Tuesday, October 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Donna Brings Everyone Back Together for an Exciting New Project in 'NIM' & 'NeXT'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episodes 3.09 "NIM" & 3.10 "NeXT"

Donna envisions a new future for the Internet and attempts to bring everyone together at Comdex. Gordon takes on a strong-willed Joanie. Donna's vision creates a spirited discussion over the next big thing, and how to achieve it. The end result may not make everyone happy.

Halt and Catch Fire opened its third season with a big change. Mutiny took the leap forward by heading out to California in the hopes of expanding. It was a challenging journey for the company. One that included acquisitions and an IPO. But one that also ended in disaster with all of the main characters being torn apart. Last week's episode was so devastating in how it rocked all of the characters' worlds simply by things not going according to plan. This venture wasn't as good as everyone believed it was. It brought the characters happiness and good times but it didn't create lasting success. The marketplace wasn't ready for Mutiny nor would Joe be able to enjoy the rewards of the NSFNET. And now, the season closes with the show making another significant leap forward. "NIM" opens with the story jumping ahead to the fall of 1990. The characters have spent years apart. They've been lingering in these complicated emotions for a long time. Mutiny fell apart and everyone has gone their separate ways. So much has changed but the spark of originality remains the same which could bring everyone back together.

It's a disorienting way to start the episode. It's revealed that after Mutiny's public failing, Donna decided to go work with Diane at her firm. And now, she's done well enough that she's become a name partner at the company. But she is no longer a Clark. She's Donna Emerson again. She and Gordon have gotten divorced. Their marriage wasn't the best relationship. They both actively kept to themselves and drifted away from each other. But it's still a shock to see the two of them no longer together. They are both in the dating world which leads to a couple of amusing moments throughout "NIM." Sure, it's pretty annoying whenever their now teenage daughter Joanie is on the screen. She is the absolute worst. She's 14 years old now. That's a shock too. But it's a pretty formulaic story about her not being able to go to a party and having to stay at home while Gordon is trying to entertain his date. But this story still packs quite the emotional punch when Joanie reveals that she thought her mom and dad were the perfect couple. She still hasn't processed the divorce. She doesn't understand why they split. A firm explanation isn't given to the audience though it's not completely surprising either. Gordon has success with his regional network but he's still in the same house and needs help once in awhile because of his failing health.

Meanwhile, Cameron really did move all the way to Japan with Tom. They are still married and she too has found success with her new video game. It's a return to roots for her. It's comforting to be able to return to gaming. It's a world that makes sense to her. She needed this time away in order to truly mature. So much pressure was thrusted onto her while she was at Mutiny. She had to grow up so fast. She never handled it all that well. That's what ultimately drove a wedge between her and Donna. A divide that is still there to this day. Neither of them can go back and undo what they did to each other. They just have to accept responsibility for their actions and find a new way forward. But it's still difficult for Cameron when she returns stateside. Comdex is where the idea for Mutiny came from. It was after the Giant failed that Cameron and Donna partnered up on the exciting and new idea. And now, the two meet once again at Comdex. It's under totally new circumstances. They haven't spoken in years. Donna wanted to use Joe as an intermediary just to deliver a message to Cameron. He wasn't the most reliable source though. He did attend Comdex as well. He and Cameron got really close again. They had sex and it didn't feel absolutely wrong either. They both hit rock bottom this season and have had to rebuild over the last few years. Cameron made something of her life while Joe wasn't able to pull himself up until he saw Cameron again. She relit the spark within him. It was something she was willing to do. When Donna shows up, Cameron just wants to run away as quickly as possible.

It's easy for Cameron to run away from difficult situations. It's a pattern of hers that she is really good at. And yet, Donna showed up because she found an idea that may be perfect for Cameron. Donna was hoping this new project could rebuild the bridge of friendship between them. Cameron does inquire about the idea. Joe didn't look at the pitch before he came to Comdex. It was only afterwards that he learned that it was the World Wide Web. That's a future the audience knows is going to be very successful. It puts all of the characters on a path of great importance. They are on the frontier of a new world. They are embarking on the journey together but there are so many difficult emotions attached amongst them. Things are not the same as they were before. These characters fell out of touch and apart from one another for a reason. Cameron does show up at Donna's hotel room door curious about what is so special about this new project. She shows up to flesh out the idea further. But a ton of work still needs to be done to make things better between the former friends. That may be impossible. Perhaps things can never go back to the way they were before. There are just too many damaged memories of the greatness they once had and how it all went wrong.

