Saturday, September 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Donna Struggles to Cope With the Pressures of Her Life in 'A Connection Is Made'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 4.06 "A Connection Is Made"

Donna makes a play for a heavy-hitter. Gordon confronts his daughter about an issue at school. Cameron finds a new fan. Joe sees a new side of Haley.

Donna has been such a fascinating character this season. She has hardened herself in the aftermath of Mutiny failing. She's found a lot of success for herself working alongside Diana as a venture capitalist. But she's largely been working all by herself. She's refusing to let anyone in - at least in a genuine way. She has her friendship with Diane and a healthy sex life. But she's felt very isolated as well. It's similar to the life she had in the first season. She's in an environment where she needs to stand by herself without anyone she can truly trust. She let herself have this experience with Cameron at Mutiny. As she says in this episode, running that company was the most fun she has ever had in her life. But the way it all ended did irreparable harm to her friendship with Cameron as well as to her own personal psyche. She's wearing armor now. She's desperate to be taken seriously in this profession. She's the one walking around with all of the confidence of having just come up with the next game-changing idea in this industry. To a certain extent, that is still true. And yet, she's incredibly petty and paranoid as well. Her fears that her enemies are numerous and targeting her have really crippled her. She's working overtime just to prove everyone wrong. She believes that people are holding these ulterior motives against her. She thinks the worst of Cameron when Cameron barely has a malicious thought in her head this season. It's not healthy at all for Donna. And now, those repercussions are really starting to come hit her.

Donna was so cruel to Bos in last week's episode. His heart attack should be the biggest wake-up call to himself and Diane instead of to Donna. It is an eye-opening experience as well. Diane comes to the realization that she does love him and wants to be married to him in order to enjoy all the time they have left. But that only forces the inevitable conversation about all the bad decisions Bos has made as of late in order to stay relevant and busy. Only in revealing that truth do the two of them have the potential of being healthy as a couple. It forces Diane to take charge of her life and the people in it. She needs to handle everything so that that possibility still exists for her. It's a personal motivation for her. And yet, she still has the maturity to have a clear and rational sense of what this business requires. That's where she is different from Donna. Donna is allowing this to get so personal for her. She's making it so much more difficult for herself. She has shown such vitriol towards Cameron. She doesn't want to see her but when she does she can be quite vicious. She wants to succeed in this business without her even though Bos went behind her back to work with Cameron. She wants to completely reverse engineer the program in order to create a new version of Rover that functions similarly without having any of Cameron's work at all. Diane sees this as completely silly when they can just get Cameron to sign a waiver. That means Donna would have to see Cameron again.

It's the kind of meeting the audience has been waiting for. Donna and Cameron's dynamic was the heart of this show. Their destruction was so genuine and real but incredibly painful. It's going to take a lot for them to return to the friends they once were. And even then, they'll never have that same dynamic again. Things have just gotten too complicated and frustrating between them. There seems to be a way in for a potential friendship as well. Donna is playing Cameron's game, Pilgrim, and actually making some progress on it. She's the only person actually playing it. That could reignite their friendship. But it mostly just highlights Donna's new self-destructive tendencies this season. She believes she always puts her kids ahead of work. Yes, she does care about Joanie and Haley. She's on top of what's going on in their lives. But she's also obsessed with Rover and exerting her control and influence on the project. Rover has increased funding and support now. But it's still a passive aggressive fight she is waging with the people she used to work with. She's going after the best coder in the business in order to work on Rover. She is seemingly able to get him as well because he has a connection to her past in being a customer of Mutiny. He has so much respect and appreciation for Community. It was ahead of its time. He wants to know if Donna will be taking another swing at it. It's a moment where Donna gets what she wants. But she's also confronted with her own past. She's proud of what she did at Mutiny but it's also wrapped up with these vicious and ruthless thoughts. So, she essentially destroys this new potential partnership by sleeping with the guy because she really hasn't coped with her emotions about what happened in the past in a genuine and healthy way.

