Season 1, Episode 9
Up Helly Aa
Unforeseen adversaries and new complications threaten to derail all that the Cardiff Electric team has worked for at COMDEX.
Halt and Catch Fire returns to AMC in 2016.
Joe, Gordon, Cameron and Donna zoom down the highway toward Las Vegas and COMDEX. Crammed into the back of the Clark station wagon, Joe writes out his demo speech longhand as Gordon and Donna excitedly explain the workings of the convention to Cameron: the booths on the floor are used to entice buyers to the suites, and the suites are where the real business is done. "It's a cat fight. It's total chaos," says Donna. "It's capitalism at its finest!" Gordon chimes in. Cameron reads through the pages of Joe's speech and spills ketchup onto one of them as she manages her road-trip burger.
After arriving at the hotel in Las Vegas, Joe attempts to check in as John Bosworth. The desk clerk nervously signals for the manager, who informs Joe that Cardiff Electric's suite was given away because their accounts have been frozen due to the pending criminal investigation. Joe offers his personal card and a $200 per-night bribe, but he and the gang are turned away.
Trying to find an alternate solution, Gordon studies the convention brochure and recognizes Protonix, run by the Manning brothers from Sunnyvale, whom he remembers from COMDEX '81. He hatches a plan and tells Joe to follow him, instructing Donna and Cameron to cajole the floor manager into finding them a new booth.
In the Protonix suite, the Manning brothers deliver a lackluster pitch for their special occasion-oriented dot matrix printer. Gordon, seated in the small audience, heckles the brothers over the product's speed and price. To quiet him, they finally agree to show the printer in action. As soon as they do, the demo hits a snag. Gordon caps this act of sabotage by casually mentioning that IBM is coming out with a similar printer. When they ask him where he heard that, he glances at Joe in the back of the room. Dressed in a crisp blue suit, Joe is masquerading as an IBM rep.
At the hotel bar, Joe tells the Mannings that IBM is indeed coming out with a competing printer and advises them to bow out of COMDEX now. When the brothers explain how much money they put into the suite, not to mention the shrimp, Joe casually says that "IBM" would be more than happy to take those expenses off their hands.
The floor manager overcharges Donna for an unimpressive, down-market booth space. Not only is the booth location remote, but its walls are too small to accommodate Cardiff's promotional materials. Forced to think outside the box, Cameron grabs some cash from Donna, and tells her, "I'll get them to the party. You make sure it's one to remember."
In their newly procured suite, Gordon and Donna are horrified to discover that the Giant won't turn on. They conclude that the problem is likely fixable, but that they'll need a clean room environment to locate and address it. In order to help, Joe lays down plastic sheeting in the bedroom to create a static-free space for them to work.
Meanwhile, on the convention floor, Cameron wraps Joe's briefcase in heavy metal chains then spray-paints "THERE IS A GIANT IN THIS BRIEFCASE" on the booth's back wall along with Cardiff Electric's suite number. Her brilliant guerilla marketing stunt quickly attracts a curious crowd. She smiles. Her plan is working.
Two hours later, the Cardiff Electric suite is full of convention-goers lured there by Cameron's booth stunt. Joe works the bar area as Gordon and Donna feverishly attempt to fix the Giant in the bedroom. Heath, a young programmer from Xerox, flirts with Cameron, while Donna reconnects with an old friend, who mistakenly thinks that she and Gordon are still business partners.
As the impatient crowd chants for Joe to show them the Giant, he rushes into the bedroom and demands a status update. Over Gordon's protests that the machine still won't turn on, Joe takes the still-inoperable Giant and parades it before the crowd, drawing cheers. "You want me to turn it on?" he taunts then delivers a sales pitch that charges the audience with coming to the Cardiff booth on the convention floor if they want to see the Giant in action. As a final flourish, Joe introduces a group of booth babes from the neighboring porn convention, who send the party into overdrive.
As the night winds down, Heath tells Cameron she belongs in the California tech scene. His pitch for Silicon Valley intrigues her, and she accepts his invitation to have pancakes at the Hoover Dam as Joe looks on jealously.
