Halt and Catch Fire: ‘Play with Friends’ Recap & Review


WARNING: This review contains spoilers

With Mutiny at its lowest, it seems Gordon, Joe and Bosworth are hitting new highs in ‘Play with Friends’. Gordon, evidently on a new health kick, tries to caffeinate Donna before heading off to tame the fires of Mutiny, but instead calms her nerves after she complains of feeling feverish. Across town, Joe pays an office visit to Ellis Mortimer of Wheeler’s company Westgroup, his employer, and pitches his idea of leasing out the mainframes during business off hours, potentially creating a future of computer networking within the department and turning “this juggernaut into one massive, forward-thinking entity.” Unimpressed, Mortimer calls him on his relation to Jacob Wheeler, inquiring as to why Joe’s “vision” for the company isn’t a shared one between them, and notes “I was here before [Sara’s] first marriage blew up, and I’ll be here after she’s done with you too.”

At Mutiny, Cameron and Donna present a united front to the programming clan of the company, informing them they’ll have to forgo salaries in exchange for shares in the company. The majority of the crew opt to stick around in spite of this…except for Frosty and Yo-yo, who voices his doubt in the company shares ever being “worth anything.” The following morning, Cameron wakes to find Bosworth, who, after busying himself with the company’s business paperwork, offers her suggestions on some cost-saving measures. On the other side of the house, Donna and Malcolm (nickname “Lev”) work on the surprisingly popular Community module. Frustrated with the multitude of rooms he has to create to separate popular topics (and the high volume of talk about cats), he requests another person to assist, but Donna holds him off until they reach 30 running chat rooms. Heading back into the kitchen, Donna finds  Cameron and Bosworth discussing the company’s current state. Bosworth provides a few different recommendations to help in the process of “image rehabilitation,” including an ad for new hires in a magazine and door-to-door marketing to the network’s top ten subscribers, which Bosworth invigoratingly takes on himself.

In the mainframe room of Westgroup, Joe assists an employee from tech support in setting up the servers for external network use; when the employee asks, “What am I supposed to write on the work order?” after he’s dismissed, Joe pays him to make the work order nonexistent. 

In a pitch meeting at Mutiny, the remaining programmers present ideas with an underlying layer of sarcasm. Cameron suggests the concept of a shooter game shown from a first-person perspective, but is interrupted when Tom walks in late, looking a bit worse for wear. After suspending the pitch meeting, Cameron confronts Tom about his tardiness, which he blames on sleeping through his alarm clock.

Arriving back home from a mid-day jog, Gordon finds Joe waiting for him in the front yard. Inside, Joe notes his need for an engineer to continue the mainframe setup at Westgroup after Gordon waxes about his new healthy habits. Gordon refuses the offer, and begins questioning Joe on the authenticity of their newly re-established friendship. When Joe boasts about the future of the industry, asking “Where will you be in eighteen months?” Gordon reminds him of the share of Cardiff he claimed and finalizes his refusal.

Bosworth knocks on a household’s door, which is answered by a mother and her son. When asked about their canceled Mutiny subscription, the mother claims responsibility, citing a lack of social life for her son as the reason. When Bosworth brings up the boy’s friends on the Mutiny servers, the son lights up. Bosworth then explains the like-minded community her son has found through the company and its games, essentially solidifying the boy’s return to Mutiny.

When scavenging through their game inventory to find sacrifices they can make to provide a faster and lighter network, Cameron tells Donna of her decision to scrap the Community module, spouting its lack of security as a risk the company can’t take. Despite Donna’s affirmation of the module’s popularity, low resource intake, and broadening audience base, Cameron remains steadfast in her decision. Frustrated, Donna goes home and hides away in the bathroom, to the surprise of Gordon, who finds her relishing the quiet in the bathtub. Donna complains about Cameron’s decision to Gordon, saying, “Do you remember how you felt when you first powered on the Giant and knew it was something special? Well, I felt the same way when the first user entered my Community room…it was like giving birth.” Fully able to relate, Gordon eases her anxieties about further pursuing her “big idea,” then contemplates his own. 

That night, Cameron arrives at Orson’s grocery store to find an aproned Tom racking up carts in the parking lot. Joking he’s researching for a grocery-themed video game, he confesses he’s working there “just ’til the shares are worth something.” 

In a palely lit parking garage, Gordon pitches to Joe his conditions for acceptance of the job: Gordon will perform the job for free if Mutiny is made the first client. Joe reluctantly accepts, and tasks Gordon with completing the work that night, telling him to gather the necessary equipment and meet him at a nearby bar at 8:00pm.

