Halt and Catch Fire S3 E4: Rules of Honorable Play

Mea Culpa and Hello

For about a year now I have been writing about television. Because my readership is not massive enough to get attention from the networks, I have to watch each episode as it is actually released to the public, take copious notes, and then translate those notes into a recap. 

Until last week, I would do all of that writing during the same night the episode aired.

Almost always that meant that I was up until 4 a.m. or later writing, editing, and marking up the posts. I apologize but continuing that pattern is just not feasible for me anymore. 

This is a long way of saying, I am sorry the recap is coming out the day after the episodes.

I used to think that if I got them done the same night I would at least stay competitive with the major press recaps. I have decided that I have bigger fish to fry. Anyway, I hope you will be patient with me and accept that recaps will be coming out the day after instead of the night of.

Okay, if you have not seen S3 E4 of HACF "Rules of Honorable Play, stop reading now, *Spoiler Alert*

Thing 1 and Thing 2

I have always heavily identified with Cameron (aka Catherine, Mackenzie Davis). 

I myself was a punking socially withdrawn workaholic in the mid-80's. 

So, it was no surprise, and quite heartwarming to see her listening to Elvis Costello's "beyond belief" right before she had a huge fight with Doug (Joe Massingill) one of the guys from Swap Meet during the "Rules of Honorable Play" episode.

The song says a decent amount about the episode and about Cameron if you interpret her to be Alice in Costello's lyrics:

So in this almost empty gin palace
Through a two-way looking glass
You see your Alice

You know she has no sense
For all your jealousy
In a sense, she still smiles very sweetly

Charged with insults and flattery
Her body moves with malice
Do you have to be so cruel to be callous

And now you find you fit this identikit completely
You say you have no secrets
And then leave discreetly

BTW "Beyond Belief" is from my favorite Elvis Costello album "Imperial Bedroom" which I have written about before (And, no, I have no idea why the youtube clip uses the This Years Model cover).

So why is Cameron fighting?

At first, it is because Craig and Doug (the guys from Swap Meet) want to change her proprietary Mutiny code to C++ so it will communicate better with their system. I am not a coder, so this might make more sense to some of you, but Cameron wants to keep her core code the same because it is the only piece left of what she originally wrote to create Mutiny all those many moons ago.

Remember Cameron originally built a gaming company that has become an online chat company. The episode is called "Rules of Honorable Play" but it seems to me the common thread is the pain of remembering who and what you wanted to become. Bosworth has a deep resentment for what he has become, Gordon feels a shell of his former healthy self, Diane can't believe her husband left her, the Swap Meet guys wish they hadn't sold, and Cameron wants her gaming company back.

Cameron is at the center of a company that she built out of passion but that has become something that is not about anything that she deeply loves or cares about.

So, yes, Cameron is having a pissing contest with Doug (who she calls Thing 1 in a funny bit with Donna) over whose code reigns supreme. And yes, Doug is a particularly odious frat boy coder type who at one point calls her a "man-hating bitch" which I suspect is a nod to gamergate (and to every problematic silicon valley gender problem). But, at the end of the day, Cameron is just mad because she built something successful that she doesn't particularly love.

One of the things that bring this into focus for Cameron is a phone call from her step-dad who tells her that he and her Mom are moving to Florida and telling her to come get anything she wants of her Dad's before they move and throw away or sell his stuff. Cameron's name is really Catherine, she chose to use her Dad's name after he died and clearly loves him deeply. 

BTW, If this weren't a recap, I would probably expand on how awesomely well-written the Doug character is written in this episode. The "man-hating bitch" incident where he unleashes his gendered wrath once he knows that nobody else is watching is juxtaposed about how contrite and polite Doug is around Donna and Diane. Only when he is around a woman who threatens him (because she is a better coder than he is) he is constantly insulting, angry, and  dismissive. But when he is around Mom figures, he is perfectly well-mannered and apologetic. 