Joe chats with Dennis, a buyer from Computerland, who says he's looking forward to Cardiff's demo the next day. Meanwhile, Gordon and Donna finally fix the Giant before stealing away to a bedroom to make love.
The next morning, Gordon and Donna talk excitedly about the Giant's prospects. Donna admits she was hurt that Gordon never asked her to join the Cardiff Electric PC team.
Cameron returns from her all-nighter with Heath and his friends, and awakens Joe. "Maybe you should go to Palo Alto," he tells her. "Maybe we should," she responds.
On the COMDEX floor, the Cardiff Electric team is buzzing with excitement until they notice a crowd gathered around one particular booth. As they get closer, Donna recognizes the voice of the presenter: Hunt. She watches in horror as he and Brian Braswell demo "the Slingshot," a clear rip-off of the Giant. Hunt concludes the presentation by invoking the tale of David and Goliath, suggesting that he who strikes first often wins. Enraged, Donna physically attacks Hunt before being restrained by Joe. "Payback's a bitch," a smirking Brian tells Gordon who is too paralyzed with shock to react.
Back in the suite, Gordon locks Joe and Cameron out, determined to have it out with Donna. "They copied our machine!" she laments, but Gordon quickly changes the conversation, accusing her of sleeping with Hunt. Tensions rising, she admits that she kissed him. Gordon angrily tells her that Hunt used her. "At least he encouraged me," Donna snaps back, saying Gordon never cared about her unhappiness. "It wasn't an affair, but it should've been." And with that, she rushes out.
Joe joins Gordon in the suite and bleakly concludes that the Slingshot is "faster, cheaper, and will be in stores by Christmas," insinuating that if they want to stay in the competition, they need to do something. Fast. After Joe leaves, Gordon begins to disassemble the Giant...
At the hotel bar, Hunt dismisses Joe's threats of legal action and refuses to pull his product. Hunt offers to buy the Giant for $2 million and says Joe's downfall was forgetting that they're both "in the compatible business." "You tried to be good," Hunt taunts. "We just had to be good enough."
In the elevator back to their suite, a distraught Joe takes Cameron's hand and together they prepare to face an uncertain future. Upon entering the room, Cameron discovers that Gordon has removed the daughterboard dedicated to her OS from the Giant. In disbelief, she boots the machine. MS-DOS flashes across the screen. Gordon tells them that the modified Giant now beats the Slingshot on speed and price. "Joe, tell him this is wrong," Cameron pleads. "It's what's right for the machine," Joe rules. She runs out of the room.
Joe pursues Cameron into the hotel hallway, begging her not to go. He says that the project needs her, he needs her. Cameron turns to him as she steps into the elevator, "then put it back," she demands, hopefully searching his face. But it's the one thing he can't give her. The elevator doors slide closed as she begins to cry.
At the booth demo, Joe capably pitches the computer, dismissing rumors that the Giant OS learns your name and asks questions. As he turns the page of his speech however, he is frozen by the sight of Cameron's ketchup stain, and perhaps questions the true cost of what he's done. Gordon quickly covers for him, but when someone points out, "Besides portability, I'm not seeing a lot that's special," Joe coldly snaps back, turning dark. "You want a buddy? Buy a dog," he says. "You wanna get something done? Buy one of these."
Impressed by the demo, Dennis offers to buy 60,000 units at $900 apiece. Joe tells him that they'll negotiate the next day. Hunt and Brian look on defeated, their Slingshot destined for the trash heap.
Back in the suite, Gordon pops a champagne bottle, but the mood is glum. This is not the victory they imagined, nor the victory they wanted. Joe offers to get ice, and leaves the room. As he walks down the hallway, he hears quiet chatter coming from a nearby suite. Inside, a crowd gathers around a demo. "Hello, I;m Macintosh," the machine says once booted up. Everyone in attendance gasps and applauds as Joe takes in this game-changing new PC with a personality. “It speaks,” he says to himself.