Back at Mutiny, Donna confronts Cameron about the Community module, asking if she has ever actually used the program herself. The frazzled Cameron claims “I know what Community is…it’s simple text, with no graphical capability or playability.” Donna tries to refocus Cameron on the interaction and connection it provides its users; Cameron cedes to Donna, promising to try the program for herself, “but don’t expect me to change my mind.” Meanwhile the programmers celebrate Bosworth’s first successful renewed subscription with the usual beer-drenched antics, as Tom, working on his machine, looks on. Cameron initiates a private conversation with Tom via the Community program, and winds up talking about Gordon, whom Cameron calls “the guy who hung two kids on [Donna] and now she’s trapped!” In the message, Cameron unintentionally uses an internal code prompt that sends her reply to all machines on the network. Amidst the eerie silence that befalls the once-partying programmers, Donna reads the message. 

At the bar, Gordon meets Joe, who partially pays him in cash for the equipment. Questioning Joe’s payment with his own money rather the company’s, Joe admits the setup isn’t entirely above board, and rather than bring the idea directly to Jacob Wheeler “who wouldn’t get my vision the way you did,” he instead plans to provide the proof of the plan’s strength through its execution. After Gordon threatens to call Sara and inform her of Joe’s plan, Joe quickly threatens the same call to Donna in regards to Mutiny’s involvement, bringing the duo to a stalemate. 

Outside Mutiny, Cameron comes face to face with Donna, who calls her out on her disrespect. After Donna shows minor signs of not feeling well, Cameron apologizes. Tom awkwardly interrupts the conversation to bring the pair inside for a group photo with the Mutiny team, to be used for the magazine ad. Struggling to get the partying programmers to smile or cooperate for the photo, Tom’s final shot is disrupted by half-naked programmer Bodie photobombing the shot. Later, after Cameron informs programmer Carl she wants Community to currently remain on the network, Tom ropes her into the in-progress house-wide Nerf gun fight. She eventually finds herself barrel to barrel with Tom in the hallway closet, where she brainstorms with him about the aforementioned first-person shooter idea being online with other players. When one of the programmers loudly informs Tom of a phone call from his “date,” Cameron and Tom awkwardly exit the closet.

Early in the morning in the mainframe room at Westgroup, Gordon is in the middle of installation, with Joe noting he’s “slower than you used to be.” When Joe departs the room to get Gordon another Coca-Cola, Gordon collapses, but shortly comes to as Joe returns. Concerned, Joe asks him what happened, but Gordon brushes him off. 

As Bosworth solidifies the return of the last subscriber from the top ten list, Cameron orders him into a permanent employee slot at Mutiny and names his first task: “I need you to help me run this company better.” Tom arrives with the developed prints from the haphazard photo shoot; the group shot with Bodie’s photobomb is the one chosen for the magazine ad, with the tagline, “Play with Friends”. Outside, as Cameron helps Tom casually clean up the residual mess of the party, she asks Tom about his date from the previous night. Saying he cut the date short to work on an idea for the game, he provides the real reason when he kisses Cameron, who eagerly reciprocates.

Gordon wanders into his & Donna’s bedroom and asks Donna, locked in the bathroom, how much longer she plans to be. He suggests she see a doctor, then reveals the mainframe deal with Mutiny, though he withholds Joe’s name. In the bathroom, Donna accepts his great news, but is much too distracted by her own: she’s pregnant. 

Very Good

Each proceeding episode is becoming more and more reminiscent of the show’s first season, which can be both good and bad. I love that Gordon quickly picks up on the seeming deja vu of Joe’s offer (“Crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”), but hopefully that doesn’t indicate this season will reiterate that familiar path. Even if it does, though, the characters have developed and changed since last time, so if Joe is spinning the same wheels again, the result should be different because everyone else is different.

The only reason I see Gordon involving himself in Joe’s scheme is as a form of self-redemption for Solaris. As far as his developing symptoms go, this is going way beyond his involvement with cocaine, but perhaps that short return to the drug unleashed a floodgate of something else that’s been brewing beneath the surface? (Not a medical expert here, so I haven’t a clue.)

As I’ve said in earlier reviews, Cameron has needed some humbling since the season began. However, the ultimate test to Donna and Cameron’s relationship in the form of Cameron’s Community screwup may very well have been what Cameron needed to finally come down off of her pedestal, as evidenced by her conversation with Bosworth at the end about wanting to “be better” at running the company. She’s finally starting to realize that, with one of her most prominent programmers already having jumped ship, and Donna on the brink if Cameron doesn’t act like the equal partner and friend she needs to be, she’ll really end up with no company left. And Mutiny being in the questionable state it’s in has opened up a spot for Bosworth to return to what he knows best: salesmanship. At least now he’s much more tied into the plot, instead of floundering as a detached link.

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