When the characters return to the Mutiny space, it's in shambles. It's a relic of what used to be. Donna and Diane's company kept onto the space to potentially lease it to any promising company. But it's falling apart even more so than it was throughout the season. It's the location where so much went wrong the last time. It's definitely startling to see Donna, Gordon, Joe, Cameron and Tom all in the same room together. They are all working on the same idea. They've gone their separate ways. They've followed their own paths and have solid careers. This idea is exciting. But it also boasts lots of talk about the future. It follows a familiar pattern to all of these characters. They've all sat in rooms together before excited about an idea they have being the next big thing that will change the world. This time they are all more skeptical and wary of each other. They've been burned in the past. They don't want to make the same mistakes that they did before. They are each happy with their lives. Of course, the present has its own problems as well. It's clear that Donna and Gordon still work well together even though they are pushing each other to go out on more dates. It's clear that Joe hasn't worked in years and is still conning his way to success. It's clear that things aren't all great between Cameron and Tom because she doesn't tell him about sleeping with Joe. The tension does boil over at Mutiny headquarters but it's not in an expected way at all.

It's Tom who can't believe everyone is willing to jump head first into the future together with this big idea. He has seen the carnage they have inflicted upon each other firsthand. He loves Cameron. He doesn't want to see her get hurt again. Ryan's death is still so raw for everyone even though it happened years ago. It was this seismic thing that sealed the fates for so many characters. It has taken years for all of them to meet like this again. That time apart may be a good thing. They each bring different skills to the table now. Joe is still the visionary who can simplify things to their core basics. But Gordon has the networking infrastructure that could be key to this plan while Donna is in the corporate side of things who understands the financial risks of a project like this. Those are some significant changes. It's ultimately not about how much everyone has changed though. It's about how simple all of this can be with the right perspective. All they need to do is build a door. It's a simple task that everyone is able to support. Everyone except Tom. He still holds so much anger towards Joe. That leads to an actual fist fight and Joe crashing through the broken floorboards. He only breaks his wrist. The tension has been let out. But not everything is better after this one outburst is released.

Donna and Cameron's friendship is the heart and soul of this show. It seems like things are on the road to recovery throughout this finale. Cameron doesn't want to see Donna at first. But she comes around after hearing the idea. Despite many different opinions, Cameron comes back for a second day of figuring out this project. She has a nice heart-to-heart with Donna too. Cameron takes responsibility for her own failings. It's easy to blame the other person. To make them the villain of the story. It's more difficult to own up to one's personal failings. Cameron knows she's made some mistakes. She fully admits that. She wants thing to go back to the way they were. Working alongside Donna was the best time in her entire life. And yet, that's impossible to do. She looks at Donna as a different woman now. One from a corporate world who will cut anyone out of the process because they don't fit the vision for the project. Everyone worries about what Joe's inclusion on the project means. Donna is willing to let him go if it's a problem for Cameron. But that only reinforces how much the two of them have changed. Cameron sees Joe differently. Her opinion on him has evolved over the years - just like it has with Donna. But it's still so heartbreaking to watch as Cameron cuts Donna out of her own project. It creates a future where the original three partners - Cameron, Joe and Gordon - are working together again. But Donna isn't just going to sit back and take all of this. She's a fighter and will try as hard as she can to stay on this project. The Internet may be a precarious future for everyone. But now, all of them are choosing to take that first step into that future no matter what the consequences may ultimately be.

Some more thoughts:
  • "NIM" was written by Mark Lafferty and directed by Christopher Cantwell.
  • "NeXT" was written by Christopher Cantwell & Christopher C. Rogers and directed by Phil Abraham.
  • Bos is now a retired man. He's still happily in a relationship with Diane. They aren't looking to get married though. Right now, they are both happy raising a couple of kids and enjoying trips out on a boat during the weekends.
  • It's great that Cameron reaches out to Bos too. He is still plugged in with everything that is going on. He knows about Donna's new project and the people involved. But he's still there as a friend for Cameron as she's uncertain if she wants to continue with the project.
  • The premiere established that the floorboards at Mutiny's headquarters weren't all that sturdy. All it took was the right distribution of weight. So, it's not surprising at all that the season features the floor breaking and sending Joe to the equipment below. But again, he's not seriously injured.
  • AMC renewed Halt and Catch Fire for a fourth and final season yesterday. It's bittersweet that the show is coming to an end. But at least, the creative team gets to write towards an ending the way they want to. Every year of the show has gotten better. So, I can't wait to see what happens next with this venture into the world wide web.