Halt and Catch Fire S3 E8: "You Are Not Safe"

Halt and Catch Fire Sadness

If you have not watched S3 E8 "You Are Not Safe" - you are not safe to read this recap (sigh). 

* Spoiler Alert *

Okay, silliness out of the way first.

No #BlueMohawkGuy this week.

Also, I am pretty sure Cantwell and Rogers made a (second) nod to Mr. Robot this week by having a trick-or-treating kid called out by Cameron for his "Alf" costume.

This was a very emotionally devastating episode, let's dive in.

Be Careful What You Wish For, Donna Clark Edition

Last week I started to investigate the idea of Donna (Kerry Bishe) as Villain. My reasoning was not that she was normally cruel, but that she did something specific to hurt someone she authentically cares about in order to satisfy her own ambition.

Basically, what I suggested was that Donna no longer wanted to be the Woman behind the Man (Gordon) or the Woman behind the Woman (Cameron). For once, she wanted to be "The Woman" (period).

As we saw in her trip to Diane's (Annabeth Gish) summer house that she no longer wants to be camping, she wants to be glamping. Donna's happiest moment in S3 E8 is when she is enjoying her time in her luxury suite in the moments before her morning interview on the day of the Mutiny IPO.

Almost everyone is 100% convinced that Mutiny can only benefit from quickly "going public." It was, in fact, the promise of this wealth and prestige which drove Donna to drive the stake through Cameron's heart in the first place.

But, if you remember one person was not excited about the IPO and that person, Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), was not being capricious about wanting to delay the IPO. In fact, she had reasons (a long set of reasons) she took a long time to write out and plan around, for why she thought Mutiny was not yet ready to go public.

One of those reasons was that Mutiny was not compatible with any other computer other than the Commodore 64. 

But, in their rush to money and glory, all of the other players chose sides against Cameron (who was, after all, the very person who put them all in the position to cash in from the beginning). 

So what happened? 

Most of the episode is spent showing Donna prepping for IPO day. But we also see glimpses of what she has offered up to the sacrificial Gods (her marriage, her friendships, and her relationship with her kids).

I don't mean to suggest at all that the point is that she should be home with her kids (and I don't think Cantwell & Rogers intended that either). I think part of what the show is exploring is her desire to live a different life entirely (a life where she made different choices and ended in a different place). What the show is exploring is the tension between the part of Donna that wants to escape to her fabulous new house and her fabulous new life and the Donna who is married and who has kids.

To be 100% (as they say), I don't blame Donna for this at all. If you watched the first few seasons, it was hard watching the nicest and arguably most talented engineer on the show being a glorified secretary and housekeeper.

I think what changed is that Donna's decades of sublimated anger have slowly changed her in ways that are not entirely admirable. She crucified Cameron on the alter of her own ambition.

Cameron was the person who finally valued Donna for what she was truly worth.

In no way am I blaming Donna, but I am sad for Donna and Cameron.

Even before the IPO opened, you could tell Bos (Toby Huss) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) were both frustrated by what they had been forced to do. Donna has perhaps alienated all of the people who truly care about her.

As you probably know, the IPO was a disaster.

The episode hinted that the reason was Mutiny being too tied to the Commodore (as Cameron predicted).


Donna looked as if Christmas, New Years, and her birthday had all been cancelled. Which makes sense, because if she is left with a hollow shell of a company, she is back where she started only without a programming genius partner creating cool products for her.

There is a painful scene towards the end of the episode where Cameron is shopping and sees Donna and Gordon's kids who she adores. The kids run to her and they are all really happy, at least until Donna shows up.

Despite Donna's attempt to wave at her, Cameron can barely look at her.


I love Donna's character, I love that they took her in this direction, but it is still really hard to watch it all go so wrong for her.

Ash Williams Is Everywhere

So, Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) has pretty much totally isolated herself at home since the Mutiny betrayal. I suspect that it is no accident that Cameron seems to be staying at home all day and night watching the 25K Pyramid and her VHS of Evil Dead (Since in Evil Dead, most of the characters become demon-possessed and turn against Ash).

Tom (Mark O'Brian) tells her that she should get out (to buy Halloween Candy) and she does, returning just in time to give some trick-or-treaters candy. And then a second knock at the door is heard.

It is, of course, Joe McMillan (Lee Pace). And, just like every other time they see each other, there is crackling and undeniable chemistry between them.

Joe shows up to ask Cam to help him find Ryan (Manish Dayal) who has gone off the grid since the FBI visited him after he released the proprietary code for McMillan Security's anti-virus software.

Joe is authentically worried about Ryan (more about this in a bit) and he knows that Cameron might be one of the only people that can track him down. She agrees to help him, and after an awkward parting with enough sexual tension to start a brush fire, she goes off to find Ryan Ray.

After using some hacker magic, she finds him in what looks to be a University common area where he has been sleeping and using the computers. She lets him know that Joe is looking for him, is worried about him, and wants to help him.

When she gets home, Tom drops a bomb, he has been offered a raise but has to move to Tokyo.

Cameron hesitates less than a nanosecond before agreeing to move to Japan with Tom.

In fact, the reason she runs into Donna in the grocery store is because they are moving immediately, and she wants to grab things at the store that they might not have in Japanese grocery stores.

So, she is running very far away from everyone that she loves but who betrayed her (understandably) with a man she likes very much but does not love.  


The Beautifully Sad Poem Known as Ryan Ray

RIP Ryan Ray.

