WARNING: This article contains spoilers!
A network of lies and deceit becomes intricately woven in the eighth episode of season 2 of Halt and Catch Fire, as Joe arrives at a personal crossroads and must make a choice between being the man he once was and the man he wants to be now.
Interrupting Cameron during a furious round of coding, Donna confronts her about her executive decision to back out of the Westgroup deal. When Cameron owes her decision to Joe’s spilled information about Westgroup’s plans, Donna makes known her anger, saying, “I wanted to sell, and I’m not the only one…but you completely disregarded that based on some mysterious feeling you got off the one person you told the rest of us never to trust.” Donna suggests the company depart from Westgroup and search for another network, something they both agree on.
In Wheeler’s office, Joe and Sara reveal their marriage at city hall that morning, of which Jacob shows a distaste for not being invited or involved. He eventually relents and congratulates the two; Sara then leaves Joe and Jacob to business matters. Joe announces his and Sara’s plans to “move on” from the company and relocate to California, something Jacob quickly takes in stride, much to Joe’s surprise. Joe offers to assist in finding his replacement and cleaning up matters before leaving, but Jacob resists, suggesting instead the time for a honeymoon for the newlywed couple. Before leaving the office, Joe apologizes for the Mutiny deal’s outcome. “I’ve been in this game long enough to know things don’t always break my way,” Jacob concludes.
That night, a creak in the Clark household stirs a sleeping Gordon. A second creak alerts him to the figure of Jules…who’s nothing more than a nightmare he violently wakes from, stirring Donna to consciousness when he turns on the nightstand light.
As the Mutiny programmers haphazardly prepare for a party for Mutiny’s subscribers, Cameron and Tom talk about finishing touches on the Mutiny interface. When the idea of instating copy protection on Mutiny’s servers and code is broached, Cameron and Tom find themselves at odds with each other; Tom argues he “learned to code by copying other people’s work…we never would’ve met if you had copy-protected Parallax,” while Cameron refutes she doesn’t want their hard work stolen.
Bosworth’s beckoning to the kitchen interrupts a romantic moment between the two. After overviewing the various arrangements for the upcoming party, he highlights Mutiny’s success branching from the Community module’s popularity, noting to Cameron the games are “not growing as fast, but those users are loyal, those boys ain’t goin’ anywhere.” Bosworth also notes a few more weeks’ time will provide the company the opening to switch networks and rid them of the Joe Macmillan connection once and for all.
In the Clark garage, Gordon runs through the influx of custom computer orders, revealing an order count of 250, a daunting task for just the three people remaining. The workflow is disrupted by the return of Stan, who has temporarily returned from California. Meanwhile, returning to Wheeler’s office, Joe meets his replacement Jessie Evans, a young reminder of himself trying to expand online technology. As Evans describes his “big picture” for the company and its rising future, a pensive Macmillan looks on.
Inside the house, Gordon answers a phone call to silence, eventually asking, “Jules?” He hangs up at Larry and Ed’s entrance, who announce they’re both quitting for something “less risky.” “These fancy Silicon Valley companies started out somewhere, and not in a big, corporate office — it’s in a garage, with three guys rolling up their sleeves, betting on themselves and making something great,” counters Gordon, but Larry and Ed remain steadfast in their decision. The phone rings again, and Gordon answers to Joe, who inquires, “Who’s Jules?” He then reminds Gordon of his lateness to an appointment at Westgroup to familiarize Evans with the server systems.
Outside Mutiny, the party gets underway, with Donna as an outgoing greeter. Notably distant is Cameron, who ruins Tom’s plans of attending the party in game-oriented costumes by opting to finish some work. Inside, despite Tom’s pressuring, Cameron continues work on the game, which Tom realizes is actually work on the copy protection she suggested earlier. Calling her out on her disrespect, Tom notes Joe’s influence on Cameron’s decision for the company as the source of his anger. Cameron inquires about a breakup, but is silenced when Tom declares he loves her. But they are once again interrupted by Bosworth in the midst of introductions to his newly arrived son James.
In the Westgroup parking garage, an impatient Gordon goes over the important highlights of the servers through his driver-side window with Joe, who prefers Gordon to meet with Evans and advise him face-to-face. Gordon opts out by handing him a composition notebook, saying, “I don’t have time for that — just give him this, tell him what I told you. He’ll understand.” The two then awkwardly exchange small talk, during which Joe reveals his marriage to Sara and their plans to move west. Wishing each other luck, the pair shake hands and depart. Back home, Gordon attempts to unwind with a beer and a phone call from one of his daughters at camp, but becomes incensed when he finds an ad in a computer magazine for a company using the same business strategies as his own. Meanwhile, in the Westgroup server room, Joe meets with Evans and, after his proposal to assist in the server expansion is declined, reluctantly departs.
