I’m Crushing Your Head: Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 3 (AMC)
Halt and Catch Fire: Season 4 Episode 2 “Miscellaneous”
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, we saw the (thankfully brief) return of Tom, interference from Skip, genius from Haley, and frustration from Donna and Cameron. As usual, I am tipping my 40 (of ice tea) for Blue Mohawk Guy.
As usual, if you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episodes 1 and 2 (or seasons 1-3) *Spoiler Alert*
There were two really important Cameron developments this week:
1. Cameron, Tom, and Joe
At the very beginning of the episode, there is a flashback of Cameron explaining to Tom why she slept with Joe. She says:
“I was sad, I needed to pour that sadness into something.”
Tom asks if she loves Joe and she answers that:
“Joe’s impossible to love, he’s empty, he just becomes whatever circumstances require him to be.”
But she does love Joe, and Joe isn’t just a shell. Joe is trying desperately to hide who he is while Cameron is putting how she feels and who she is right in the world's face.
Joe desperately wants the world not to see HIM so he creates important masks to wear so that the world doesn’t know he feels inadequate and small (in relation to his Father). He swallows his pain, is never surprised when the world lets him down, and is constantly reinventing the Joe people see.
Cameron insists the world see her anger, frustrations, and failures. She is an incredibly authentic person, and, as a result much more easily broken by events.
Joe hides behind a facade of masculine confidence (backed up by moments of real genius) while Cameron gives the world the finger as she screams at the world as it disappoints her over and over again.
Joe’s despair is a deeply buried tumor where Cameron’s despair is an angry open wound.
There is a great scene where Joe gives Cameron the “present” of a pair of headphones while she is making breakfast to the music of Belly’s song “Slow Dog.”
He wants a house that represents a perfect seamless interface with no distractions and easy functionality while Cameron craves noise and emotion and chaos. They are almost like a gendered version of Ed Norton and Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden (Tyler Durden?) from Fight Club.
You can see why they are together, same core Daddy Issues, same pain, totally different coping mechanisms.
Joe begs Cameron to finish moving her stuff out of all of the boxes she has brought back from Japan (so he can get his seamless functionality back), so at the end of the episode, Cameron starts throwing her boxes into the dumpster out back.
Joe, hearing the noise, goes outside and asks Cameron what she is doing.
Cameron responds, “I am unpacking.”
Perfect double entendre, she is getting her anger out and exorcising her demons (unpacking).
2. “Howe Bad Can It Get”
Cameron was so certain that her game Pilgrim was good, and that the Atari focus groups were wrong, that she went rogue and sent her game to an important reviewer without permission.
Predictably, the reviewer hated it (the review was called “Howe Bad Can It Get”) and Atari eventually kills Pilgrim.
But before we get to that point, Cameron is on a panel discussing the future of gaming and railing against that first-person shooter craze (in this case, the game DOOM).
Oddly enough, I know a lot about DOOM and the first-person shooter phase. One of the guys on my college debate team was Todd Hollenshead who helped create that game (he is the former President and CEO of the company that created Doom and Quake).
Anyway, I, like Cameron, never really got the appeal of first-person shooters at the time. And like Cameron, who later in the episode gets into a late night DOOM shootout with Gordon, I later grew to appreciate their addictive adrenaline-injecting simplicity. As Cameron suggests later, these games (and other popular games at the time like Mortal Kombat or even NBA Jams) were cathartic.
In reality, Cameron has become too ‘meta’ about gaming, and the game has become more about her philosophy of gaming than about how fun the game is to play (as Boz might have said, her game was all hat and no cattle). The review suggests that her design seems to punish the gamer for playing the game (I remember how much I used to hate playing games like that).
This is exactly what Cameron was doing, she was trying to criticize everything she hates about the gaming industry using her game as the vehicle. The Pilgrims were Puritans aka dogmatists. There was nothing fun about being a Puritan (unless you were a masochist)
There is a movie called Citizen X about a Russian Detective trying to find a serial killer in a bureaucratic Russia that is not particularly interested in finding serial killers. Ultimately, the crime is solved when the detective starts working together with an idealistic General to find the killer. At one point, the pair meet with a behavioral psychologist who says to them, “together, you make a really good person.”
I think, in this and many other areas, Cameron and Joe together ‘make a really good person’ too. Joe would never have forgotten the experience and usability and would have found a way to make Cameron’s great ideas fun even while her core motivation might have been striking back at everything she hated about corporate gaming and gaming in general.
“I Used To Be An Engineer”
Many people asked me what the purpose of Donna’s dual-faced watch was last week.
Donna has decided that success means that she only has to deal with the world on exclusively her own terms. What she has concluded from her experiences with Gordon (marriage) and Cameron (friendship) is that intimate human relationships are the problem and interactions ONLY on her own terms is the answer that she has chosen.
