Halt and Catch Fire Recap: “The Art of Selling Out”

Spoiler: Favorite episode of the season.
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What a night! I’ll be honest: That was an emotional roller coaster kind of hour. Way to make me cry, Halt and Catch Fire … didn’t think it was going to happen. But after going up and down, up and down all night, here is where things are: Joe was redeemed and on his way to living happily ever after, Gordon and Donna are facing challenges but seem more committed, Cameron saved her company from Wheeler, but may have sacrificed her relationship in the process … and then we have a case of online-turned-real-life gay-bashing. It was a real gut punch kind of night, and also happened to be a really, really good episode.

When the show first opens up, we hear nothing (I’ll be honest, I thought I didn’t have the volume up), and then realize Gordon is telling Donna about his brain damage. The show decides to create kind of a stunned effect with the audio, and Donna looks shocked (of course) and on the verge of tears. But after the insanity of his weekend at his brother’s, Gordon seems ready to cope and work through this with his wife (maybe her lullaby was comforting to him too). He wants to start that custom computer company and has reached out to four friends to join him. Each has taken time away from their own jobs (did I hear 50 days?) to see if the company will work.

Fortunately, Joe has the money to cover their salaries at their current jobs (for a little while). Unfortunately, Joe seems to be going through that $800,000 pretty fast, so this venture had better work. Did you see Donna’s face when she heard he paid $40,000 for PC chips? Also, Gordon’s brain damage seems worse that he originally thought, and when he sees a Cardiff Electric box, he thinks he has a memory lapse and flashes back to when he worked there with Joe. His happy celebration over beers after building their first computer as Clark Computers isn’t so happy when his friends realize something is wrong. It was a tough moment to witness.

Meanwhile, Joe is planning how to pitch Mutiny on the acquisition with Mr. Wheeler. Taking a page from Apple and Google, he proposes that they appeal to Mutiny’s rag-tag, college frat ways, and keep them away from the corporate world by buying their house and the property around them. Mr. Wheeler sees the benefit of that. While Joe is scheming with his “future” father-in-law, Cameron is meeting her boyfriend’s mother. And it might be one of the sweetest scenes in the show this season.

If there was one scene I wanted to see in this show that I didn’t know I wanted to see, it was Cameron being all sweet with little Tommy’s mom (she seemed so delighted to hear that) as she gushed about her “golden boy.” Things we learned about Tom from his mother: He has two brothers, as a kid he stayed inside a lot, he still lives with his mother, he can cook, and every day after school he was given a cupcake and Kayo (I don’t know what that is). Anyway, more on Tom’s diet later.

Joe arrives just as Donna breaks the news to Cameron that she needs to take some time off to be with Gordon, but doesn’t get into the why before Joe walks in with the offer. He lays the $5 million dollar offer on the table, along with everything included in the acquisition (got to hand it to him for throwing in Folgers coffee filters), and a pretty great sales pitch. Honestly, he even sold me that this was worth considering … along with Donna and Bos. But Cameron wants to turn it down, and tells the staff that they should turn down the offer. The staff seems shocked by the idea, but they go along with Cameron as she delivers her Norma Rae speech, standing on a chair and tearing up the offer. Joe, Donna, and Bos all look a little shell shocked from her demonstration.

So Joe goes to those with influence over Cameron: Bos and Tom. He brings Bos in with a promise that an acquisition of Mutiny will mean a corner office for Bos and new job in sales. Even Mr. Wheeler comes in to greet him (oh Joe, you good at this). But Bos is standing my Cameron no matter what and makes that abundantly clearly to Joe—but not before making the big mistake of letting Joe know Cameron is in love with Tom. So Joe sends a little bribe to Tom in the form of promising an additional payout to him personally if Cameron sells, and he sends the offer to his home while his mother is there. She read it and apparently cried when she thought they had hit a windfall, and cried again when Tom told her it wasn’t true. That’s low Joe.

What we didn’t know (but I think Joe might have) is the fact that Tom’s mother doesn’t have much money at all and just lost her job (she wore her uniform so Cameron wouldn’t know). And Tom even has to tell Cameron that the cupcake and a KayO wasn’t an after school snack; it was his $1-a-day dinner. Tom (who works nights at a grocery store to stay at Mutiny), tells Cameron about his childhood … and then tells her that he would stand by her! But Cameron (who seems to really love Tom) decides to sell after hearing this and. The staff calls for an actual vote, which seems to be a split decision. Cameron tells Tom she’s selling because this isn’t her company, it’s all of ours.

But that wasn’t to be. Joe finds out from Mr. Wheeler that he really wants Community, not Mutiny’s games. He knows a little something called Nintendo is coming into the marketplace this year, and online gaming won’t be able to compete. Joe knows that Mr. Wheeler will dismantle Mutiny as a gaming company as soon as he takes control, and has no problem with the fact that Joe sold them something else entirely. So Joe goes to the hospital and tells her not to sell during one of the best Joe monologues in the series.

