Halt and Catch Fire
The thing that makes HBO’s Silicon Valley great is its understanding of internet culture. This insight allows the show to hone hyperspecific and cutting humor that stands out from the rest of television because of how resonant it is with modern life. This resonance is precisely what makes Halt and Catch Fire’s second season so good, with the added benefit of seeing those modern connections in nascent form during the ’80s tech boom.
Central to this resonance is Donna, whose community rooms are really starting to take off and are proof positive of the connections that people seek out through even the most tenuous of opportunities. This sense of connection is all over the fourth episode of Halt’s second season, and the show is all the stronger for it. “Play With Friends,” the finest episode the show has produced to date, repeatedly illustrates the need for interpersonal connection, whether it be through online strangers arguing over the uses of cat litter or through Bosworth advocating to a mother about how her undersocialized son likely has a wide circle of friends that just happen to live all over the country, or through the show’s central quartet and all the ways they seem inextricably linked.
Looking at the show from the vantage point of the internet age is reassuring. It’s comforting to see our own social interactions reflected in rudimentary forms, like looking at cave paintings and knowing that humans have always needed a way to express themselves to others. There is great comfort in seeing how little things have changed, but in some ways, it’s also terrifying to see how hard-wired we are, and how sometimes it seems like we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, with the same people, over and over again.
In the wake of last episode’s Gordon-induced disaster at Mutiny, the first steps are being taken to bring the team back together. Cameron, though still resentful of Gordon’s interference, is determined to get Mutiny back up and running, even as it means that the staff will have to forgo paychecks in exchange for shares for the foreseeable future. Bosworth steps in to try and sweet-talk some of the company’s biggest users to coming back to the fold, and eventually acquiesces to the idea that he’ll join Mutiny full-time. While that’s a positive step forward, there’s still a tremendous amount of tension between Cameron and Donna. This tension manifests in any number of ways, from Cameron trying to shut down Donna’s community rooms on the grounds of security, or shit-talking Gordon with Tom and accidentally spurring one of the world’s first reply-all mistakes, letting the entire company know exactly how she feels about Donna’s marriage.
Cameron’s mis-sent message, which blames Gordon not for incompetence but for saddling Donna with two children, is all the more cutting because, by episode’s end, Donna realizes she’s pregnant. She seems shell-shocked by the revelation, and rightly so. Having a baby now could not come at a worse time; with Mutiny on the road to recovery and the community rooms more popular than ever, there’s no room for a baby in that game plan. In that sense, Cameron is right. Though the rise of the working mother was really hitting its stride in the mid-’80s, Gordon is in no place to be a stay-at-home dad, what with his continued blackouts and erratic behavior. The couple could more than afford a nanny or day care, but at this point in time, the stigma for not being the main caregiver for your child is astronomical.
Besides that, Gordon is busy with a side project of his own and, as unlikely as it may have seemed a handful of episodes ago, back in tangential business with Joe. When Joe decides to go subvert the management at his new job to start leasing mainframe space to outside companies, he comes to Gordon to handle the programming. Gordon, resistant at first, eventually agrees on the assurance that Joe’s first customer will be Mutiny and that he’ll give them a great rate. It’s clear that he understands the gravity of his screw-up with Mutiny and that he wants to make amends any way he knows how, but it’s also pretty clear that some part of him is operating on the level where he thinks that if he can ease the load at Mutiny, he’ll get more of his wife back.
What Gordon doesn’t realize is that Donna is never really gone, can never be gone — at least not so long as they have their children. There are bonds that tether us together, both by choice and by circumstance, and oftentimes we are helpless to truly sever them. It’s the reason that Cameron and Joe are still tethered together, though Cameron is none the wiser. Some of it is a shared circle of friends, but as we saw earlier this season, with them unknowingly chatting on Mutiny, some of it is tied to simple twists of fates. Though it may sound ludicrous and unprovable, and though it’s likely a trick of the human mind to draw narrative where there is none, there are just certain people in your lives whom you can never manage to truly be rid of, no matter how hard you try.
Like it or not, that’s what Donna and Cameron and Joe and Gordon are facing with each other, for better or worse. Their fates seem intertwined, and (despite them being on a television show) the matter seems quite organic. These four individuals are bound to do great things or to crash and burn horribly, but regardless of which it is, they’ll be doing it together.