Spoiler Warning!

This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!

Reason Though the official airdate of the episode is Tuesday, August 23, AMC snuck it onto the air after primetime on Sunday, August 21.

Tina Rowden / AMC

Is Halt And Catch Fire Living the California Dream?

The state may have changed -- we've swapped Texas out for California -- but Donna and Cameron are still struggling to build a business, Gordon's still a sadsack, and Joe's still a creeping menace.

When last we left all our Halt And Catch Fire pals, they were pulling up stakes and moving from Texas to California -- all on the same plane, weirdly enough. So what's happened since then? Are they still halting? Have they caught fire yet? And most importantly, what's going to happen to Mutiny, the company run by the quietly competent Donna Clark and the not-so-quietly self-destructive Cameron Howe?

Well, Mutiny's gotten its hands on the mainframe computer that will allow it to host its own online service, and they've invited a reporter to cover the launch. (Fun fact: the reporter is from InfoWorld, where my wife once worked, and the reporter is devilishly handsome, so I can only pretend that this is a shout-out to yours truly. Please let me have my delusions.) Anyhow the reporter dickishly writes off Mutiny's chances at success -- another shout-out! -- but it turns out he's probably correct, and Donna and Cameron are left to figure out Mutiny's next move. Turns out it'll be helping their users sell things to each other, so I guess they just invented eBay.

All your nerd herd friends are here, too. Yo-Yo! Bodie! Lev! The ones whose names I don't care to remember! Oh, and there's a new guy too named Ryan, who's twitchy and unpleasant and who spotted a security flaw that makes all of Mutiny's private chats easily viewable by anyone with modest hacking chops. He wants to close the gap, but the method he's proposing would be a costly one, so Donna and Cameron nix it with a patronizing pat on the head.

Speaking of twitchy, unpleasant characters, Gordon's here, too. He's spending most of his time in Mutiny's basement, kind of like some bridge troll, where he's getting that mainframe up and running. But Gordon is starting to think about pursuing other interests, which Donna seems to encourage because who wouldn't want to have Gordon around less? At least Gordon's 1980s mustache game is on point, as is his still irreversible brain disease.

Adding to the Clark woes is the fact that Cameron has apparently moved in with them, post-Texas upheaval. Oh, and one of their daughters is adjusting poorly to the move, getting into fights with another girl at school. At least the other girl's mom is surprisingly understanding about the fracas, and since she's played by an actress you'd recognize (Annabeth Gish), I don't think we've seen the last of this supblot.

Tina Rowden / AMC

Tina Rowden / AMC

We haven't mentioned Joe yet, and for good reason, because for most of the episode, he's just this looming presence people talk about in hushed tones, like a monster you use to scare children who won't go to bed. "Don't you underestimate him," says Gordon, who is in the process of suing Joe over stealing his antivirus software code. "That's when he's most dangerous. Joe's brilliant. When you're in that guy's thrall, it feels like a drug. You feel like the most important person in the world. And that's when you wake up with your neck slit bleeding all over the floor."

So it's a disappointment of sorts when Joe actually shows up at the end of the episode and delivers some Steve Jobs-esque mumbo-jumbo that's ostensibly about his security products but really setting the stage for the rest of the season. "Who are our friends? Who are our enemies? What's going to happen to us? Are we safe?" Joe asks rhetorically in a way that is not at all creepy. And while we're talking about creeps, look -- there's Ryan in the audience, looking mesmerized. Almost certainly, this will end well.

Halt And Catch Fire-ish Element Present?
Business Crisis Of The Week As far as crises go, "How do we stay in business beyond 1988?" seems like a good one to focus on, though Donna and Cameron stumble upon the solution a little too quickly to tease out the narrative tension.
Cameron Howe: Punk Rock Girl About the most rebellious thing Cameron does in this episode is glance at the private chat history of a grieving father she's trading gear with, using that exploit Ryan discovered. Oh, and she's still mooning over Tom from Season 2 if a throwaway shot in the final montage over Joe's monologue is anything to go by. C'mon, Cameron: be more interesting. Blowing up a modem with more firecrackers than Donna gave you permission to use is hardly the stuff of rebellion.
Donna Clark: One Tough Mother Donna remains large and in charge at both Mutiny and the Clark household, no matter how much Cameron and Gordon care to pretend otherwise. She takes the lead on handling the spot of bother with her daughter at school, and she's also the one who puts 2 and 2 together on Mutiny's pivot toward becoming an e-commerce site.
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves Most of the screen time Cameron and Donna share is spent on fretting over the future of Mutiny, so at least there's a shared goal. "If this is going to work, we're going to have to trust each other," Donna warns Cameron for what feels like the 143rd time in this show's three-year run.
Gordon Clark: Gloomy Sadsack Within the first five minutes of this episode, what should be a tender moment for Gordon -- his wife publicly calling out all his hard work on brining the mainframe online -- becomes a moment of humiliation, as Gordon overhears the nerd herd mocking his contributions. "Couldn't have done it without you, Gordon," Lev says in a sing-songy voice. "Yeah, couldn't have done it without your money," Yo-Yo replies.

At least Gordon gets to enjoy some quality time with marijuana by the episode's end.

Joe MacMillan: Super Genius The way folks carry on about Joe in this episode -- from Gordon's pot-fueled rant quote above to the "Are You Safe?" billboards Joe has posted around the greater Bay Area -- we're rapidly moving from charismatic super-genius to the realm of cartoon villainy. Joe is seeing Gordon's 1980s porn mustache and raising it with a tech visionary beard, in case you need to update your Halt And Catch Fire facial hair journal.
The Crumbling Clark Marriage Well, it's been several episodes since Gordon has committed adultery, so they seem on solid ground for now.
The Wit And Wisdom Of John Bosworth "It's like feeding animals at the zoo. Hang a couple of kippers out there for them and they dance. Then you keep them locked up in their cages the rest of the day." -- John Bosworth, advising Gordon on how to handle the Mutiny coders
Meet The New Guy From our introduction to Ryan, we are led to believe he is brilliant (he's the one who spotted the hack that could expose private chats on Mutiny's service), socially awkward (he can barely articulate the problem and solution in a meeting with Cameron and Donna), and resentful (he correctly realizes that the raise Boz throws at him is intended to get him to shut up and row). He also seems like the character most likely to be involved in a workplace incident.
Period Piece Accuracy To emphasize the show's new California setting, the Halt And Catch Fire creative team throws an earthquake into the first act of the show. We have those in Northern California! They also have the Mutiny crew working in a brick building, which we don't have a lot of in Northern California. (See that earlier thing about the earthquakes.) Oh, and the Mutiny nerds have an argument about the proper way to pronounce "GIF" roughly thirty years before that debate plunged into civil unrest.
7 / 10
Final Score
Halt And Catch Fire
Halt and Catch Fire recaps from previous seasons
Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?