Halt and Catch Fire S3 E3: Flipping The Switch

Explaining My #HaltandCatchFire Addiction

Why should you love Halt and Catch Fire?

Maybe I should start with why I love Halt and Catch Fire first?

I, like most people on the planet, are obsessed with technology. Okay, now you understand.my three-year obsession with AMC's least popular show. No, seriously, it provides the Yang to Mr. Robot's Ying. 

Both are very well-written shows concerned with technology and I suspect a competition between them but one is a fairly linear story using technology as a backdrop for character development while the other is concerned with the ethical implications of corporatism, technology, government, sub-state actors, and revolution.

They are very different shows. But I love them both. With HACF I find the deep dive into the relationships between the characters to be the most rewarding aspect of the show. Maybe, if you get familiar with Cameron, Joe, Gordon, Donna, and Joe you will come along too?

Anyway, if you have not seen S3 E3 of Halt and Catch Fire yet, stop reading now *Spoiler Alert*

"CQ...It Stands For Safety or Security"

Lots of things on Halt and Catch Fire stand for "safety and security" (not just the welcome call letters used in Ham radio). But, one of the ones most of us emotionally connect with the notion "safety and security" is our home.

For Gordon (Scoot McNairy), flipping the switch is about his physical and emotional home, his relationship with wife Donna (Kerry Bishe). How are things going for Gordon at "home?" Not so great, he has dug the old ham radio he built out of storage and set it up in a walk-in closet where he is going to hide out from his life and from his problems.

And, to be fair to Gordon, he is confronting some serious problems:

* He has a brain condition that is degenerative and incurable.

* He cheated on his wife and she is still angry with him

* His former partner just thumbed his nose in the fact that no matter how accomplished he may be, he just is not the "cool" elder statesman of computers and technology that he wants so desperately to be.

* He has no real role in Mutiny (his wife's company) and not very much to do with himself.

So, he is hiding out...In a closet...with a ham radio.

As much as I hate to admit it, this is an example of a pretty typical male coping behavior (emotional withdrawal and isolation).   The good news, for Gordon, he ultimately is still trying to talk to other human beings about what is bothering him (over the Ham radio). But, the bad news is that he is not trying to address his problems with the people who mean the most to him (his wife, Joe, and Cameron).

When Donna sees Gordon in his man-cave-closet she thinks he may need to feel more connected, so she invites him to sit in on Mutiny's executive planning meetings with her. He agrees but in both meetings he attends, he aggressively  attacks how she handles every topic on the agenda and disagrees publically with every decision she makes.

Again, because we are socialized to swallow our emotions and never let other people see our pain, men can become repressed rage machines. We become tea kettles left on high heat until we explode. What Gordon is really demonstrating here is that he has let his frustrations build up so high (and over so much time), that all he can express is rage (thinly disguised as business advice).

And because his list of issues is much larger than what is going on at the meeting, he lets his diatribe go too far and too far right in front of his wife's co-workers. Ultimately, he loudly and publically chastises her for not forgiving him for his infidelity (I think he even said "I only slept with her once" or something like that - eek). Of course, we find out that nobody at the office knew he had cheated on her, and now literally everyone does.

Well Played Sir.

It is no surprise that one of the songs highlighted on the soundtrack this week was Burning Down the House (The Talking Heads). I think, in a strange way, that 'Once in a Lifetime might have been a better choice. 

"Once in a Lifetime" is about the often vast space, for many, between attaining the material aspects of the American Dream and actually finding meaning in life (Between desire, attainment, and meaning). It is about how time goes on around us no matter what we build or attain.  About how the end of our days, we all end up slaves to the rhythm of life.

Now I have all the stuff, and the beautiful wife, and the beautiful car, and the kids, but why am I still unfulfilled? Why didn't all of my accomplishments stop times advance? After all the sacrifices and choices, have I missed the point?

And you may ask yourself, "Oh My God, What Have I Done."

Gordon could certainly benefit from listening to more Talking Heads (RIP Bernie Worrell).