Why are they at the hospital? Well, Lev (August Emerson), the Mutiny staff member who happens to be gay and been having an online flirtation with Community member George, decides to meet him in person. Sadly, George was a phony name guys used to trap Lev, and when he shows up, they jump him and beat him. Cameron and Donna can’t help the authorities find the guilty party because the account used to sign into Mutiny was phony. It was a painful (and all too real) moment for the show. It’s the first example of the all-too-real dangers of online connections. And it was pretty heartbreaking to see the results of that kind of hatred towards a gay man, which was true of the time (but sadly still happens today far too often).

Mr. Wheeler was right that things like Community are so attractive to everyone because of the possibility of connecting when you feel cut off from the larger population. Levi connected with George (and suffered sad results) because there aren’t many ways for a gay man in Texas to meet in the 1980s, especially because this is all happening at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Donna seemed offended by Cameron’s housewife comments, that people would share recipes online rather than play games. And perhaps that is because she knows women at home need the same outlet to the outside world and sense of connection … just as much as gamers. After all, she’ll need a way to reach out when dealing with Gordon’s health problems. Her mother certainly isn’t going to be a shoulder to cry on (seriously, that woman is tough).

In the end, Joe promises to leave Cameron for good this time (professionally and personally) and heads home to Sarah Wheeler. After an uncomfortable dinner with her father, telling Joe he’s backsliding under the mentorship of her father, they reconcile and decide to marry right away and move to California … and hopefully, Joe can start his own company instead of latching onto someone else’s. Has Joe turned the corner? Let’s hope. But when Cameron comes back to Mutiny, she changes her “this is our company” tune and tells her staff that Mutiny is hers and she won’t sell. Cameron eyes Tom, and it seems things have changed? Is Cameron the new Joe? Is Tom like the old Cameron? Who knows? At least Gordon, Donna, Joe, and Sarah seem pretty happy … for now.

  • Stray Thoughts:
    This was probably by favorite episode of the season so far.
  • Joe’s clothing on this show! Comes to Mutiny in a white, unbuttoned dress shirt and undershirt, like he is coming from an unexpected night of lust. Then, he shows up to find Sarah in one of the tightest buttoned-up shirts I’ve ever seen him wear. I love it!
  • I love their uncomfortable scenes, but Donna’s mother is HARSH this episode!
  • And while we’re at it…Gordon got on the wrong plane when he wanted to propose to Donna? I know air travel was different and everything was manual before, but getting on the wrong plane is kind of nuts. It almost takes effort to be that absent minded.
  • Aleksa Palladino and Mark O’Brien both need to join this show as full time cast members, because they’re as good as the four main characters, and I want to see more of them.
  • Could someone cast Aleksa Palladino on the next season of Agent Carter, because she really seems made for a movie set in 40s or 50s. She was just stunning in that dinner scene with Joe and her father.
  • I’ll admit it…I love Tom. I’ve liked his character from the beginning, because he was so different from the entire cast, but he is just winning me over week after week. And I love him with Cameron. How can you dislike a guy who loves his mother?
  • KayO? I’ll be honest, I wrote that down and spent way too much time trying to figure out what was said. When Tom’s mother first said it, I thought she said kale, but I went back, and I’m pretty sure she (and later Tom) said KO. So I asked my mom “what is KO? Is it a drink?” And she remembered a chocolate soda called KayO. So apparently Tom got a cupcake and chocolate soda every night for dinner.
  • Cameron owns 90% of Mutiny. Sure, she should own the majority of the company, but there are well over 10 people working there, so what is going on? Did the employees not get their shares? And what about Donna. She was managing this whole time and putting her own money in, so how much does she own? Seems wrong, and I think Cameron will pay the price for being that selfish.
  • Last season, there were a lot of questions about Joe’s sexuality, and I didn’t think the show handled it well. If his speech to Cameron about having the F-word written on his locker leads to more thoughtful exploration of his sexuality, I’m all for it.
  • I didn’t get in trouble often, but my mother was so angry when I threw a creepy crawler on my wall because it left a grease mark. That scene brought back a lot of memories.
  • This was speech city this week. Gordon, Joe, Cameron and Tom all got big, long, inspirational speeches. Loved it.

Quote of the week: because of all the speeches, we have a lot of quotes this week.

  • Joe’s “Mutiny’s killer app isn’t its games, its people,” and “You build it and let me get out of the way this time” when negotiating with Cameron for Mutiny.
  • Bos’s “I can’t take that much sunshine up my ass, it makes me itch” when meeting with Joe (classic Bosworth).
  • Mr. Wheeler’s “You don’t have to press the reset button every time you feel the slightest bit of discomfort” when hearing his daughter plans to call off the engagement.
  • Joe’s entire speech about being bullied at school and called the F-word, while looking in on Levi, especially “It’s so dangerous to try to really connect with someone. So special when you find someone you can be yourself with” and telling Cameron “I’m removing myself from the equation” when telling her not to sell.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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