Sunday, June 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Gordon Finds Some Drugs While Cameron & Donna Deal with a Hacker in 'New Coke'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 2.02 "New Coke"

After meeting Sara's father, Joe begins a new job. Gordon grapples with his new freedom as Donna is blindsided by Cameron's surprising hire at Mutiny.

I'll admit to not connecting the dots in last week's premiere when Stan shared the story about the engineers doing coke while working on the Giant Pro and Gordon's later nosebleed. As this episode promptly points out, there may be some cause for concern when it comes to Gordon and the incredibly amount of free time he now has. He's trying to look forward to the future. And yet, no ideas are hitting him that make him as passionate as when he was working at Cardiff or as Donna is at Mutiny. It's incredibly boring to be back working out of his garage again. He can literally do anything. That is a daunting idea. And yet, he chooses to use that time to snort some of the remaining cocaine that just happened to be lying around the house and play one of Mutiny's games. First of all, it's incredibly irresponsible for Gordon to have cocaine randomly in his house. He has two daughters after all. Do they just never go to the garage and notice all the stuff that their dad has out there? And yet, Gordon doesn't make a whole lot of strong decisions throughout the hour. Sure, he helps the Mutiny figure out a way to make their game better. Before it was all random in deciding which player would be killed in battle. And now, there's an actual system that determines who shot first. That is a major fix that the team is grateful for. But that doesn't excuse Gordon for sending effectively a stranger in Stan to go pick up his daughters from school. That is irresponsible and a complete byproduct of his brain on drugs.

Things are probably only going to get worse for Gordon too. There's no purpose in introducing this new story for him if he's going to kick the habit by the end of the episode. His doctor warns him about the lethal side effects of this drug while Gordon just brushes it off saying he doesn't get addicted to things easily. And yet, not only did he get into the cocaine again rather quickly, he became obsessed with the Mutiny game and how big the problems actually are. Of course, the audience is aware of all the other stuff that is currently happening over at Mutiny. Gordon is not in on that information. But that doesn't take away from this new story. He is able to throw away his remaining cocaine at hour's end. He instead chooses to help Donna figure out just how vast the market actually is for her company. However, that will only bring him focus for a little bit. What will he do when those calculations are done? Will he just keep testing the various Mutiny games? Or will he fall even further into this new addiction?

Across town, Joe is also trying to move forward in his life. He is seemingly committed to this new relationship with Sara. So much so that he meets her father, Jacob Wheeler (played by James Cromwell), an oil businessman in Dallas. It's a big deal early in Joe's conversation with Sara about this new job that it would bring him back to Dallas - the city where he caused so much destruction last season. And yet, that was basically a moot point. Joe doesn't interact with anyone else from the regular cast. He really is off on his own show right now. A show that has barely anything to do with the tech industry. He still sees that as the future and the market he needs to be in. But he takes this job in order to get back on his feet. And then, it's revealed to be an entry-level position computerizing old files. That should be a crushing blow for Joe. He was expecting a position with influence; not a place at the bottom of the totem pole. It's a chance to teach Joe some humility. He needs to learn that he's not the most important person in the room at all times. And yet, the story is never really presented as such. Instead it is framed as Jacob being overly cautious because of his experiences with Sara's ex-husband who cost him millions in this industry. Joe only accepts this position in order to try and win Jacob over. He's not really working to earn that respect. So he's not being all that humble or genuine. It's still hard to believe anything that Joe says. He claims to love Sara. And yet, there's no way of knowing if that's true or not because the majority of their relationship where they learned about each other and their pasts occurred offscreen during the time jump between seasons.

Conversely, Cameron is incredibly genuine and well-meaning in her actions. She had a connection with Bosworth at Cardiff. She was the one who actually hacked into the bank and stole all the money to fund the Giant. He took the fall for her because he knew she had a bright future ahead of her. Now that Bos is out of prison, Cameron wants to support him and pay him back by giving him a job at Mutiny. It's an honorable and genuine decision to make. Donna may not like the fact that Cameron continues to make these big important decisions for the company by herself in the spur of the moment. That only intensifies throughout the hour. But it's still a wonderfully nice gesture for Cameron to be there for Bos in a time where no one else is. His life has fallen apart because of Joe coming in and taking over his company. Back on the outside, he has to rebuild. He has no idea where to start. Mutiny may be that place for him. And yet, he's even more out of touch at the house than he was when Cardiff shifted focus to producing a computer. He doesn't fit in at Mutiny. He understands that. But the pain is still real when the young programmers continue to prank him and read his personal correspondence with Cameron.

But that only adds to the terrific sequence that is Bos and Cameron's conversation about him quitting. He is incredibly grateful for this opportunity. But he has so many things to figure out in his life. He can offer Mutiny some guidance. He knows more about how to manage a business and raise money than either Cameron or Donna. But that doesn't mean he's in a good place mentally to be an effective member of the Mutiny team. He recognizes that. It's devastating to Cameron because the two of them have formed a strong connection. It's a bond that largely happened offscreen in the first season. But this conversation between the two of them is an actual moment that strengthens their dynamic. It's something that needed to occur and it only made the scene more effective.

That scene between Bos and Cameron shows growth within Cameron. She has to grow in order to lead this business into the future. Donna is correct in pointing out that Cameron is unilaterally making hiring decisions without considering the opinions of anyone else on the team. She wants to run a business that operates as a community of a friends and not one where there's a clear boss. Cameron doesn't want to accept that position even though it is being thrust upon her. She's okay with it when it comes to hiring people. But when other issues stop to pop up, she doesn't want to be the one handling all of the big decisions. She will threaten legal action against the man who hacks their system to potentially ruin or help the game. But it's still Donna who looks into what action they can actually take in this situation. Donna is working so hard for the company. And yet, her efforts aren't being paid off in ways that are rewarding for her or the company. Her idea for a standalone chat room is way ahead of its time. Cameron just wants Mutiny to be a gaming company. Plus, all her efforts researching a legal strategy are meaningless because Cameron just went out and hired the guy. Mutiny has to start acting more like a unified team. That means the various programmers need to stop acting childishly around the office and Cameron needs to accept more responsibility for her actions. That's what will ultimately help them take the business to the next level. Investors may not see the potential now. But very soon Mutiny could be taking off - especially if Gordon's calculations prove a vast market is out there. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "New Coke" was written by Jonathan Lisco and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Tom was able to conceive of a way to get 50 people connected to the Mutiny network through one modem connection. And yet, Cameron is still being presented as the forward-thinker of the regular cast.
  • Also Cameron thought it was a good idea to show up to a meeting where she was going to ask investors for money in her usual laid-back outfit. That was a mistake. And yet, how serious will she be taken if she dresses the way she is suppose to?
  • After causing Gordon a headache with the whole school situation, Stan breaks the news that he's heading out to Northern California where all the big tech companies are setting up shop. That means Gordon will be even more isolated when Donna and the girls are gone all day.
  • Sara still purely exists to prop Joe up and that bugs me - especially when the other two female characters are the best and most original voices on the entire show.
  • It's wonderfully rewarding that Bos is the first person to learn that Cameron's real name is Catherine and that she uses that name as a way to honor her father.