But since it is a recap, this all comes to a head when Diane (Annabeth Gish) tells Donna (Kerry Bishe) to make sure there is peace between Cameron and the Swap Meet guys. Donna tells Cameron that she needs to make peace and sets up a "make peace" dinner. The night before that dinner, and right after Doug erupted at Cameron, Craig (Joe Dinicol) apologizes and has a nice discussion and several drinks with Cameron. At the end of this meeting, Cameron suggests that he abandon his partner and work with her on a new venture (what she meant by this is as of yet undetermined).

The next day Cameron goes to Donna and tells her that she wants to fire Craig and Doug (getting rid of her Doug problem and clearing the decks for her and Craig's independent venture).  Donna tells Cameron to raise the issue with Diane at the dinner, and Cameron reluctantly agrees to ask. It is important to note that Cameron does not tell Donna about her plan for an independent project when she has the opportunity.

Surprisingly, Cameron doesn't even show up for the dinner (apparently, she is asleep in her office). Doug takes full advantage, trying to come across like a fully chastened choir boy and it probably works because Diane is clearly frustrated by Cameron's behavior (more on this in a bit). But, at the end of the dinner, after the Swap Meet guys leave, Donna works up the courage and asks Dianne if she can fire Craig and Doug. Diane gives her the reluctant okay.

So, Donna finds Cameron asleep at the office and tells her that she asked Diane about firing Craig and Doug and Dianne said "no."


You know  that things are getting serious when Donna lies.

Later, when they are both at home the guilt is so overwhelming for her that she tells Cameron that she no longer cares if Cameron moves out of her and Gordon's house.

Double Wow.

This is so shocking to Cameron that she immediately smell a rat and turns to Gordon and asks when he knew Cardiff was going under (as in she knows the end is nigh).

The unity between the brain trust at Mutiny is coming apart at the seams. 

"You say you have no secrets, then leave discreetly" indeed.

"What She Did To Have Your Stink On Her"

So, Joe (Lee Pace) is looking for something new to do with his business and now Ryan has become, more or less, his chief advisor.

But this episode starts withJoe flying solo at a fundraiser. A fundraiser also attended by Diane and John Bosworth (Toby Huss). After Diane saw John take Swap Meet to town at the negotiating table, you could tell she would maneuver to make something happen between them (she was clearly impressed). 

Joe is often seen as the "villain" on Halt and Catch Fire but I don't think this is fair (I am not sure there is per se a villain on HACF). Joe, like the rest of the cast, is a complex character who is, at times, capable of being incredibly loving, incredibly self-destructive, and very cruel.

First, we see the cruel. 

At the fundraiser, Joe goes out of his way to drop in Diane's ear that Cameron is going to be a problem child. Remember that Joe just saw Cameron last week and it was not a happy reunion. Joe tends to turn his pain into subtle vindictiveness and this is no exception. He is so happy to see Dianne, he knows all about her boutique financing firm, and he so gently works his dig about Cameron in. It is a masterful performance.

Next, Joe runs into Ken Diebold (Matthew Lillard) the main financial backer of his firm. Apparently, a teenage son of another major contributor to McMillian utility attended Joe's party, snorted a bunch of cocaine, and got arrested driving a car impaired. Ken tells Joe that he will have to do some damage control and Joe agrees.

Finally, Joe runs into John Bosworth where he exhibits more cruelty. Joe saw Bosworth doing his "life of the party, down-home salesman act" for the big SF money players and calls him out for it. He cloaks it in politeness, but he basically is calling Bosworth a shell of his former self who is performing parlor tricks for the cool rich people. You could see the pain in Bosworth's response to him.

This is actually a complex relationship, not just because Cardiff cut Joe out of the payoff for but also because Bosworth has an extremely close and protective relationship with Cameron. Bosworth was with Cameron 100% way before it was cool, and Cameron took him in immediately when he was released from prison. I think it is fair to say that Bosworth is only at Mutiny because he cares about Cameron.  Anyway, I think Bos has some hate for Joe for hurting Cameron and Joe has some hate for Bos because Cameron loves Bos.

And then we see the good Joe.

Later when Joe is in his "make things right" meeting with the financier and Ken, he finds just the right tone and smooths everything over. He really couldn't have handled everything better. Until...