I will choose to remember a character that I grew to care a great deal about with his hands in the air after he and Joe were able to win the contract for the internet backbone.

After Cameron found Ryan, he shows up at Joe's house and Joe tries to give him some options for moving forward. Joe tells Ryan that he can either:

Run - In which case Joe will give him money and accompany him to the bus stop


Face the music - In which case, the project will go forward without Ryan (and probably Joe), Joe will help him with his legal defense (which will likely result in him doing a few years in prison and being banned from computers for five years), and mean that Ryan can never work with Joe again. 

Ryan suggests that they can work together again because "Joe McMillan is a risk taker" and Joe responds that he Joe McMillan "can't work with Joe McMillan anymore."

I believe this, as much as anything else Joe said, is what caused Ryan to commit suicide (jumping from the balcony of Joe's penthouse apartment). 

Ryan chose Joe over Cameron and Gordon because he needed much more than a guru he needed something to believe in.

He released the McMillan security program because he needed to believe that Joe really was the person that promised a revolution, who promised to care about digital freedom and wanted to be part of a world information revolution.

He needed to believe this because it showed the way to a dream where he was no longer alone in the world (or at least where his loneliness was part of something larger).

Ryan was totally alone in the world except for his talent and his partner Joe.

He invested everything he had into Joe. When he felt threatened by Gordon's return, he tried to make things happen the way Joe "said" that he wanted them to happen. 

I know this because Ryan left a suicide note:

"I, Ryan Ray, released the MacMillan Utility source code. I acted alone. No one helped me, and no one told me to do it. I did this because 'security' is a myth. Contrary to what you might have heard, my friends, you are not safe. Safety is a story. It's something we teach our children so they can sleep at night, but we know it's not real. Beware, baffled humans. Beware of false prophets who will sell you a fake future, of bad teachers, corrupt leaders, and dirty corporations. Beware of cops and robbers... the kind that rob your dreams." 

And here is where he starts talking about himself (and truthful about us and how we relate to each other online):

"But most of all, beware of each other because everything's about to change. The world is going to crack wide open. There's something on the horizon. A massive connectivity. The barriers between us will disappear, and we're not ready. We'll hurt each other in new ways. We'll sell and be sold. We'll expose our most tender selves, only to be mocked and destroyed. We'll be so vulnerable, and we'll pay the price. We won't be able to pretend that we can protect ourselves anymore. It's a huge danger, a gigantic risk, but it's worth it. If only we can learn to take care of each other. Then this awesome, destructive new connection won't isolate us. It won't leave us in the end so... totally alone.

If we can only learn to "take care of each other" indeed.

Profound Sadness.

Joe responds by looking absolutely broken.

And, to be fair, he probably is.

Earlier in the episode, he tells Gordon to go on with the project without him (the contract is on hold with the network owner because of what Ryan did and he reaffirms this after the suicide again).

So Joe, I assume, is lost in the difference between his own idealistic aspirations (and self-marketing) and what he inevitably became (a pragmatist).

In a sense, Ryan just brutally called Joe on his own bullshit (or on his own insecurities).

As I said way back at the beginning of the season, Joe is haunted by his Fathers belief that Joe is all flash and no fire or much ado about nothing (nothing real).

When Ryan called him a hypocrite it was as if Joe was hearing his Father speaking through Ryan's mouth.

As Joe went to sleep he was already reduced to rubble. After waking up, and finding out about Ryan's suicide, there just cannot be much left. 


RIP Ryan Ray. Just like Elliot Alderson, even the fictional hackers and programmers are incredibly depressed and lonely. When we wonder why bad things are done by nameless and faceless computer geniuses, it might do us all good to read Ryan's words again.

Wrapping Up

There is only one episode left this season.

I certainly hope it offers a bit more hope than "You Are Not Safe" did.

After three years and however many episodes, you grow to care about characters.

During most poorly written shows, tragedy is a rite of passage, often it is almost accidental, it is portrayed as something that happens only to introduce new characters and keep the show feeling fresh. The characters are always comfortable, predictable, and knowable. 

But on shows that work hard on character development, when you spend hours getting to know fully human, flawed, and immediately recognizable characters it can be very painful when a character is lost.

Not just lost accidentally, lost in a way that makes perfect sense within the character's own storyline.

There was a lot of pain in this episode.

As I have said before, this show is really about a very dysfunctional, but caring non-nuclear family.

At the end of "You Are Not Safe" a clearly shaken Joe looks sadly out over the SF bay on an overcast day (in juxtaposition to the opening of the season when he was going surfing on a sunny day).

Will they be able to learn to "take care of each other?

I watched the 'Vice Presidential Debate' before I watched Halt and Catch Fire last night, so let me ask it in a different way (because I think Cantwell and Rogers were clearly talking about both our leaders and about how we interact with each other online).

Will we be able to "take care of each other."

Will this communication and connection revolution all be worth it in the end?

I have suggested some ideas along these lines in a previous blog piece, maybe this is a wake-up call? I also recently saw this incredible primer from Vince Staples on how to try to see criticism from the critics POV.

Let's hope the finale is a bit more hopeful!

Let us hope that we can learn to care about each other.

By the way, I get my transcripts at www.foreverdreaming.org

What did you think of "You Are Not Safe?"

Do you think Donna is the villain? Do you understand where she is coming from, blame her, or both?

How will Joe deal with Ryan's suicide?

What are your predictions for the finale?

Let me know what you think, leave a comment!