Like ‘whiterose’ on Mr. Robot, she controls the amount of time she will share with people (signifying that they are on the clock and on her time by flipping her watch face). She never wants to talk to anyone very long or have any meaningful interactions with them.
No matter how many people are in a room, except for rare occasions, she lives on 'Donna island' now. Gordon is in charge of nurturing and raising the kids and when someone at work doesn’t meet her expectations she summarily releases them.
She has become a shark in her own mind, and sharks have to keep moving (or die, and yes, this is a direct criticism of Dory’s philosophy in the movie Finding Nemo...Kidding).
Donna stops swimming four times this week:
1. The Dinner Party
So, it is unbelievably awkward for her when Dianne tells her she pushed her team too hard and needs to make it up to them. You can tell how hard it has become for her to relate to other human beings on anything other than her own terms during the awkward dinner party that she hosts to appease her team.
2. Talking with Diane about Trip Kisker III
Donna is really angry that Trip can show up and almost immediately just keep calling her (and her work) out. Prior to Trip’s arrival, her machine was functioning perfectly. She rarely had to authentically interact with anyone (not even her kids), her word was law at work, and when she needed companionship she would just invite someone along she was attracted to.
There is a chance that Donna will try to absorb Trip into her machine as a frustrated last resort, but I doubt it will be genuine engagement (like Trip attempts while playing his guitar for her). She sees Trip as just another entitled man who doesn’t deserve her time but that she has to pay attention to.
When she pulls Dianne aside and (basically) begs Dianne to intervene with Trip, she is authentically frustrated and reaching out to one of her last remaining human friends.
3. Confronting Cameron
Donna walks in on Cameron’s panel at the convention and walks up to the microphone to get out some of her own anger. She asks Cameron if the relationship between game producers and game sellers can be symbiotic. Cameron responds that the relationship is inherently parasitic because corporations bleed a game dry and just scuttle off to the next “warm body” whenever they want.
Speaking her anger out here was not easy for Donna and Cameron’s answer cut her to the core because she is currently trying to win her battle with Trip by explicitly investing in the development of an idea that she stole from Gordon (and Joe). As much as the public Q & A might have hurt Cameron’s future prospects with investment capital, Cameron’s response cut Donna right to the core (you could see it on her face).
4. The Scene of the Crime
Donna and Gordon co-parent almost exclusively through weekly or monthly dinners. During the last such dinner we saw, Gordon shared Joe’s new idea about the web in confidence. During the dinner during this episode, Gordon finds out that Donna took that idea and put investment capital and intellectual capital into developing their idea (but without them involved).
Donna is forced to bring it up when Trip, at a business meeting, alerts her to the fact that there is a competitor in the indexing marketplace called ‘Comet.’ Donna does her research and finds out that this competitor is owned by Joe and Gordon, so she goes into the dinner to try to bully Gordon into selling it to her.
Donna has no intention of being human with Gordon here, this is another meeting on her time and that will be entirely conducted on her terms. Her plan seems to be going well until Gordon drops a truth bomb on her, Comet is actually named after Haley’s Comet and is the literal brainchild of her own daughter Haley Clark.
It is only a momentary crack in Donna’s facade, but if you watch the scene again, you can see her break emotionally. You can see her fight against every instinct to stop swimming and honestly deal with the emotional consequences of this new reality.
I think this interaction, and the potential fallout from it, forms an existential threat to the “new Donna.” She is either going to have to crush Haley to beat Trip (and restore her smoothly functioning capitalist dream machine) or authentically reconnect emotionally with her daughter (live in the desert of the real).
It is a red pill or blue pill moment she is facing.
Haley is her potential savior or Haley’s Comet could end up destroying her.
Don’t get me wrong, a MILLION fathers made wrong choices here too. Heck, Mad Men was all about the concessions we make for success that destroy us emotionally. I am not rooting for her to fail, I am rooting for her (and for Joe, Cameron, and Bos to all win the war to be happy human beings and not just successful capitalists).
I care much more about the character Donna as a fictional person than I do about if she wins some corporate investment lottery. Yes, women should be able to win at business too, but I know that deep down, Donna is still the wonderful and vulnerable person who was ignored and used at every turn three seasons ago.
I want Donna to win without having to sell her soul (Haley).
There is some stuff between Joe and Gordon here that I am glossing over, but this was really an episode about Cameron and Donna. Bos really only had one important plot-driving line (telling his creditors that he is being paid for consulting and that he will make his payment).
Another very strong episode, I suspect that what happens with Haley is going to be, in some ways, the emotional core of this season. Remember, just a few hours ago Haley was playing chess alone and suffering what appeared to be a mild emotional breakdown. Working on comet seems to make her authentically happy.
The implications of what happens to Comet are now at the core of the Halt and Catch Fire family. For some silly reason, they are breaking momentum and taking a break next week. I will be back in two weeks.