Until the financier decides to start talking. He starts talking about how Joe seems like a decent guy who is not at all like the limp wristed San Diego people he has to work with on a regular basis. He says some really homophobic stuff and then more or less says that he wishes AIDS on all of them.

The 80's was a time of incredible ignorance around LGBTQ issues and especially issues around the AIDS virus. I remember the calls for quarantine of gay people. I remember the violence, the homophobia, and I remember the education. For younger people reading, you should also know that during the 80's being diagnosed with AIDS was a death sentence.

Maybe my favorite form of education around LGBTQ issues was from musicians like Bronski Beat. I will never forget the watching of the following video, probably on MTV, in my teens. To this day, it brings tears to my eyes.

I had never seen anything like this depicted in popular culture prior to this video. I can only imagine that it had a huge impact on people like me all over the country and the world. 

And God Bless Joe (and yes, I know Joe is a fictional character) because he immediately gets up and blows the whole thing up. He blows up this relationship in a way that clearly cannot be recovered from. The reason that I say, God Bless Joe is because this is a demonstration that while he can be narcissistic and cruel and self-destructive, he also has moments of goodness and he has a moral code.

It would have been rare for someone to stand up for Gay people like this in a boardroom. Even in the mid-90's (when I was living in Arizona), it was legal to fire someone for no other reason than you found out that they were gay (knowing Arizona that might still be the law).

Now that we have resolved all of that, There was actually a plot development for Joe and Ryan in all of this. The homophobic financier mentioned being involved in ARPA work on Packet-Switching.  Packet switching is the thing that took the internet from something people slowly played with to what we know it as today. Packet-switching, as I understand it, is what allows data to be broken up so that it finds the fastest route to its final address.

So, Joe brings packet-switching and an ARPANET login to Ryan (Manish Dayal) and tells him to help figure out the future.

What The F*CK?

Poor Gordon (Scoot McNairy).

What if you found out your mid-life crisis had turned into your end-of-life crisis.

Most of the episode is spent showing us little bits of Gordon's degenerating reality all written don neatly in his little book. It is heartbreaking.

One thing is for sure, he is starting to lose the vision in his right eye, in addition to his shakes, nausea, and headaches. The poor guy cannot even play duck hunter without closing his eye and using both hands to steady the gun.

The payoff for this episode is that Gordon gets to play Lazer Tag with all of the coders. In fact, Gordon plays Lazer Tag so enthusiastically that he gets kicked out and banned from future competition (he breaks a bunch of the 'scenery' in the midst of a wild charge).

It is great fun to see Gordon have a few moments to forget his problems.

But, since he gets kicked out, he sits at the concession stand eating some food and waiting for everyone to finish when John Bosworth shows up to say hello. This is an interesting episode for Bos. Dianne more or less tells him straight out that she wanted to date him and because he has just been exposed by Joe he goes entirely cold on her.

I may be nuts here, but if a wealthy, successful, attractive, divorced financier wants to date you, you say yes. This is true even if you are having some issues with self-esteem or workplace satisfaction.

Anyway, now he is talking to Gordon and during the discussion, Gordon mentions how terrified he used to be of Bosworth when he Bos was still a honcho at Cardiff. This clearly reminds John of his earlier humiliating conversation with Joe and he goes cold again just as the coders all come out and beg him to join in the Lazer Tag fun. They are chanting: 


But still, he refuses to play. 

There is a parallelism in this episode between how John and Cameron are feeling. In both cases, they are fairly sure they don't want to be at Mutiny anymore.

The previews for next week suggested that they are going to be heading to Florida together soon.

Pretty good episode. If you are wondering about the "Rules of Honorable Play" part, I think it refers to Cameron withholding from Donna, Donna lying to Cameron, the Swap Meet guy acting like a sexist jerk, and Joe blowing up at the homophobe.

So, what did you think of S3 E4?

What do you think Cameron is up to?

What do you think Cameron's new project is? Will she split from Donna?

Am I wrong about Bosworth? What is your theory about why he shut down Dianne and the programmers?

As always, I would love to hear your theories, leave a comment!

Elvis Costello and the Attractions: Imperial Bedroom
By Elvis Costello and the Attractions