Well, as you can probably guess, Gordon knows he made a huge mistake. As Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) says to John Bosworth (Toby Huss) right after the meeting Donna is the nicest woman "in the world."

He has just publically humiliated and hurt the nicest woman in the world, who also happens to love him. Not so good my friend.

Not only that, she has been unerringly supportive, and he cheated on her. If I am ever in a situation like Gordon's I can only pray that I have a wife who is as kind in distributing her anger as Donna seems to be.

My God, what Have I done?

So he goes home and tries to apologize to Cameron and then sees that someone is trying to contact him on his Ham radio (finally). Whoever the lucky radio wrangler on the other end gets an earful as Gordon uses the opportunity to unload his entire marriage history.


This is likely a really great thing for Gordon. Getting our feelings out, finding people we can be open and honest with about how we are feeling often is the entire difference between doing the things we will regret and the things we are proud of. The important thing is that he isn't using the opportunity to dissociate from his problems, he is discussing them.

After a long day, Donna comes home and Gordon is sitting waiting on the porch to apologize.

The next morning they arrive together for the executive meeting and he apologizes. 

They start the agenda, and he starts shooting Donna down again.

He still needs to actually discuss his problems with Donna not just apologize for them, he clearly has a lot of anger and at least some frustration at her lack of anger.

Burning Down The House.

"I Know I Speak For All Of The Investors"

This could be it
This could be nothing
Will you remember
When the sparkle dies down
I like Ferraris
I like the fame
Appreciation in the strangest ways

Gary Numan's "War Songs" is playing in Joe's (Lee Pace) headphones as he walks the halls of McMillan Security, he is defined by his fear of the party ending while he is still (really) alone and unfulfilled. He can stand in his beautiful "really Asian" apartment surrounded by the party but consumed with loneliness and terrified of what might happen when the party is over (btw this is the second time a Gary Numan song has been used on HACF - can you remember the first? If so, leave it as a comment).

Ryan's (Manish Dayal) Point of view is represented by the David Bowie song "Absolute Beginners" because he is the stranger in this strange land. Encountering Gomorrah for the first time with an, at best, unreliable guide.

I'm an absolute beginner
But I'm absolutely sane
As long as we're together
The rest can go to hell
I absolutely love you
But we're absolute beginners
With eyes completely open
But nervous all the same 

Not sure any song could capture Ryan better (RIP David Bowie), because while he is clearly talented, he has no idea what exactly he is supposed to do. He has put Joe on a pedestal in a way that will not play very well within Joe's chimerical approach to people.

During the episode, Joe tries to drop him right into a board meeting and force him to explain why McMillian Security's personal computer anti-virus suite should remain free forever.

Let's take a second to consider just how crazy this is. Ryan is a programmer with almost no knowledge of a company he has only just started to work at. His boss, who he idolizes, has given him no projects (and chided him for helping other people on the projects that they are working on). In fact, his boss has given him shit for not taking the initiative and creating something out of whole cloth.

Now he is supposed to convince the board not to monetize Joe's biggest project to date, at his very first board meeting and with no time to prepare. Why? Because Joe knows that Ryan disapproves of monetizing the program and he doesn't have the guts to confront the board himself.

Now think about this for a second, Ryan is a programmer and has never met the board. Joe is so self-destructive that he is bringing an "absolute beginner" to a gun fight at his own corral. This speaks to how Joe is always poised between his feeling that he needs to try to drive the Ferrari at the same time he is convinced that he will never deserve to drive the Ferrari.

This also plays out in a random meeting between him and Cameron. Joe has gone back to school to learn basic programming at San Fransisco City College where Cameron has been asked to give a lecture to advanced programmers. Among other things, Joe tells her that he is taking programming so he can finally tell people he is not "just a salesman."

At the core of Joe is self-loathing. He will never accept anything he accomplishes. He is the living embodiment of the famous Groucho Marx saying about never being a member of any club who would have him.

There is a great exchange between Ryan and Joe after the board meeting (where they agree to monetize the anti-virus program).

Ryan says, "You're ruining the product."

Joe says, "I am the product."

Ryan says, "I know (implying he is ruining himself)."

