Saturday, September 9, 2017

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Gordon and Donna's Companies Face Off in the Marketplace in 'Tonya and Nancy'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 4.04 "Tonya and Nancy"

Cameron buys a plot of land to re-center. Joe and Gordon hire a team of websurfers to map the web. Donna focuses her team on the mission ahead.

"Tonya and Nancy" gets its name from a big television event that everyone is obsessed with that pits ice skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan against each other. It's just a very minor detail in one portion of this episode. It's an event that everyone builds up as this cultural touchstone that needs to be watched live. The show doesn't feature any actual footage of the event. It's just more important to see what's going on behind-the-scenes. Right now, the characters are in their own competition for being the better company. Like Tonya and Nancy, both Comet and Rover are excelling in the marketplace. They each have pros and cons to them. Rover has the superior algorithm that can allow the internet to be searched completely. It just hasn't figured out how to make the most relevant searches be the first to pop up. Meanwhile, Comet is a curated list that is growing because of the vast section of expertise on display in the system. But it won't be scalable as the technology continues to grow. So, it's fascinating to see these two companies battle it out with one character (Cameron) standing to the sidelines adrift in her life and not picking a side. She's not helping anyone grow or achieve their vision. But when she finally does step up and do some work, it promises to knock this entire competition on its head. Her genius is what ultimately tips this war to one side. It's just a decision that is bound to have so many personal consequences that could reshape these characters' lives one more time before the show is done forever.

Again, it's so fascinating to see Cameron's story this season. At the very beginning of the show, she was described as the genius coder. She is still that persona in many ways. She has had a lot of success over the years. But this season has seen her crashing back to reality. Her most recent game didn't work out. She's happy with Joe. She feels more close and intimate with him than ever before. But she doesn't feel the urge to be a part of anyone else's project. She would instead rather be doing her own thing. For a long time, that has been designing her own games. She had a career in Japan that had absolutely nothing to do with Joe, Gordon, Donna and Bos. But now, it's all seemingly defined by her recent failure. She's struggling to pick herself up and find the next project to get passionate about. Instead, she's making a bunch of impulse purchases. She's buying a motorcycle, land and a trailer. She's not an expert who knows how to fix those types of problems when they arise. In fact, this hour reveals that she is terrible at living this new life she is trying to build for herself. The motorcycle keeps breaking down on her. The trailer isn't as great as she imagined it would be. It actually starts rolling down the hill slightly into a tree when it rains. It feels like a metaphor for her life. She is desperately trying to build something new and different. It's just not working. She doesn't feel any closer to realizing her true, honest self. The only way out of this is by coding again. She needs to be the coder who comes up with the brilliant plan to change the main product. But in a competitive field, which company does she decide to support with her expertise?

Right now, things are booming for Comet. Joe and Gordon are having a ton of fun running this company. It's their latest success. They've taken this idea from Haley and turned it into a successful company that is catching the eye of many people. In the beginning, Rover doesn't see them as competition. But this entire episode is essentially about how Comet is exceeding expectations while Rover fails to grow at all. Comet is definitely the system that highlights immediate gratification as well. It's the platform that plays well in the current environment. The internet is still small enough to provide pleasure for the people who use Comet. It's manageable for a team of websurfers. Joe and Gordon make some smart decisions in the evolution of this company. They know that it's too much work for themselves and Haley. They need to hire a team. But they don't need engineers and coders. They need content providers and an editorial expert. They hire a women, Katie Herman (Veep's Anna Chlumsky), with a doctorate for cataloging information. She has a huge influence on the company. She allows it to remain a fun and light place to work while still encouraging growth. It's just an upbeat environment that values taking pleasure out of one's work. In success, it's easy for the company to be fun. It's easy to celebrate getting to throw a pie in Gordon's face. It's thrilling that Haley is thriving in this environment even though she still has a tendency to get pushed around by Joanie at home.

