El Gordo: Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 6 (AMC)
Halt and Catch Fire: Season 4 Episode 6 “A Connection is Made”
Halt and Catch Fire is back (despite all odds, thank goodness) and I could not be happier. HACF has one of the most bizarrely disproportionate quality to viewership ratios of any television show that I have ever watched.
This week was about masks coming off and truths behind behaviors being revealed. We started to see the self-destruction that is often generated when we hide our emotional selves behind masks or live out of fear.
In other news, this was one of the strongest episodes for music curation in the entire series, I will try to include to some of my favorite songs throughout the recap.
As usual, if you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 5 *Spoiler Alert*
The Radical Isolation Of Living In Fear
Poor Cecil looked like a sad Hamster when Donna convinced him that it was his friend's best interest for him to step away from the company to make room for a better coder. Donna did a masterful job of selling Cecil, but we beyond the fourth had information that sad hamster wasn’t privy to.
We, on the other side of the screen, know that Donna was trying to erase Cecil from Rover in order to engineer the quasi-legal theft of Cameron’s algorithm and to protect her own backside from legal blowback over the entire algorithm snafu.
Think about this for a few minutes.
In order to ensure she got sole credit for Rover, Donna was willing to railroad the guy who created the algorithm that made Rover possible in the first place, reverse engineer a proprietary algorithm, and do immense damage to her friends and to her own soul (if you watch carefully you can see the progressive cost of her recent behaviors on her face throughout the last three episodes)
Donna has become a villain to herself and to everyone else literally in spite of herself.
In the pursuit of finally being valued for her very real talents after decades of being used and ignored, Donna has become everything she hates. In the most important small moment (of an episode full of important small moments) Donna tells Gordon that the grown-up version of herself would have eaten the 22-year-old version of herself alive.
Gordon responds by saying something really prescient, he says that the 22-year-old Donna was not that innocent and that the adult Donna is not really that evil (He also says that both Donna’s have always been there but that he loves who she is, which she was not entirely ready to hear but was clearly true).
I came close to saying this last week but held back because I wasn’t 100% sure, but most of my recent comments about Donna have come from insights that I have gained from my own struggles with addiction and recovery (I even wrote a book about addiction and recovery).
I don’t want to limit what I am about to say to just people who deal with addiction. Most disorders or diseases that I have encountered that are born from trauma (addiction, depression, dissociation, repression etc.) have many similarities and so much of this can be universalized.
However, much of what I am about to write is more personal than usual.
Donna felt that being her emotionally honest self-left her profoundly vulnerable to being repetitively and deeply hurt by everyone she put her faith in. In order to compensate she created a persona that she felt made her invulnerable (and was most likely modeled on stereotypical male management stereotypes).
And it turned out, behind her mask, she was still bitter and angry and profoundly alone despite her copious amounts of professional success.
It turned out, behind her mask, success didn’t heal her, make her whole, or make her happy.
So, at some point, she started to numb her own existential dread with one drink and then two drinks and eventually Donna headed into what appears to be full-blown alcoholism.
I know exactly what she was going through because I lived it (only in my case, I didn’t get pulled over and receive a drunk driving ticket, I went to prison for three years).
I gave up every real human connection I had in order to achieve success (or at least an excuse not to have to continue to make myself emotionally vulnerable through connection
I became very successful at what I did
I did not feel fulfilled and no matter how much success I had, I never felt fulfilled and never felt like I could just relax and be happy.
Over time as I continued to cope with my sadness, profound loneliness, and disappointment, I became progressively addicted until I finally suffered first an emotional collapse and eventually a moral collapse.
Like Donna, for the vast amount of time I was active in my addiction I was incredibly high-functioning.
Like Donna, when it started to come apart, it wasn’t subtle it fell apart like a waterfall rolling through tissue paper (FYI, for anyone wondering, I have been sober for over 7 years).
In one short period of time she induces a heart attack, brutally executes one of her employees, tries to create a quasi-legal IP theft, almost loses her job, loses control of her biggest account, signals her alcoholism to her daughter, and gets arrested for drunk driving.
Oh, and she also convinces a HUGE FISH to blow off Microsoft and take a chance on Rover only to sleep with him and run him off.
When it rains it pours.
Addicts become well-versed in the process of engaging in elaborate justifications for engaging in bad behaviors and in beating themselves up almost constantly after the bad behaviors have been enjoyed.
It is not a cycle filled with joy, it is a cycle full of profound loneliness, sadness, and often humiliation (seeing her repeat the exact same advice to her daughter twice because she was too drunk to remember having expressed that advice the first time was particularly hard to watch).
