WARNING: This review contains spoilers
Joe’s about to put a ring on Sara’s finger, but he’s got to meet Daddy Dearest first…and as it turns out, Daddy’s rich. Halt and Catch Fire’s second episode opens in a spacious hangar, with the engaged couple speaking with her father Jacob, who recaps his rise to success in the field of oil. After Joe emotes on his unwavering focus in the burgeoning technology field in regards to his future prospects, Jacob, despite the difficulty for Joe to “get a job selling waffle irons,” offers him a position at his company.
At the Clark household, an active Gordon talks about his excitement in getting back into computers while a distracted Donna notes her concern over the difficulty in getting more money for Mutiny, stressing over an upcoming meeting with a venture capitalist firm. At Mutiny, Cameron shuts down Donna and a fellow programmer in their development of a promising solo chat module. Newly released John Bosworth arrives and reveals himself as Cameron’s newest recruit to the company, much to the surprise of Donna, who wasn’t consulted on the decision. Donna pulls Cameron outside to refute the decision, noting the hiring of an ex-convict is “not exactly the smartest hire when we’re in the market for more funding,” but Cameron remains steadfast in her decision.
Gordon takes a trip to the doctor’s office in regards to his nose bleeds, unveiling his brief experimentation with cocaine in the recent past. Back at home, Gordon unboxes and hooks up his old Atari and Commodore systems, but when he becomes lost in how and where to start, he brings out the small vial of cocaine he found in Bosworth’s desk and snorts a line.
At an outdoor gathering, Joe talks to Sara about taking Jacob’s offer and the possibilities of bringing the “mausoleum” business, located in Dallas, into the future. Sara shows reluctance, but eventually shows her support after Joe reveals other pending job offers fell through.
Bored and uninspired, Gordon finds the software for the Mutiny games and phones Donna, who, occupied with the usual craziness of the company, quickly hangs up. Gordon logs onto Mutiny’s Battle Tanks game and notices a discrepancy in the internal programming of the game; seeing an opportunity to work, he rings up programmer and friend Stan.
At the venture capitalist firm, the casually dressed Cameron and business-suited Donna question their wardrobe choices when they arrive, and are then called in to the office. Trying to sell the company’s growing potential with its high subscriber count and overloaded network, potential investor Timothy Bondham drills the ladies on their slow output of games (dismissing their versions of board game standards backgammon, checkers and chess) and their absent proof of public demand. He asks Cameron and Donna if they have or plan on having children, remarking that “if you two, as you claim, are really going to run this business, I need to know that you’re fully committed, long-term. Even over, you know, biological imperatives.”
Reporting for his first day at work, Joe arrives to an undecorated office space with more file folders than machines. Confirmed to be in the right place, he is toured through the small space and given his task of digitizing the company’s records with only the occasional use of an outdated machine in the back of the room (with permission, of course).
In the garage, Gordon obsesses over the continually inaccurate outcome of the Battle Tanks game. Stan notices the mess of cocaine on a desk nearby; Gordon dismisses it as having “found some left over.” Further troubleshooting the game, Gordon opts to tell Donna of the game’s issues in person, forcing Stan to pick up his and Donna’s children from school. At Mutiny, Bosworth becomes the target of pranking by the resident programmers. Gordon arrives looking for Donna, and ends up proposing to the game’s designers an alternative method of coding the game to accurately reflect the results using the users’ timestamps. A programmer answers Mutiny’s ringing phone and asks for Donna, reporting “someone tried to kidnap her kids”; Gordon instead takes the call from the school and barters a month’s worth of pizzas to the programmers for being quiet on the matter.
After Gordon’s departure, Cameron and Donna return to the programmers in a panic over a newly discovered rip-off of their game Parallax. After some investigative work, they discover the creator, Tom Rendon, is one of Mutiny’s most active subscribers. The ladies find Rendon’s address and confront him, threatening a lawsuit. Seemingly amused, Rendon believes they won’t sue “because then you’re gonna make me mad, and then I won’t tell you how to make your game better.” When a coding suggestion by Tom silences Cameron into contemplation, Donna finalizes the conversation with a warning. One of the Mutiny programmers, meanwhile, finds one of the last letters Bosworth sent to Cameron from prison. As he reads it aloud to his colleagues (even after they express hesitation at the personal nature of the letter), Bosworth enters the room and prompts him to continue. As he finishes the letter, Cameron enters and dismisses the programmer.
