There are plenty of reasons to be obsessed with AMC's newest drama, Halt And Catch Fire . 1) It takes place in the '80s, which we all know was the height of fashion. 2) It stars badass elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace). 3) It's about computers, and who doesn't love those? Heck, George R.R. Martin still writes on an '80s-era DOS. (Maybe that's why his final book is taking so long...) But the most important reason to watch AMC's new offering is because your new nerd hero is the star of Halt & Catch Fire : Mackenzie Davis.
We're one episode in, and we're already obsessed. Davis plays Cameron Howe, one of three brilliant computer whizzes recruited to reverse engineer an IBM PC. But she's not just a programmer. She's also not just the token woman on the team. There are so many things she's not "just." In the first episode alone (which you can watch now on Tumblr), she's rebellious, she's vulnerable, she's ambitious, fun, scared, smart, rash, and a million other adjectives.
Props to the writers for putting this dynamic character on the page, but give credit where credit is due: Davis' compelling performance is greatly responsible for the character's success. The female hacker trope is a common one these days, popularized by the likes of Chloe O'Brien on 24 and Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and it goes to show how one-dimensional this trope is becoming now that Chloe has suddenly morphed into Lisbeth for the latest iteration of the FOX drama.
Somehow, Davis manages to make it seem like you're seeing this stock character for the first time. Cameron isn't a one-note ball of arbitrary antisocial tendencies — there's far more to her than that. Davis' layered performance allows you to feel the circumstances that shaped Cameron: As a whip-smart young woman growing up in Texas during the '80s studying a field dominated by egocentric men, you'd have a bit of a chip on your shoulder, too.
So where have you seen Davis before? She's not popping up in a ton of places, but she's been around if you look closely. Her first feature film appearance was in Smashed, the 2012 Aaron Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead dramedy about alcoholic lovers. Her most high profile film role to date was as Chelsea in this year's Zac Efron comedy That Awkward Moment . She also has a supporting part in Daniel Radcliffe's upcoming romcom What If .
Okay, so maybe don't hold That Awkward Moment against her. She did the best she could with what she was given. But in addition to our love of Cameron, critics elsewhere are pretty unanimous in their praise of Davis' Halt performance. From Indiewire:
Cameron, a rebellious college student played with appealingly high energy by Mackenzie Davis, is recruited to help build the PC, despite her penchant for anarchy. She bookends the pilot and gets comparatively less screen time than her costars, but leaves her mark nonetheless.
The third member of the computer building party is the angry, brilliant, rambunctiously chaotic computer engineer Cameron (MacKenzie Davis), who serves up a bit of comedy and promises to play the wild card whenever things need mixing up. She is quite the breath of fresh air amidst all the other serious characters.
Cameron gets the least amount of screen time out of the three primary characters (out of necessity), but the few scenes she has are defining and memorable. She’s rough around the edges but brilliant; not cut out for the corporate world but with street smarts that will ensure she’s just fine dealing with the sharks she’s about to swim with. Future episodes will surely get more mileage out of her relationships with Joe and Gordon, but “I/O” serves as an adequate introduction for someone that already has the makings of a breakout character.
We'll be tuning back in to Halt And Catch Fire next week for lots of reasons (yes, including the shoulder pads). But Davis is at the top of our list — and we have a hunch she'll be on the top of yours, too.
Images: AMC (2); Focus Features