All of this stands in contrast to Rover. They have the platform that Cameron actually respects because it's forward thinking. Cameron is the only one who seems to believe that Comet has a short shelf life to it. Right now, it's manageable to curate all of the websites currently on the internet. It's easy to get sucked into the appeal because the service is even providing little blurbs for the benefits and failings of each site. But Rover is striving to be a search engine that works for each individual consumer. They can find the products themselves just by entering some phrases. The audience is aware that that is the platform that is bound to last in this marketplace. Right now, it just presents itself as a mystery that refuses to be solved for the core team of coders. Donna has put the pressure on them to make the platform better. They may have launched too soon in order to be competitive. Joe and Gordon don't think they have anything to worry about. For awhile, they are correct. Time is passing and they are still at the top of this industry. They are the company getting offers for buyouts. Rover is struggling to make it work. Bos even believes that it's not worth all of the effort. It would be easier to sell out now where it can still make a profit for everyone involved. That only further highlights the disconnect between Bos, Tonya and Donna. They each have different ambitions for this project. Bos needs money in order to pay off his debts. Tonya sees a billion dollar future in this industry. Donna needs to prove that she had the right idea and execution. Things are looking dire and combustive in this moment. But all it takes is the right breakthrough to turn everything around.

That's exactly what occurs too. Cameron believes in Rover and is still close with Bos. He helps her out of her current spiral. She feels the need to help him with the platform. Throughout the hour, everyone is suggesting that the current coder isn't up to the project. He's not the person who will find the solution eventually. Rover needs Cameron in order to succeed. But Cameron doing so will only ensure Comet's failure. That will be devastating for Gordon and Joe. That's what happens. They enjoyed their momentary success. Now, it truly is a competition for the best platform. Rover has stepped up its game and is making a play for the best search engine in the industry. It's all because of the little work that Cameron does. She isn't even taking the credit. She's allowing Bos and the original coder to shine. She does that because she doesn't want to interact with Donna again. She likes Rover but working for the company would mean having to be around Donna again. The few times that has happened this season it hasn't gone well. Cameron is right to avoid Donna because things are still obviously tense. And yet, Donna is still incredibly smart and able to figure out the ruse fairly quickly. After all the struggle, she doesn't believe that this guy was able to produce this breakthrough. She simply wants to know who is responsible considering her firm is now increasing the funding for Rover. Her reaction to learning it was Cameron isn't seen at all. But it's going to be very complicated for her. Once again, the two of them need each other in order to succeed in this business. Will they be able to mend fences and get along once more? I hope so but have no idea if that is even possible anymore.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tonya and Nancy" was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Stacie Passon.
  • Something romantic is clearly bound to happen between Gordon and Dr. Katie Herman at some point this season. That seems inevitable because she already has eyes on him. It would definitely help justify casting multiple Emmy nominee Anna Chlumsky in the role. Of course, she's a blast in delivering that introductory monologue about categorizing music. She is very well-informed by a lot of different topics.
  • The creatives at Rover are already very suspicious about the coincidence that their company pivoted to a search engine platform at the exact same time Comet was created. They know about the history between Donna and Gordon. But they don't know how much they interact now. They do wonder if they shared ideas and that this competition is some kind of personal feud going on with that family.
  • Working at Comet is helping Haley be more assertive in her life. Up to this point, she has always caved to whatever Joanie what's to do. She is the shy, introverted daughter of Donna and Gordon. And yet, it's her big idea that has produced so much of this story. Joanie is just wandering in and out of households while also doing drugs.
  • For as long as Cameron and Joe were on that bed in the trailer as they got more and more intimate, I was fully expecting the seller to walk in on them. It was weird that they forgot where they were exactly. It's then fun that a later scene reveals that the people just outside the trailer can definitely hear what's exactly going on inside.
  • Tonya makes it known to Bos that she knows all about his financial difficulties and won't let that sway her into selling the company now. She does that because she wants to be a supportive and encouraging member of the team. She hopes Bos can rise to the occasion as well because his expertise has been beneficial as well. Him getting Cameron to help could be seen as him putting the company's best interests ahead of his own.