Sunday, June 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Cameron Lets Loose & Comes Up With the Next Great Game for Mutiny in 'Play With Friends'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 2.04 "Play With Friends"

Joe and Gordon reunite to make Joe's vision a reality. At Mutiny, tensions between Cameron and Donna run high in the aftermath of Sonaris.

Mutiny is trying to rebuild after the devastating attack by Sonaris in last week's episode. That is Cameron and Donna's top priority right now. Emotions are running high as no one at the company is able to receive a salary and opinions on who to blame for this disaster are vast. As Cameron promptly notes at the beginning of the hour, this didn't kill Mutiny because of the hard work from the entire team. But the company is on life support. They cannot stumble anymore because that would be the end. Things are riskier now than ever before. Everyone is incentivized now more than previously to make the company a success. Everyone on the team now has stakes in the company which will produce big rewards if and when the company makes it. Getting it there is what everyone needs to work together on. It's a risk that isn't without its casualties. Yo-Yo walks away from the project because the risk is just too big.

Mutiny is trying to re-establish its focus by cutting down on all the problematic programs and trying to earn back the trust of the subscribers. The system is up and running once again but they need to make sure that this kind of attack doesn't happen again. That further drives a wedge between Cameron and Donna as Cameron thinks the community program is a waste of resources. That's the program Donna has been championing for all season long. She sees the value in forming conversation. It helps link the users together in an exciting way. Cameron has never seen the value in its existence. Even though community is getting larger every single day, Cameron wants to get rid of it. And then, when she finally uses the program to see what its appeal is, she says something that could truly destroy her friendship with Donna.

Cameron's opinion of Gordon has been abundantly clear throughout the entire series. They are opposites who never really see eye-to-eye. Cameron can get along with and respect Donna. She cannot do the same with Gordon. That also extends somewhat onto Cameron's view of Donna's own marriage. That is Donna's personal life. At times, it does inform on how much time Donna spends at the Mutiny house. She leaves to go to her own home because she has this whole life outside of work. It's the biggest difference between Cameron and Donna. Cameron is committed to the business 24/7 while Donna is also committed to her family. Sure, when Donna is at home, she's usually rushing out of the door to go back to work. But it's still a distinction and a distraction between the two partners. It then carries so much weight when Cameron sends a message saying that Donna is trapped in a domestic lifestyle because of Gordon and their two daughters. That's an incredibly hurtful thing to say. Cameron only did so because of the chat room being private. That setting allowed her the confidence to type out those words. That's the value of the community program. It allows people a chance to say things they would never say out loud. That may be how Cameron really feels about Donna and her domestic life but she would never actually say those words out loud because she respects Donna too much as a person.

That tension may only be getting worse the deeper into the season the story goes - as the end of this episode reveals that Donna is pregnant again. That will be a whole new complication that the team at Mutiny will have to deal with. And yet, it also presents a reality where both of the Clarks are dealing with health problems. Both Donna and Gordon are so focused on what they need to do - whether it's for their job, their family or their future. They've been on the go a lot this season. It's all been a part of the season's wonderful chaotic energy that comes out of the Mutiny house. And yet, it's still going to be devastating once knowledge about both of their health concerns comes out. Donna's pregnancy is simple and should be rejoiced. She loves her family. And yet, she has been focused on work a lot lately. Is it a good time to bring another baby into this world? Probably not. But that's entirely because of the mystery disease that is currently infecting Gordon. It's an interesting decision the show has made this season on focusing on the health concerns in the aftermath of an addiction and not the addiction itself. Gordon did cocaine largely during the time jump. He did a little a few episodes ago. But he has largely quit that habit. But now, it's presenting itself as a danger to his health. That's ultimately more compelling. He's doing his best to try and stay relevant and present with the people in his life. He cares enough about Donna to ask if she should see a doctor when she believes she has the flu. And yet, he doesn't want to take the time to focus on himself. He passed out for a few moments and got up like it was nothing. That means things are likely only going to get much worse for Gordon.

But the various health issues also help better connect the characters to each other. Gordon passes out when he is working on an overnight job for Joe. Gordon is aware of just how sketchy Joe continues to be. He is literally breaking into his own company in the hopes of showing his new bosses just what this operating system is capable of. He is trying to force their hand in order to get what they want. It's the exact kind of tactics he used last season. Gordon calls him out on it too but he doesn't have the moral high ground in this arrangement either. Gordon justifies helping Joe with this venture because it would mean providing a new business opportunity to Mutiny after the whole devastating Sonaris incident. That's what he needs to do right now. He needs to make things up to Donna and Cameron. And that means getting into business with Joe again in a way that could present big complications for Cameron in the future should she ever learn what kind of deal Gordon made with Joe.

Cameron has worked hard to get over Joe and all the pain he caused both professionally and personally. She has done that by throwing herself into her work and making sure that Mutiny is a great company. She is struggling with how to run it as a successful business. That's why she needs Bos on her team. He knows how to manage. She is capable of these big ideas. She's the one who realizes that their new game can be a first person shooter where the players are facing off against each other. That's a great break through for her that comes as the programmers are messing around the house. That idea is also linked to her moving on with a new romantic relationship. She and Tom have had sexual chemistry since his first episode. The show was wise to slowly tease and not force it to happen - like it did with her and Joe last year. It was more subtle about it. And yet, it's her jumping into a new romance that mixes the personal and professional way too quickly. Will she make better decisions this time because it's with someone who is less of a mystery? Or will she ruin things when Joe comes back into her life again? She still holds onto so much anger and passion towards Joe. That was evident doing that brief one-sided phone conversation last week. How will she react to the news of this deal Gordon (who's not even a member of Mutiny) has created for her? How will it impact her mental state right after coming up with this huge idea for the future of her business?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Play With Friends" was written by Dahvi Waller and directed by Kimberly Peirce.
  • Bos left Mutiny when Cameron initially gave him the job because he needed to figure things out in his personal life. He did that last week by talking with his ex-wife and his son. And now, he's returned to the house with that weight off of his shoulders. Not only is he proving himself as an asset to the team, but the rest of the programmers respect the work he is doing for them.
  • Interestingly, Cameron will listen to Bos when it comes to managerial decisions but wouldn't with Donna when she raised the same concerns at the start of the season. How much of that is a ding at Donna and how much is just Cameron's personal growth from the season so far?
  • Gordon still feels the need to prove something to Joe. When he spots Joe outside his house waiting for him, he has to start running and tell an elaborate story about his new healthy lifestyle and how good his life is right now - even though it's clearly not.
  • It's fun watching the programmers play around the house. That's the dynamic that has given so much great energy to the entire season. It's also a little misplaced seeing them act even more like a college fraternity in the immediate aftermath of the Sonaris attack. And yet, the way that entire sequence is shot lends itself to the creative burst the show has experienced this season. It was just so much fun.