Monday 27 February 2017

Halt and Catch Fire: Season 2 (2014-)

Halt and Catch Fire's second season is a smart, compelling take on modern Silicon Valley's origin story. And, given the incredible economic and cultural power Silicon Valley holds in today's world, our origin story.

It follows four people - three makers and one suit - as they scramble, squabble, and build our brave new world amidst much blood, sweat, tears, shoulder pads and cyberpunk squalor. The fact that two women are portrayed as the central hardware and software geniuses is a sly criticism of Silicon Valley's current Vile Sexist Problem. But what's a real relief is that tech sexism takes a backseat to the real core theme of this wonderful show: the creative spirit, as mediated by modern, late capitalist work.

In 1980s Texas, the "Silicon Prairie", companies are just waking up to the economic and social potential of networked computers. While season 1 introduced us to a Dallas electronics company, Cardiff, getting whipped into digital shape by Ayn Randian ubermensch, Joe McMillan (a divine Lee Pace), it was - well, mostly boring. The three makers - cyberpunk riot grrrl Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), hardware genius Donna (Kerry Bishé), exasperated wife to frustrated goober Gordon (Scoot McNairy) - felt a little flat, and Joe's American Psycho with a heart of gold thing was, yeah, whatever.

Season 2 underwent a radical change in tone - and it pays off. Suddenly, the tired Mad Men stuff was gone: replaced by smart commentary on our earliest digital roots (online communities, copyleft, brogrammers). Donna and Cameron have now joined forces to launch Mutiny, an online gaming/chatroom startup. Leading an army of slobbish brogrammer stereotypes, they clash over visions of the future (will online text-based chat be the future? or multi-player role playing games? ding ding, both!) and clash against the reluctantly ruthless corporate shark that is Joe.

What really impressed us about season 2 though was the incisive looks into modern work. We see modern American work in all its incantations: the "garage startup" aesthetic of protracted adolescence (pizza boxes, action figure office decor, geek fun aplenty), the genteel humiliations and scrabble of cutthroat corporatism, the desperate attempts to preserve the creative under the onslaught of capital. And once again, we at the PPCC are reminded: oh, how we wished work was organized along Renaissance Italian 15th century lines, and we would have bottegas dedicated to great masters created their art, and we would have apprenticeships with great masters, and the wealthy would be patrons of the arts, and we would dedicate our lives to seeking knowledge (science) and beauty (art). WE CAN DREAM.

Anyway. Here's a scene which captures the mood:

They're going to California next (season 3), and we can't wait. We at the PPCC have a long meditation on California festering in our minds, perhaps ready one day for the Internet. Suffice to say, it'll be about Californian secession, Californian arrogance, the way a Whole Earth Catalog + VC bros culture is exported throughout America, "please don't deport my redneck ass", and the fact that this Dead Kennedys song is still so darkly, hilariously true. Mellow out or you will pay. MELLOW OUT OR YOU WILL PAY.