WARNING: This article contains spoilers!
While some make life-changing decisions, others make risky moves from the Joe Macmillan playbook in the second season’s sixth episode of Halt and Catch Fire.
After Joe starts his day with an empty household and an unanswered call of Sara, he takes a call from Jacob, who wants a $5.00/hour server usage rate specified in the contract to Mutiny. Fighting for a lower rate for the company, Joe works Jacob down to a $3.50/hour minimum rate.
When Gordon arrives at his brother Henry’s house in California with his daughters, he’s greeted warmly by the family; meanwhile, at home, Donna fields her visiting mother, to whom she admits her pregnancy…and subsequent miscarriage.
At Mutiny, the programmers form a betting pool on Cameron and Tom having sex while trying to rig up the television with stolen cable. Lev shouts through Cam’s bedroom door about an emergency with the network, then leads the programmers outside to catch half-dressed Tom slipping out the window, all while Donna, still in her car, looks on. Inside, Cameron bursts out of her bedroom, only to be met by the newly arrived Joe.
Settling in the living room, Donna and Cameron call out Joe on the $5.00/hour contract stipulation. After Donna and Cameron step into her bedroom to negotiate a strategy, Joe, newly acquainted with Tom over an awkward cup of coffee, remains unyielding with the rate,despite Donna’s attempts to negotiate. Donna becomes extremely upset, exclaiming, “Maybe being in bed with a…billionaire’s daughter makes you think you can jerk us around for your own amusement, but this is real to us, so it’s $4.00.” Joe immediately leaves, but Donna remains convinced Joe will eventually agree to the lower rate.
Nursing brews at the local bar Duffy’s Saloon, Gordon talks to Henry about his current state, to which Henry offers any help and support he needs. He admits he hasn’t told Donna, saying, “Her work’s…driving her. She’s happy, she’s energized, and she’d stop everything to take care of me, and I can’t ask her to do that.” When Gordon motions to collect the tab, he recognizes the waitress as Henry’s ex-girlfriend Jules Duffy, with whom he reminisces on old times.
Resigned to Mutiny’s loss of the deal, Cameron inquires about an estimated time for switching out the servers. Just as Donna reinforms her of her belief in Joe’s eventual relenting, Lev reports the outage of the servers. When Cameron explodes at Donna, Bosworth intervenes, prompting Donna to seek reparations for the damage done. Later, Bosworth finds a decompressing Cameron outside and confronts her about her behavior, commenting, “People have other things going on in their lives that you don’t know about…[Donna] could use a friend right now.”
Donna meets Joe in the mainframe room at Westgroup and apologizes, noting Mutiny’s vulnerability in the tech business. With Donna insistent on making a deal, Joe proposes a rate cut upon the completion of “strategic benchmarks” he wants implemented to change Mutiny’s user experience and performance. When Donna agrees, Joe guarantees a price of $3.50/hour when one additional thing is accomplished: a complete operating system change to Unix, running on AT&T machines. Donna replies, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Donna details Joe’s conditions to a begrudging Cameron back at Mutiny, lamenting, “I don’t know what choice we have.” Tom offers an alternative to seal the deal with Joe and buy Mutiny time and flexibility: a Unix AT&T machine with the internal parts of their current Commodore 64 machines. Once in the process of gutting an AT&T machine, Bosworth, looking on, suggests actually undergoing the changes Joe requests, especially if they’re things that could “make Mutiny better.” But he doesn’t stand in the way of the group proceeding with the ruse, which uses their television coaxial cable to fake a fast, online connection to another computer.
Finding Gordon looking at old photos on the fireplace mantle sparks Henry to talk with Gordon about his condition and the past. Gordon asks to borrow Henry’s truck the following day to see their father in Sacremento, but Gordon instead stops by Duffy’s Saloon, picking up Jules and heading to a nearby lake. Sharing a marijuana joint, they chat about Henry’s growing alcoholism, old times, and what could’ve been, leading to a kiss, initiated by Gordon, and much more…
That night, Joe wields the mouse of the fake Unix machine and it seems the plan might just work…until Joe notices a pattern of improbable continuity in the so-called online players’ moves in the chess game. Stumbling upon a heating issue with the modem, he tears the machine apart and discovers their ploy. Joe storms out to his vehicle, with Cameron on his heel pleading, “Don’t do this to me again.” After Joe drives off, Donna joins Cameron on the porch’s steps and says, “I have to tell you something.” Later that night, Cameron, with Donna sitting quietly shotgun, settles her truck into a parking spot of a Planned Parenthood center and accompanies a somber Donna inside.
At the lake, as Gordon and Jules dress, Gordon tells her about his brain damage and his fears about its development, informing her in passing about his wife. Jules inquires if their time together was nothing more than Gordon’s way to “unburden” himself, then takes her bag from the truck and storms off. Back at his brother’s house, Gordon arrives to find his daughter Haley in tears over not knowing where her father was. Gordon informs Henry he stopped to “talk to Jules about a few things,” but Henry, though intoxicated, deduces the liaison from the smell of weed on Gordon. When Gordon reveals to Henry that both he and their father are concerned about his alcoholism, Henry attempts to kick Gordon out, but is interrupted by Haley crying at the top of the stairs. Gordon scoops her up and takes her back to bed, where he calls home to Donna, asking her to soothe Haley to sleep with a bedtime song.
The next morning, in Jacob Wheeler’s office, Joe recaps the evolution of the deal with Mutiny and the unexpected development he came across during their Unix ruse: their streaming workaround to fake online access was the equivalent of broadband, an extremely new technological advancement being used at that time by only the military and some colleges. What Mutiny had cobbled together in a day’s time was a stepping stone into the future of computer technology.
Joe’s proposal to Jacob: Acquire Mutiny.
This episode really pushed this season forward, solidifying relationships while setting up the destruction of others.
With Donna letting her fragile emotional state intervene with business, it actually reveals how Donna and Cameron complement each other — Donna is more business-savvy and economically minded, but emotionally affected; Cameron is more stoic emotionally, but naive business-wise. They need each other to keep Mutiny alive (and having Bosworth as the intermediary voice of reason doesn’t hurt). Additionally, I loved seeing Donna and Cameron work together like they did when building the fake Unix — usually they’ve been shown on different sides of a situation, never fully interacting, but this time, it really showed why they make great partners in the company, once they get past their power struggles.
However, the reestablished friendship with Cameron may aid in destroying Donna’s relationship with Gordon, when he’s not doing it all by himself. Donna and Gordon are cut off from each other emotionally because of secrets they’re keeping from each other. His affair isn’t sexually driven; he sees a substitute for Donna in Jules, someone he can spell out his fears to and hopefully be consoled in return. Likewise, Cameron is becoming that equivalent to Donna, someone to whom she can confide. Sad thing is, the secrets between them keep compiling. (By the way, anyone noticing a pattern of destruction weaving through almost everything Gordon is doing this season?)
I love that Joe pretty much had a Joe Macmillan move played on him with the Unix machine, and he didn’t like it. Joe is no fool, though — I think he saw a little bit of himself having rubbed off on Cameron. He can attribute the potential acquisition of Mutiny to taking advantage of a technological advancement all he wants, but I fail to believe these little echoes of his influence on Cameron don’t influence his proposals and involvement with Mutiny in some way. It’ll be interesting to see how this partnership develops considering Sara is currently MIA but Jacob is still heavily involved.