Hearing some elated commotion outside, Cameron breaks from the computer and heads out to welcome Yo-Yo and Lev, back from the hospital on crutches. Donna ropes Cameron into saying something to the crowd; she opts to announce their latest game “Extract and Defend,” but disappointedly finds only a handful of gamers amongst the attendees. Later, Gordon arrives and finds Donna, detailing his suspicions about the company in the advertisement stealing his idea and suggesting Stan is behind it. After Donna tries to talk him down from confronting Stan and loosen him up with the party vibe, Gordon elects to head home. Elsewhere, Cameron runs into a subscriber named Gretchen, who thanks her profusely for Mutiny and how it has helped her deal with family issues.
While packing their furniture, Joe discusses his replacement at Westgroup with no small amount of distaste in his voice, something Sara quickly picks up on. Attempting to soothe Joe’s longings for the project, Sara suggests they “step out of reality for the night” with some MDMA she found while cleaning. At a club that night, the couple exhaust themselves with dancing and retire to a nearby couch to spectate the club-goers. Still high, Joe begins musing on the potential future of technology, saying, “Online could be more…It could be universal. You could live your life there. It would change everything, I promise you. The world we live in now is going to look like the Stone Age.” After Joe’s passionate speech leads to the couple sharing a few romantic embraces with nearby partiers, Joe declares he wants to make one last stop before bidding adieu to Dallas.
Gordon parks outside Stan’s house and peers into the windows of his garage. Discovering several computers beneath a tarp, he breaks the glass of a nearby window and enters. Inside, he is quickly discovered by Stan, whom he confronts about his suspicions. Stan admits to not finding success in California and taking several computer repair jobs to pay the bills, thus accounting for the machines Gordon happened upon in various building stages. After asking if Gordon was snorting cocaine again, he reveals Donna’s request to watch Gordon for odd behavior, leading Gordon to instead suspect Donna of trying to sabotage his company. As Stan tries to alleviate his suspicions, red and blue lights flash through the garage windows, and the cops Stan had called enter and cuff Gordon.
In the midst of catching up, James informs Bosworth of a job opening at a company to “get you outta here.” Bosworth thanks him, and James bids him a good night. Meanwhile, on the porch, Cameron rehashes the topic of Tom’s declaration of love, to which he says, “I would say ‘I love you’ is a dramatic understatement — I think you’re incredible in pretty much every way.” But Cameron doesn’t return the notion when Tom tries to pry a similar admission out of her.
Inside the dark Westgroup server room, Joe and Sara find themselves in a compromising, pants-less position when they begin to hear sounds and see lights in the outer halls. Bent on investigating the commotion, Joe promises to “be stealthy” while Sara quietly exits the room. Planting himself next to a nearby window, Joe finds Evans and several Westgroup employees celebrating the completion of something called “Westnet.” Spotting a nearby computer monitor, Joe discovers what it truly is: a hi-jacking of Mutiny.
After the party has ended, Donna and Cameron discuss the state and direction of Mutiny inside. “I kept telling myself that Mutiny was games, we’re about games. And I think I knew that if I went outside today and saw what you’d done, I wouldn’t be able to tell myself that anymore. It turns out I was right,” admits Cameron. After apologizing, Cameron throws out suggestions to implement concepts from games into the Community program to expand its functionality and performance. Amidst a flurry of brain-storming, Donna tries to rouse Carl from a nearby computer station. When she receives no response, she looks over his shoulder to find the new Westnet servers. Unable to log on their administrative accounts, Cameron finally realizes what has happened: “We’re kicked off the network, replaced by this. There is no Mutiny. It’s gone.” During the rush to warn subscribers of the fraudulent network and hopefully recover what is lost, Joe, coming down from the high, arrives and attempts to explain. “I’m moving to California, I gave my notice weeks ago. There’s no reason I would’ve done this – I’m on your side,” he remarks. But he fails to convince Cameron and the rest of the company of his innocence and is ordered to leave by Bosworth.
It took a while for this season to fully and clearly define the many sides of opposition, but this episode finally got the story on track to the numerous battles that lay ahead.
The first battle is Joe versus Cameron (though it’s really Jessie/Westgroup versus Cameron/Mutiny) — this will be a fairly complex war considering the emotions still in play and the second battle that’s raging between the old Joe Macmillan and the new one. Joe, contrary to my initial beliefs, has really been changed by his relationship with Sara, but now seeing what’s at stake, I’m thinking some of the season 1 Macmillan will likely resurface in efforts to aid Cameron in her battle against Westgroup. What I truly love is that Joe sees in Jessie a younger version of himself, and, knowing the mistakes he made with Cardiff, he tries to make amends, even though it's too late. And this will all eventually lead to the third battle, essentially the choice Cameron will have to make between Tom and Joe (paralleling Joe’s choice between Cameron and Sara).
As far as Donna and Gordon goes, well…I can’t wait for that bucket of crazy to tip over. If they survive this, I’ll be surprised.