Most so-called ‘acting out’ is an attempt to numb pain more than experience joy. It is often a form of prayer begging for the pain to end (which is one of the reasons why I get so bristly when people look at addiction as a moral failing).
Anyway, When Dianne forces Donna to meet with Cameron to sort out the IP for her algorithm, there is an acting moment where you can almost taste how badly Donna wants to tell Cameron how badly she needs help.
I would ask anyone who is uncertain of Kerry Bishe’s acting chops to go back and watch her subtle progression throughout this season as her ability to contain the collateral damage from her alcoholism starts to unravel.
Seriously, Kerry Bishe just successfully pulled off the entire character arc of Don Draper or Cersei Lannister in less than two seasons.
Last week I said that I really hope that Donna can reconnect to the great parts of herself soon (he positive attributes were so obvious to anyone watching Seasons 1 and 2).
Now that I know she is an addict like me, I wish her a successful and lasting recovery (yes, I know she is a fictional character).
A Connection Made
* We were able to connect Donna’s behaviors to her developing alcoholism (see above).
* We were able to connect Joe’s recent struggles accepting Cameron’s wanderlust to his newfound desire to have children (and to his suspicion that purchasing the airstream was another signal that Cameron absolutely does not want to have children).
Joe wasn’t trying to discipline Cameron as much as he was trying to signal his deep desire to start a family.
Sadly, we have seen over and over on this show the damage signaling without TELLING can do. I hope he finds a way to tell share his heart with Cameron before he does something impulsive that could be unrecoverable.
If they can just turn this corner, I think it was pretty clear when Tom told Cam about having a kid, that there is a part of her that wouldn’t mind. I think when you see Cameron looking through the website which has carefully curated all her childhood art and her young adult projects that she might be amenable to starting a family with Joe.
Of course, Joe will have to accept that it will most likely not follow a traditional family structure (Cameron being Cameron). But I truly hope that Bos is right when he says, “give her a chance.”
Speaking of Cameron, she also met someone who wants to hire her to do "whatever she wants to do" (now that is a great job if you can get it). Last but not least, she reconnects with Donna and shows her a great deal of grace despite their deep differences and open wounds.
* We were able to connect Bosworth’s fear that to tell Diane would be to lose her to his own irrational inability to see that she truly loves him (she literally asks him to marry her in a particularly heartbreaking moment). As he already (mostly) lost one family, his defensive fear of Diane's reaction is not surprising but it is hard to watch him facing the loss Dianne for a really terrible reason.
I hope Joe was right when he responded to Bos suggesting that he give Diane a “chance” too.
* We were able to connect Haley to being what I suspect is a closeted lesbian at a time when coming out was still terrifying and socially dangerous (it still is, but this is one area where at least some social progress has been made compared to when I was younger).
In case you didn’t know, the bands that Haley’s friend name dropped (Bratmobile and Heaven’s to Betsy) were Riot Grrrl Bands.
I would strongly suggest reading the book "Girls to the Front" by Sara Marcus if you are interested at all in learning more about that genre of music.
By the way, the use of Seven Seas by Echo and The Bunnymen (from one of my all-time favorite albums by one of my all-time favorite bands) was AWESOME during Haley’s rocket themed birthday party celebration.
* We connected Gordon to what I believe is his own realization that his disease might be defeating him.
I started to suggest in several discussions after last week’s episode, that Gordon burning his books might be a tip-off that he knows that he is dying.
If you look carefully at his face throughout “A Connection Is Made” you can see subtle makeup that suggests deterioration. I could be wrong, but I suspect this was what the El Gordo reference (it means “Handsome” - it actually means fat) was about.
This also explains his tense reaction to Haley when she fights back against him on catching up on her schoolwork before coming back to work and his brutal response to Joe’s beautifully tender attempt to let him know about Haley’s sexual orientation struggles (“you don’t give a shit about her <Haley>”...”That’s why you are not a parent and never will be.”
Okay, I think this was one of the defining episodes of what has already been one of the best shows on television in the last twenty years. I was literally saying, “Oh, no Donna is about to get arrested” to my screen as she was driving erratically singing Pat Benatar.”
If I start yelling at my televsion, given all my built in cynicism and worldliness, it is probably a pretty good or incredibly bad episode of a show.
I am christening this episode El Gordo because it is “Fat” with meaning.
If you have any questions or want to discuss the episode, I am usually available on Twitter, answer all of my comments here, and answer all of my questions on Reddit.
I also am currently doing recaps of Orange Is the New Black and South Park. In just two weeks, I will be starting back up my Mr. Robot recaps for Season 3 (Black Mirror in December).
Thanks for reading!