All of this manifests in some extremely destructive behavior for Donna as well. It's easy to point to the hook up and her eventual arrest for a DUI as the most dangerous behavior. They are pretty destructive. The DUI seemed pretty inevitable based on the way the show was shooting that sequence with her in the car singing along to Pat Benatar's "We Belong." That was such a fitting song for the moment. It was hitting Donna especially hard as she is only losing control of her life more and more. She just wants to belong in a way that is actually good for her. Instead, she winds up getting arrested and needing Gordon to bail her out. That allows her to reflect on how much she has changed over the years. But she's still not truly opening up to people. The even more destructive behavior in this hour could probably be what happens between her and Joanie. Of the Clark children, Haley has had more importance this season. She's actually crucial to the main story while Joanie just comes in and out of the story at random not ultimately doing much. But here, Donna wants her to know just how much she respects and loves how fearless she is in life. The first time that happens it's a wonderful moment between mother and daughter. It's them bonding in a way that is true and genuine. She's actually being a good influence. But the second time it happens, it just highlights how tragic a character Donna has become. She's home early from work and drinking. She doesn't even remember having this same conversation with Joanie the previous day. It's still a nice sentiment but also takes Joanie aback to the point where she doesn't even know if her mother is okay anymore. And that's particularly devastating.

This is all building to Donna reaching out to Cameron in order to get her signature on the waiver. Like Diane said, it's the simplest possible solution. Donna just needs to swallow her pride to do so. Diane no longer has any more sympathy to give her. This needs to happen. After Donna's tragic story, she seemingly reaches the same conclusion. She drives out to the airstream to have that meeting with Cameron. Cameron is expecting it as well. Donna believes it's going to be this very contentious thing. But it's not. Cameron signs the papers and doesn't want any money for her contribution to the project. She did this as a favor to Bos. She doesn't want anything from it at all. It's not something she maliciously did in order to personally attack the people in her life. She was just helping a friend. She needed something to work on but was very adrift in her own world. But now, Cameron has clarity once more. The appreciation for what Pilgrim is doesn't come from Donna though. Instead, it comes from the person who wrote the very critical review of it. She wants to go into business with Cameron. That's such an unexpected moment. But Cameron is open to it after seeing how much people appreciate the work she has done over the years. She's internalized so much this season. As such, it's moving to see the impact she's had in the world. It's just a simple fan site. But it's enough to motivate her into working on her next project - whatever it should be. It allows her to notice that Donna is struggling right now. She reaches out to see if she's okay. But their bond hasn't been healed yet. Donna still doesn't know if she can open up to Cameron once more. She wants to but ultimately doesn't. That's heartbreaking. Cameron's life continues to trend upwards while Donna's is staying exactly put with all that she has worked on being taken away from her. She wants all of this but her destructive behavior is keeping it from her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Connection Is Made" was written by Julia Cho and directed by Michael Morris.
  • Joe has really started to form a bond with Haley. They are going out to lunch together. He sees a lot of himself in her. He's proud of the woman she has grown to be over the years. He sees it as miraculous. It also gets him to start thinking about becoming a father. He just knows it's something that Cameron doesn't want. So, that's bound to stir up even more problems for them.
  • Joe has really changed into an incredibly sympathetic character. He has the insight now to be aware of just how terrible and manipulative he was in his younger years. He fears that he is still that way. But the fact that he's voicing these concerns to Bos proves that he has grown and changed. That still might not be enough though.
  • Donna and Gordon are very proud of what working at Comet has done for Haley. They've seen her come out of shell because of this work environment. She's found friends that she actually understands. But her grades in school have started to slip. As such, she needs to stop working there. It proves that she's still just a teenager who can act emotionally and erratically as soon as her father tells her what to do.
  • It takes a long time for Gordon to realize what Joe meant when he said that "Haley was just like him." Joe is able to see that Haley has a crush on Vanessa, the waitress at the restaurant she likes going to despite the not-all-that great food. Both he and the audience see that right away. It just takes an extra beat for Gordon to realize that. But that only comes from him seeing the design Haley is obsessed with tattooed on Vanessa's body.
  • All of this also happens on Haley's birthday. She is able to celebrate in such a fun and simple way as well. She, Gordon, Katie, Joe and Cameron just set off rockets in the field that Cameron has. Gordon is worried that Haley doesn't have any friends from school. But this is also the exact celebration that Haley wants. As such, it's great that it goes off without a hitch. All of the devastation happens the following day.