During "Landfall," the sixth installment of AMC's floundering freshman drama series, Halt and Catch Fire, the writers showed us that, on some level, they understand that it's impossible to build a successful, compelling show around a trio of one-dimensional, generally unlikable characters, and yet...they've decided to give it a go, anyway! Ugh. It's funny because it's true. Seriously: I sat watching "Landfall," mouth agape, as computer programmer Cameron Howe (arguably the show's most interesting, likable character...though that's not saying much), perfectly articulated why the series hasn't found its footing yet.
Cameron is making sweet, sweet love to Joe MacMillan when she decides to ask him again how he got all of those nasty scars on his chest. He starts telling her a story about an unfortunate car accident in high school, but she calls him out for lying almost immediately. So, Joe switches gears and starts telling another tall tale — but Cameron calls him out on that one, too. Fed up, she lowers the boom:
You want a piece of advice, Joe? Your whole thing, it attracts people, but it won't keep them around. Authenticity is what inspires people. If you want to lead people, you have to show them who you really are. Otherwise, you're just a thousand-dollar suit with nothing inside. No one gives a shit.
Damn, Cameron! You cut that mysterious mofo to the quick! And it couldn't be more true. We still don't know much about Joe's backstory or what makes him tick, so it's virtually impossible to care about him as a protagonist. Incidentally, we actually did learn a couple of new things about Joe during "Landfall," including the (possibly) true story of how he got his scars (he's also great with kids and loves to dance in the rain!), but at this point, it's almost too little too late.
Making viewers like and care about Joe (...and Cameron, and Gordon Clark) should've been the writers' main focus from the start! A little mystery can be intriguing, yes, but too much, and a series just ends up keeping its audience at arm's length. Halt and Catch Fire needs to let viewers in so that we can start, you know, giving a shit.
Believe it or not, later in the episode, while trying to sell Gordon on the idea of an operating system with a "personality," Cameron speaks the truth about the show's ongoing struggles yet again. Of their new computer, she says, "It works fine, but it needs a soul, it needs to be something that people can fall in love with." I can't make this stuff up — the writers actually made Cameron say that! Don't they realize that Halt and Catch Fire needs a soul? Something that viewers can fall in love with?
I suppose it's not entirely hopeless. The writers have successfully made us feel for Cameron and Donna Clark in the past. Heck, at the end of "Landfall," I almost felt for Joe when he admitted that he didn't have anyone to call if he got caught in the hurricane. Can Halt and Catch Fire rebound midway through its first season and start pulling in the kind of ratings that will help it secure a second? I don't think it's likely, but hey, anything's possible.