Surfboards & Ice Princesses: Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 4 (AMC)

Halt and Catch Fire: Season 4 Episode 4 “Tonya and Nancy”

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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 one metaphor attempt to encapsulate ten storylines, the often quiet but intentional genesis of betrayals, a new character, and a bunch of stuff about browsers.

As usual, if you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episodes 1 and 2 (or seasons 1-3) *Spoiler Alert*

A Mountain Inside a Metaphor

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If you put aside the criminal assault part of the 90’s storyline the media was selling hard that Tonya Harding was fire where Nancy Kerrigan was ice and Tonya Harding was the underdog from the trailer park where Nancy Kerrigan was the perfect suburban ice princess.

Since I knew neither one of them, I will just assume that all of that is manufactured bullshit and that they were both much more interesting and complex than simple binary metaphors could convey….kind of like our beloved characters on Halt and Catch Fire can be similar to a metaphor like ‘Tonya and Nancy but never quite encapsulated by it.

Yes, Cameron is Fire where Donna is ice.

Yes, Boz is from the country while Dianne prefers the penthouse.  

Yes, working at Comet is fun while working at Rover is stressful misery.

Etc. Ad Infinitum.

There were so many subplots that fit into this metaphor that it was hard to even catch up, but I think, at the end of the day, they were suggesting a much larger point.

The point wasn’t to demonstrate that Gordon and Joe’s workplace is Tanya where Donna’s workplace is Nancy (or that Joanie Clark is Tanya where Haley Clark is Nancy) it is to demonstrate that simple binary descriptions of real people are always ultimately a total fail.

Tonya and Nancy were there at the beginning of 24-hour news cycles created almost entirely around mountains of manufactured nonsense.

Tonya and Nancy started the process of taking People magazine from tabloid trash to required reading for millions of Americans and probably were a key inspiration to the folks at Bravo (sigh).

We are currently spending a week where every news outlet is doing 24-hour coverage of a hurricane. Where they are sending news teams into evacuation zones so that the news desk can continuously cut to new live feeds where new live reporters tell us “the wind is really blowing” or “the rain, as you can, see is really coming down hard.”

I suspect that Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rogers are saying to us, see how much a simple reading of events does damage to all of these people? The real business is happening in the margins, NOT in simple narratives.

Just take Joe and Cameron (for instance).

Inevitability? Colonization vs. Embracing the Other

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Cameron says that the Rover browser’s algorithmic approach could be really powerful and effective but Joe, because he is committed to human curation (he has always been a snob at heart) he dismisses the best programming genius he has ever known (and his love interest) summarily because he doesn’t want to hear what she is selling.

A good relationship is about trying to embrace your partner’s differences not about making her into another version of yourself. Throughout the last two episodes, Joe is trying to colonize Cameron not embrace the differences that she represents.

Joe hates the Gulfstream that she buys, he doesn’t want to be in the country, he literally chooses to avoid her rather than embrace who she is. She begs for him to come with her on her adventure

It might seem like Cameron wrote the algorithm that saved Rover to help save Boz from the embarrassment of having to admit his financial problems to Dianne, and to some extent that is true, but in the end, I believe that she wrote the improved Rover algorithm because she believed she was intrigued by a problem that interested her and she wasn’t going to ‘stand down’ just because Joe wasn’t interested in her ideas (perhaps even because Joe dismissed her out of hand).

No matter how deeply Donna hurt her, no matter how much she loves Joe, her way of relating to the world she doesn’t trust is by flipping the world the bird and always GOING FOR IT. As I said a few weeks ago, many people deal with trauma by hiding behind screens, Cameron deals with trauma by being utterly authentic in all things.

It was a subtle move, but Joe was trying to domesticate Cameron throughout the last two episodes and you can’t domesticate Cameron. His ONLY hope is to realize that he loves her because she isn’t like him and love requires compromises well beyond his neat and carefully constructed comfort zones.

And it wasn’t just one move after Cameron offered to take Joe to an ‘Amazing Land’ he withdraws entirely.

He barely talks to her at the Gulfstream party and falls asleep before she can even get to bed (anyone who has been in a relationship knows what this usually means). When she is having trouble in the country, where is Joe? When she needs support, who is there for her (Boz not Joe)?

He is letting her know that he is incapable of meeting her on her turf and he might even be giving her the silent treatment (like a sullen child).

Is it any wonder she decides to rebel?

In fairness, what Cantwell and Rogers could be saying is that Tonya and Nancy, like Cameron and Joe, were made up of elements incapable of surviving the chemical bonding process. I hope, in my own romantic way, that instead of being doomed they both learn a lesson.

I hope that Joe learns that love isn’t about making Cameron into a compliant neatnik who doesn’t challenge his carefully constructed order and I hope that Cameron learns that chaos is hard for Joe to process and that she needs to bring him along slowly.

Unfortunately for both of them, I suspect that Cameron’s hidden defection to Rover will ultimately be the undoing of Comet and be the main reason Donna defeats Gordon and Haley. Cameron is a genius programmer and it is likely she could figure out an effective web-crawling bot algorithm  (we know web-crawling beat human curation because Google revolutionized search using the web-crawling method).

Joe will see it as a betrayal when it really wasn’t a betrayal (Joe virtually challenged Cameron to prove him wrong) and Gordon will definitely see it as a betrayal (and will have some justification for having this point of view).

One thing that I love about this show is how the writers understand that for many people, betrayals and insults happen in tiny moments of poorly conceived but painful insults and in the thoughtless but predictable emotional reactions to them. Small moments can set off earthquakes more devastating than the biggest and most dramatic fights.

Tanya Dropping Bombs

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Just like Joe is trying to domesticate Cameron, Boz is trying to snow Tanya.

He takes her to a sushi dinner and tries to wow her with his knowledge of sushi and makes a clumsy attempt at culture-shifting in order to get her on board to present a united front to sell Rover to AOL at a rock-bottom price.

What he doesn’t know is that Tanya is not a dummy. She did her research and is the first person (aside from Gordon) to know that Boz is seriously in debt. Her response to Boz accusing her of stabbing him in the back was one of the best minutes of writing in the history of the show.

Ultimately, we find out that the only person who really fully believed in Rover was Tanya (even Donna, despite her hardline response to Boz,  was thinking of selling. The saddest part is that when Rover is toasting success at the end of the episode (because of Cameron’s alteration to the algorithm) Tanya will likely get very little of the credit despite being the reason Boz finally has to beg Cameron for help.

Sasha Morfaw is giving an acting clinic in how to make a huge impact with only a small part.

So where does this leave us?

Donna is going to figure out that Cameron altered the algorithm (because she is very smart). Donna is going to be deep in dutch with Gordon and Haley for beating them after stealing Joe’s idea while Cameron is going to be in trouble with Gordon and Joe for helping the enemy win.

Oh, and Gordon most likely has a new love interest in Anna Chlumsky’s Dr. Katie Herman (who knows way too much about sub-genres of metal but seems extremely smart and competent).

I should probably also say that Haley is a riot (and could you please bring back Blue Mohawk Guy?).

Can’t wait until next week!

Question: What relationship on the show comes closest to the real Tanya vs. Nancy?

(I included music this week because I thought the curation was particularly strong)