Gordon tries recruiting Stan for a new project, but Stan declines, revealing plans to soon relocate to northern California. When they continue playing Battle Tanks on Mutiny’s servers, they discover a new issue — major lag in the game’s response time. At Mutiny, the programmers are testing and encountering the exact same issue. In troubleshooting, they find that someone has hacked into the game and input foreign code that allows multiple players to use the same phone line. Cameron traces the code back to Rendon, triggering a second confrontation, this time without Donna. But instead of threatening Rendon, Cameron assesses that Rendon’s motive isn’t malicious, but that he “really love[s]what we do.” After Cameron accepts his offer to set up a software PBX phone system for Mutiny, she returns to Donna with the proposition of hiring him, though she eventually reveals having already done so. Donna threatens her departure if Cameron continues making “unilateral decisions.”
Joe calls home to Sara and waxes sarcastically about his new job. Sara blames herself for the position Jacob has given Joe, revealing “he’s punishing you for Peter,” her ex-husband who cheated Jacob out of millions through shady deals. Though Sara offers to consult with her father on the matter, Joe refuses, saying, “Your Dad is testing me. He wants to take my measure. And, after what you just told me, if you were my daughter, I would do the same thing.”
At home, as Donna and Gordon begin to unwind over glasses of wine, Donna mentions Tom’s software PBX. Intrigued, Gordon inquires about the potential untapped subscriber base of Mutiny, the same question asked by investor Bondham. Though Donna insists “there’s no way to know,” Gordon contemplates a mapping of the current network to reflect its most recent subscriber numbers, then, excited by a new project having fallen in his lap, runs off to start.
Now night, Cameron joins Bosworth outside Mutiny and speaks about the letters he wrote to her, revealing her real name as Catherine and Cameron as her deceased father’s name. Cameron then tries to recruit Bosworth to take over Mutiny’s management; Bosworth refuses because he needs “some time to work some stuff out.”
Outside Jacob Wheeler’s office, Wheeler’s assistant brings him a gift with an unsigned note saying, “Thank you for the opportunity.” The gift? A waffle iron.
As Gordon sorts through folders of data, he finds Bosworth’s vial of cocaine empty. Tossing it away, he continues working.
While the first episode was reintroduced the viewers to Halt’s characters, this one started introducing new elements and people into their world (Sara notwithstanding). But though still early in the season, the writers have made sure the characters are busy with issues and tensions both old and new.
The Tom and Cameron dynamic will be very interesting — I easily see that leading to a flirtation or romance, but I hope that doesn’t dampen the back-and-forth they have. Tom challenges Cameron, which is something I see her needing at the moment, as she seems to be taking advantage of her position at Mutiny quite a bit. While I find her post-Cardiff independence and initiative admirable, her naiveté with management is putting valuable relationships & friendships (Donna), and her entire company venture at risk. Maybe someone like Tom, much like Joe did (even though their relationship was tumultuous at best), can ground her and give her some perspective on things and give Mutiny less of an unsure future. Or perhaps that will come later, if (or, I like to think, when) the old Cardiff crew once again crosses paths with Joe, though there have been no allusions yet to this happening, except Joe returning to Dallas for his new job. Speaking of, Joe’s reaction to being put in this job position truly surprised me, but I have to continually remind myself that Joe is a master manipulator, even when it comes to his ego. It’s still early in the season, but I am waiting for indication that this composed, almost subservient Joe is nothing more than a facade. (I could, of course, be wrong and Joe has really turned over a new leaf, whether because of Sara or his post-Cardiff trip of self-discovery. However, that seems like it would dishonor all of the characterization built up in season 1.)
The only puzzle piece I can't find a place for in the story yet is Bosworth, whose connection gets lost without him working at Mutiny. As I said in my review for “SETI”, I see Bosworth reemerging as a rival or obstacle for Joe, but how this may come to pass, or even how he is connected to the current story in some other manner apart from being a father figure to Cameron, is still a mystery.
Small observation: At the firm, I love how Cameron pores over the two paintings in the office, because they reflect her and Donna: polar opposites of each other in temperament and design, but complementary to each other, essentially the yin and yang to Mutiny.