Halt and Catch Fire
In the most telling scene from “Working for the Clampdown,” Joe and Cameron have a conversation without looking at each other; in it, Joe recounts the moment from his childhood when someone wrote “fag” on his locker. When he saw it, he tells Cameron, he cleaned it off, and the next day it was written again 20 times over, this time in permanent marker. He never went back to his locker again, opting instead to run from that which he knew to be uncomfortable. The conversation takes place outside of Lev’s hospital room, where he’s been admitted after suffering a vicious beating at the hands of a stranger. Lev, who’d been communicating with a kindred spirit in the Mutiny community rooms, was actually being targeted by a group of individuals who only wanted to hurt him. Their efforts succeeded.
But this Joe understands what was driving Lev. Putting yourself in harm’s way just for the opportunity to meet someone who gets you, who accepts who you are without forcing you to be someone you’re not. Ultimately, this is the difference between Cameron and Sarah: Though Cameron doesn’t want to be with Joe, she always understood that he was who he was and that nothing she could do would change that. Sarah, however, seems to think there’s some “other” Joe she’ll be able to access if only she can get him out of Texas, or away from Cameron, or help him find a way to outrun the past.
The past, however, will never be left behind, especially on Halt and Catch Fire. Joe and Cameron will never truly be free from each other, no matter whom he marries or where they live, just like Gordon and Donna will always be linked, not just because they’re married and have children but because of their shared history, which will forever haunt them both. So palpable is this reality that even Gordon’s creeping mental breakdown plunks him back in his pre-Giant personal history with only a moment’s notice.
But as hamstrung as everyone is by the past, this episode tried to focus on the future. Specifically, the future of Mutiny. Though Cameron immediately dismissed the generous acquisition offer made by Westgroup, the rest of the Mutiny team had second thoughts about not giving it serious consideration. There were plenty of good reasons for people who weren’t Cameron to be interested in the deal going through, including Tom and Bosworth, both of whom would benefit financially and professionally — wins they each desperately need. And while management seemed content to defer to whatever Cameron thinks best, the rest of the company isn’t so sure that staying independent is the best strategy, even after initially agreeing with Cam’s impassioned speech about not wanting to work for “the man.”
It’s easy for Cam to spout such rhetoric, seeing as she’s at the top of the Mutiny food chain, but things are more complicated for the employees who’ve been busting their humps and forgoing actual paychecks in exchange for shares in a company that could have been sold for $5 million. The title of the episode comes from the lyrics of a song by the Clash called “Clampdown,” which rails against the evils of capitalism. It couldn’t be more appropriate, but maybe for all the wrong reasons. Joe Strummer was an outspoken socialist who eschewed the idea of giving himself over to the capitalist grind, but he was in a much better position to cast off such ideas coming, as he did, from a well-off family. Cam can throw Westgroup’s money back in their face because Mutiny is her company and she’ll live or die off its fate, but her employees aren’t so lucky. It’s one thing for Cameron to forgo a salary when she’s the majority owner; it’s quite another to ask for those same sacrifices from her underlings. If she isn’t willing to operate in a fully realized democratic corporate system, is she any better in the long run than an old-money company like Westgroup?
Strangely enough, it’s Joe who comes out looking the best by episode’s end, as it’s become apparent that for all of his other faults, Joe is nothing if not a completely authentic and genuine person. The problem he runs into is that Joe’s genuine self is kind of a smarmy dick. It’s a curious quirk, and it’s fascinating to watch the show delve into what it means to be sincere when, at heart, you are sincerely a bit of a jerk. It’s at least more compelling than watching Cameron convince herself that she’s a morally upstanding creative genius that people should be grateful to fall on their sword for.
In the end, after all of the advice and insight Cameron gathers throughout the episode, it comes down to that scene with Joe that determines her future. Joe tells her not to sell, that her vision will get corrupted, and that he’s taking himself out of the equation — but that’s not really true. Joe can never remove himself from the equation because history demands otherwise. This is made clear by the fact that Cam listens to him, and no one else, when it comes time to make her decision. For better or worse, Cam still trusts Joe implicitly, and that trust is worth far more than any acquisition offer ever could be. Joe may be ready to run away and get married. Cam may be ready to take back her company. But neither of them are prepared to extricate themselves fully from the other.
- Gordon finally owns up about his medical condition to Donna, who immediately flies into caretaker mode. The two even reconnect physically but don’t go so far as to make love — which is telling if only because it speaks to Donna’s post-abortion position.
- I still have no idea where the Gordon plot is going. Unless they shockingly kill him off in the season finale, I’m not entirely certain what the show looks like with his continued mental deterioration. I’m cautiously optimistic but primarily concerned.
- Tom is way too good to keep Cam interested for long. Things between them are going to blow up in a most spectacular way.
- More talk about the looming specter of Nintendo and its inevitable impact on the whole of the technological world. It’ll be interesting to see just how all that shakes out in the weeks/episodes to come.
- Donna’s mom is not a very nice person.
- Toby Huss is reliably great this episode and leads me to believe that Waze should really seek him out to do a GPS voice for them.