Sunday, August 2, 2015

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Cameron, Donna, Gordon and Joe Move Towards the Future in 'Heaven Is a Place'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 2.10 "Heaven Is a Place"

Gordon aids Joe as the Clark family descends into crisis. Cameron envisions a new future for Mutiny that may not include everyone.

Cameron firmly took control for Mutiny in the last episode - to the detriment of WestNet, Jacob Wheeler and Joe MacMillan. That was an empowering move for her and her company even though it came at a great personal cost. Big changes happen in the second season finale, "Heaven Is a Place," but they all come from a very personal place. The characters' actions don't come out of reacting to the latest personal crisis at Mutiny. They are all trying to figure out what's next. Enough time has passed for the characters to fall into a routine after Cameron infected the WestNet system with Sonaris. They are picking up the pieces which makes for some truly captivating drama.

Jacob Wheeler has been fired from WestGroup and Joe has taken the brunt of the blame for what happened. The audience knows that it was Cameron's master plan. But that doesn't keep Joe from being blackballed in the industry. He can get a meeting with the two sexist businessmen who Cameron and Donna saw earlier in the season. But they are only interesting out of morbid curiosity. They want to see Joe in person to know how he self destructs. It's so easy for Joe to be painted in this image because it's a part of a pattern. Burning the Giants last season gave weight to his punishment now even though he is in a completely different space as a character. Sure, that place could be seen as depressed and maybe even suicidal. But he's not as manipulative and diva-ish as he was last year. A huge step up that this season was able to accomplish so well.

Joe and Gordon have miraculously gotten closer over this season. Because Gordon was no longer working alongside Joe on a regular basis, he was able to see how much Joe had actually changed. Gordon wasn't there when Joe was being very manipulative of Mutiny's business model and almost forced the company to implode. So much has been going on with Gordon this season. His health has been declining. It's a story that hasn't always worked. It frequently felt like a tangent that wasn't all that connected to the rest of the narrative. In this finale, it is so wonderfully connected to everything else in a way that ultimately does make the journey feel more rewarding than it actually was.

There has been a divide between Donna and Gordon this season. They both have kept secrets from each other. They did so for very different reasons. Donna didn't know if she should bring another baby into this world given the chaos that has been going on in her life. Gordon was reluctant to fully embrace his disease. He did eventually tell her about what's going on with him. But he still kept falling down a delusional path. One that ended in paranoia and a trip to both jail and the hospital. He was flailing around and desperately needed help. Donna was there for him when he truly needed it. But so many other things have had an effect on their marriage this season that they are no longer the two people who promised their lives together and had two children. Those issues finally do burst out in the finale. Donna learns about what happened in California - both the fight with his brother and the affair he had. This was one of their biggest fights to date and the children got hurt in the crossfire.

So much has happened to the Clark family this season. They have gone their separate ways. Adding even more change to that environment can't be the only answer to their situation. And yet, a move to California - as first propositioned by Cameron - could be the exact thing that ultimately brings them closer together in the end. Sure, California is where a big source of the secrets came from in the first place. But it's also a place that could be very hopeful for the future. That's what Cameron wants for Mutiny. She wants to go to California and be able to continue growing without needing to pay for an already established network. She sees California as her future for the company. That doesn't mean it's a good idea for the Clarks given the turmoil happening in their lives right now. One of their daughters actually runs away from home for a little bit because Donna and Gordon are fighting. She's not missing for long but it is enough for the two of them to realize that they can't continue operating without any answers.

Cameron presents Donna with the idea of moving to California long before Donna's daughter runs away. Donna is at loss over what to do with her family. Cameron doesn't know how to sympathize with Donna. But she is still there for her friend in a time of need. She is supportive while also giving Donna an answer if she wants it. The opportunity may be scary and daunting but it's an opportunity nonetheless. She wants to do right by her family. Moving across the country may not be the answer. But giving concise answers to Gordon about what he can do to make things right is enough to bring clarity to the state of their marriage. The two of them get on that plane more unified than they were before. Sure, it's a tad baffling that Gordon thinks that he did enough for his family to entertain the thought of having another child. But at least that remains a possibility.

The future is murky for so many characters. Cameron is doing what she believes is best for the company. California could be a huge risk that doesn't pay off for her in the long run. But it provides her an opportunity to take Mutiny to the national level. They have expanded but they still need more resources in order to be as big as she has always envisioned. But she's also alone on that journey. Sure, she has the support of so many members of her team. Everyone in the Mutiny house has packed up and making the trip with her. Even Bos has returned after he realized he belonged with them and not the same job he had doing for the majority of his professional life. But the one person she wanted on that plane with her was Tom. The end of their relationship was somewhat abrupt. She was hesitant to approach him again afterwards. When she finally did, it was to present him with this new opportunity with not a lot of time to actually think about it. He doesn't show up on that plane. That is disappointing despite the brightness that is the future of the company.

And lastly, Joe has found a way to be relevant in the tech industry again. He has never been a character willing to succumb to defeat. He has taken time off to find himself before. But now, he truly is adrift. Sara no longer wants anything to do with him. He isn't being taken seriously in the industry anymore. His only friend is Gordon who presents him with a way to rebuild that personal connection in his life. Joe instead uses that opportunity to became a successful businessman once more. That disc provided him with the confidence that was missing in his life. Sure, it will be success with no one to share it with. But he has an opportunity to truly stake a claim in the anti-virus business. It's a deal that has already earned him a profit. He did so by not following Gordon's advice. And yet, he was willing to let Gordon in on the operation. Gordon didn't take the job though. Not because he was reminded of the monster that Joe is capable of being but because he needed to be with Mutiny and Donna in order to safe his family. That's a truly profound way to end the second season. One that's incredibly hopeful while still addressing the uncertainty of everyone's situations.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Heaven Is a Place" was written by Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Isn't it great that Cameron was able to find a server that Mutiny could buy simply by going onto the tech page on Community? She really has embraced that feature as a part of the Mutiny experience.
  • Bos' story here is such an afterthought. The creative team knew he had to be on the plane in the end but didn't want to spend too much time on his new job. So it ultimately is just a scene where Bos plays along with the management only to tune out eventually. It wasn't that great of a moment given how strong and significant his leaving was last week.
  • Did anyone really miss Sara here? Joe desperately wanted to talk to her. And yet, she had already signed the divorce papers. She doesn't want to talk to him at all. Who would blame her? But again, she was a regular character this season who didn't really do anything on her own. She presented a reality where Joe could be seen as a nice person and that only worked occasionally.
  • AMC hasn't renewed Halt and Catch Fire for a third season yet. This season saw a huge creative surge because of the focal shift to Cameron, Donna and Mutiny. This was such a terrific season that now I'll be so bummed if AMC doesn't order more episodes. The ratings haven't been that great. But I'll remain hopeful until the day where its fate is officially determined.