Joe will never, as he is currently constituted be able to accept good things happening to him, or love, or friendship. Deep down he doesn't believe he is worthy and clearly hates himself. He may momentarily fool himself and start striving for the Ferrari but like David Byrne's "Once in a Lifetime" character he is disconnected from time and his humanity. He has become Elvis Costello's "Man Out Of Time"

So this is where he came to hide
When he ran from you
In a private detective`s overcoat
And dirty dead man`s shoes
The pretty things of Knightsbridge
Lying for a minister of state
Is a far cry from the nod and wink
Here at traitor`s gate
`Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down
And he listens for the footsteps that would follow him around

Anyway, at the very end of the episode, Joe approaches Ryan and tells him to work on something good so that they can create a new revenue stream that they can use to convince the board not to monetize the anti-virus giveaway.  Apparently, the Absolute Beginner has the upper hand.

However, remember, as Cameron tried to warn Ryan (earlier in the episode she visits his house and waits for him for over an hour), you can't trust Joe.

Oh, one quick aside, welcome to Matthew Lillard. I know this will come as a surprise, he plays an entitled, smarmy, jerk. I was kind of hoping, after his excellent performance as an alcoholic reporter on the FX show "The Bridge," that he would stop being typecast. But, I guess if you are good at something, you might as well keep it up.

"You See An Opportunity, You Take It"

John Bosworth is always misunderestimated.

A good deal of this episode was dedicated to different characters being freaked out that Donna is sending Bos by himself to deliver their buyout of "Swap Meet." 

Gordon seemed flabbergasted by her decision and Diane Gould (Annabeth Gish) when she hears about the decision during a dinner with Donna decides that she is concerned enough to physically accompany John on the mission to pay off "Swap Meet." 

People forget that while Bos may not be tech literate, he is a really great salesman and he was the one person who bet on all of the main cast of characters to succeed. He is not at Mutiny just out of Cameron's love for him, he is at Mutiny because he is great at reading people and situations.

Anyway, Diane and Bos see that there are no cars in the lot and that there is no reception area or anyone to meet them and decide to ask for a guided tour of the "Swap Meet" offices. As they walk around, they notice that it is a huge space occupied by virtually no employees. Once they sit down for the actual meeting, John takes a huge risk and starts by tearing up the check right in front of them and suggesting Mutiny is either renegotiating or leaving.

In other words, he has figured  out that "Swap Meet" is in serious financial trouble and is cutting back so severely that they no longer have much of a workforce or even a receptionist. As a result, he talks them into cutting over $200 K off of their original agreement.

As we have been reminded a few times, Diane is single (and successful) and Bosworth has had a really tough road back from prison and divorce but is also single (and awesome). Sure, it might be a tad bit May-December, but I think this might be our first Bosworth romance.

You might be wondering what happened with Cameron this episode, she was mostly the connective tissue for other people's scenes this week. She did have a decent confrontation/meeting with Joe. But this was not really a "Cameron" episode. 

We do know that she still is angry with Joe, frustrated about Ryan leaving, and taking on way too much work in order to paper over her loneliness (especially since she can no longer read the chats of her Mutiny clients). 

Who Is Blue Mohawk Guy?

So, one distinctive Mutiny employee has appeared in every episode this year. He is a character without a name (of yet) but is easily distinguishable because he has a gigantic blue mohawk (if it ends up being a woman, I apologize, my gut is telling me it is a guy).

I am betting Blue Mohawk Guy will not get any speaking lines this season, so I would like to encourage some fun speculation.

Please leave a comment suggesting what you think Blue Mohawk Guy's role at mutiny is (don't just say "coder"). I will give the funniest (polite) theory a shout out in next week's recap.   

Okay, that is another episode down.

What are your predictions for Joe and Ryan? For Diane and Bos? For Gordon and Donna?

What was your favorite soundtrack song this week?

Do you think Blue Mohawk Guy will ever get to speak?

If you could have a Ham radio conversation with any of the cast in character, who would you talk with?

Let me know what you think, leave a comment! I will post the best answers next week.

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