds the bird still vaguely alive, but covered in ants. Gordon remains inside, not wanting to be involved. With one deft movement, Donna mercy-kills the bird, and, perhaps also, an era in her marriage.