Halt and Catch Fire S1E6: Do the cabbage patch
Another episode, another montage set to a piece of modern music that sounds like it could have been written in 1983. (This week: "Sooner Than Now" by Sin Cos Tan.) And one of the ubiquitous toys of the 1980s is present, as not just a period reference, but a plot device. Before we get to that, first let's check in on Joe and Cameron's terrible relationship.
And relationship it appears to be at this point -- because after making a show of removing her belongings from Joe's apartment (and subsequently running into Joe Sr.), Cameron is still getting it on with Joe. But there appears to have been a shift in their affair: rather than just looking to him to solve her problems when she's "stuck," Cameron is treating Joe as a problem to be a solved, a puzzle in need of a solution. Mid-sex she asks him about the scars on his chest, and he channels his best Health Ledger Joker, spinning lie after lie that Cameron shoots down. When Joe asks, "what does it matter?," she shifts tactics, favoring Bosworth as the one to turn on their computer for the first time, directly attacking Joe's robotic delivery when he asks her about a project and then, for her big plot for the episode, trying to inject humanity directly into the operating system of their computer.
Just a side note here -- the idea to rewrite the OS to make it more "user friendly" and "human" comes from an Adventure mod that Yo-Yo makes for Cameron, in a total "nice guy who knows this isn't a girl you woo with flowers" move. But despite that, he's still relegated to the background here, with his only stake in the episode being that Cameron ends up sleeping with his roommate instead, and not anything to do with the work he turns out at the company. There's a bit of nifty gender-role-reversal going on here, but I'd like to see some of the supporting characters like Yo-Yo get a bit of attention in future episodes. It's nice to see Cameron have someone to play off of besides Joe and Gordon.
This episode is essentially Cameron versus Gordon, of humanity versus technology, with Joe as a rather reluctant referee. As the project manager it would ultimately be Joe's decision, but he makes for a weak referee, initially siding with Gordon (and thus highlighting his own robotic-ness as Cameron would point out) but not coming down hard against Cameron, essentially spurring her to just flip a table and do it anyway. Thematically this is the strongest episode of the show thus far, with all of the characters (even Donna) wrestling with the question of "do we want to build something that we know we can sell easily, or sell something that inspires people?" That is, the episode presents the eternal struggle between commerce and art. Gordon wants to keep it simple and preserve the work he's already done in the name of cost. Donna already believes it's a work of art. Cameron wants to push it a bit more -- in building something with a soul, she can inspire customer loyalty. With that thought, she's not just thinking as a programmer or engineer or even lower-level corporate employee: she's thinking about the big picture. About the brand. She's thinking not about the here and now, but she has a vision for the future, both hers and the company's. In just six episodes Cameron has already grown beyond the "misunderstood visionary" to a leader at Cardiff, even if it's still on a small scale. Cameron ultimately wins her fight partly because she's borrowing Joe's tactics but has a few things that Joe does not -- extensive technical knowledge, and people actually like her.
Well, except for Gordon.
This was not one of Gordon's better moments. And it's not just Gordon's refusal to even consider Cameron's proposal. Gordon does have a valid point -- they still have to ship this PC on time and on budget, and they can afford to be more experimental the next time around. Unfortunately, that point gets buried when he denigrates her in front of his engineers (probably feeling emboldened by their presence, at that), and then lays out the final insult: that she only gets what she wants because she's sleeping with Gordon. Even though we as the audience know the two of them are still sleeping together regularly, we also know Joe's giving her exactly jack and shit as a result. It's also a completely baffling move given that Gordon invites Joe over to his house for dinner as a way of smoothing things over. If he really believed that Joe and Cameron were a unit (maybe perhaps even a twisted mirror of his own relationship with his brilliant wife), then he'd know not to woo one half and attack the other. What it really comes down to is that Gordon is feeling insecure and lashing out any way he can, much in the manner that a girl will rag on another girl's weight because she knows that even if it isn't true, it will still hurt.
As much as I say this is not a Mad Men clone, things still slip through and this week (and last week) it was this thought that Joe is mentoring Cameron, trying to make her a version of himself, just as Don mentored Peggy. But it was always apparent that Don cared about Peggy and relied on her, while Joe betrays no such feelings. He finally tells Cameron where his scars came from...or does he? Cameron chooses to accept it (and so do we), because it feels more real and more vulnerable than any other moment he's had with her.
But anyway, back to Gordon! When Gordon tells Donna that he'll get the Cabbage Patch Kid doll for their daughter, it's a foregone conclusion that he'll forget and end up in a last minute scramble. It's in character for him, and it's also a good way to keep him out of the house so that Joe and Donna can interact a bit, leading to Joe having his big epiphany. Sure, Gordon has his own epiphany, but we never actually find out what it is. This isn't the episode where Gordon gets to be wise, or a hero -- his actions in this episode are made of spite, rage, and ultimately helplessness in the face of death. If Cameron's becoming a stronger person, Gordon is diminishing.
(And seriously, he steals the dolls from the window display and then walks around with them in the middle of a hurricane? Put the dolls in the car first, moron. Also, did he even call the police about the dead body? Somehow I don't think he did.)
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