Tina Rowden / AMC

Who's The Biggest Baby On Halt And Catch Fire?

Cameron's bummed about going home again, Donna's bummed about butting heads with Cameron, Joe's bummed about a possible health scare, and Gordon is...his usual self. Quite a collection of sadsacks we've got on this show.

For much of this week's episode, Cameron wears a tattered shirt from a day care center. (It's named "Lads & Lasses Pre-School," so I can only assume it's run by a collection of late 18th-century fops.) This is a very appropriate clothing decision, since, for much of the episode, Cameron and everyone around her acts like overgrown toddlers.

In Cameron's case, the reversion to a childlike state can be forgiven, since she returns to her ancestral Texas homeland to collect her father's motorcycle. Or at least she would collect her dead father's motorcycle, if she weren't so busy avoiding any contact at all with her mother and yelling at Boz -- who accompanied her on her return to Texas -- that he's not her real father, which seems a shit thing to do, since I think I speak for all of us when I say we would gladly welcome Boz as our paternal stand-in. (Dissenting: Boz's son, who's been nursing a grudge about Boz's absentee parenting and decides to lodge it now.) On the bright side, Cameron uses her Texas visit to reconnect with Tom; if you're new around here, that's her gentleman friend from last season who did not move with Mutiny to California. So she has that going for her, at least.

Tina Rowden / AMC

Tina Rowden / AMC

Cameron's also fretting that she's losing control of Mutiny -- a fret that's at least well-founded as Donna uses Cameron's prolonged, unexplained absence in Texas to greenlight an e-commerce initiative that Cameron did not approve. The two eventually hug it out, but that moment of bonding is likely to be undone when Cameron discovers that Donna did not, in point of fact, have Cameron's back on the whole Let's-Fire-Doug-and-Craig scheme last week and instead is a lying liar who lies. Also, what's that thing a brooding Cameron fishes out of her pants pocket at the end of this episode? Is that a ring? Are she and Tom married now? Shouldn't I be the one telling you the answers to these questions?

You know who's also a Gloomy Gus? Joe, and not just because he's still stuck in close quarters with Ryan. No, a mysterious gentlemen shows up at Joe's door to discuss serious matters of import off-camera, and it sends Joe into a fatalistic funk. We find out later, from a phone call, that Joe's had an HIV scare. (To again hop in the ol' Wayback Machine to previous seasons, Joe is bisexual, a plot point that came up in Season 1 and then very rarely ever came up again until now.) I can only assume Joe got good news from the clinic since they cranked up the background music while he was getting his diagnosis, but he looks relieved and has a new lease on life that enables him to figure out just exactly what the Next Big Thing is going to be for him. It involves inventing the personal internet, apparently.

Tina Rowden / AMC

Tina Rowden / AMC

If Cameron and Joe have perfectly understandable reasons for sulking around this episode, Gordon most assuredly does not. He gets to spend a weekend in a home free of both children and Cameron, and instead of camping -- which is a terrible thing to do -- he and Donna have a staycation that involves a lot of intercourse, which is so much more enjoyable than camping and why are you moping, you weird mustachioed man? I guess it's because Donna lets on that she really didn't care for all those camping trips she used to endure with Gordon, which apparently sends him on an "Oh my God, our marriage is built on a tissue of lies" brood. Why don't the two of them divorce already?

So...nobody is happy, and everybody's resentful about it. On the bright side, maybe we're getting Tom back to offset Ryan. Little victories, you guys.

Halt And Catch Fire-ish Element Present?
Business Crisis Of The Week Perhaps the weekly crises that befall Mutiny have left me jaded, because this week's dispute -- "We can't agree on which payment system our e-commerce site should use" -- is not the stuff spine-tinglers are made of. Nobody will be seated in the scene where Cameron explains bank routing numbers.

But this is all a pretense, really, to show how Cameron and Donna are not on the same page. Cameron is worried that Mutiny is slowly being pried out of her grasp, while Donna is getting tired of Cameron going AWOL whenever there's a decision to be made. That's far more engaging than wrangling over credit card fees will ever be, thank the Lord.

Cameron Howe: Punk Rock Girl "You wouldn't think someone so punk would be so conservative when it comes to business," Donna gripes to Gordon at one point. You said a mouthful, lady. But maybe the answer is that Cameron isn't so punk after all.

One of my recurring complaints about the show is the way Cameron's written -- that the writers revert to this fragile, trembling character when they can't think of anything better for her to do. But maybe this was the plan all along. Maybe the whole punk rock facade is meant to mask the fact that Cameron is making it up as she goes along, just like the rest of us. Maybe instead of "Cameron Howe: Punk Rock Girl," this category should be "Cameron Howe, Fragile Freakin' Flower." At any rate, we're a long ways from the woman who single-handedly brought down Westnet with a home-brewed virus out of spite.

Donna Clark: One Tough Mother Donna, in contrast, is consistent from week to week. Oh, you can traipse off to Texas on your mission of self-discovery, Cameron. But don't you dare miss that return flight, or Donna will drop you like yesterday's fishwrap. Nature abhors a vacuum, and in this case, Donna is nature. Two guesses as to who the vacuum is.
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves You would think that all would be set right when Donna agrees to Cameron's routing number approach for mobile payments -- again, the pulse-pounding thrill of mobile payment schemes! -- but then we get Cameron finding out about Donna's treachery, and suddenly no one knows who can trust whom anymore. Which should make for a fascinating back half of Season 3, honestly.
Gordon Clark: Gloomy Sadsack I've spent the past twenty minutes staring at my computer screen, trying to summarize what Gordon's deal is. I can't. Seriously, Gordon: Donna's secretly not liking camping is the thing that finally convinces you that this thing just isn't going to work out? All sensible people hate camping, Gordon. I hate to be the one to break that to you, but here we are.
Joe MacMillan: Super Genius You know what? Not so much. Oh, there's that bit at the end, where Joe explains to Ryan that there's money to be made connecting private networks after he gets his visionary mojo back post-health scare. But Joe spends the bulk of this episode in a full-on fatalistic sulk. "I'm not sure I've got another next in me," he mopes to Ryan. "You should know that." This introspection is not very supervilainish of you, Joe, to be quite honest.
The Crumbling Clark Marriage Leave it to Gordon to turn a child-and-Cameron-free weekend of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll (in the form of a Clash song) into another bring-down. CAN WE JUST FAST-FORWARD TO THE PART WHERE GORDON GETS THE MAINFRAME IN THE DIVORCE SETTLEMENT?
The Wit and Wisdom of John Bosworth We could dwell on Boz putting Cameron's shit in the street, as he threatens to pick up the slack when Cameron balks at confronting her mother. ("Why should today be any different?" Boz asks pointedly.) Or we could talk about Boz's own lackluster parenting coming home to roost in the form of his son's resentment. Let's instead focus on another great John Bosworth life hack. Take it away, Boz.

"True fact: A banana peel will shine your shoes like no other."

I will take your word for it, friend.

Meet The New Guy "I don't even know if you like me," Ryan whines to Joe, after finding himself on the losing end of yet another of his boss's mood swings. Ryan, I don't presume to speak for everyone here, but for my part, I do not like you. You have failed to prove interesting. I only hope that Tom is indeed making his triumphant return, so I can spend less time each week fixating on your terrible shirts.
Period Piece Accuracy One thing that drives me straight up a tree about shows set in a very specific time and place is when they throw in something modern on the soundtrack, like I don't have Shazam at the ready to flag anachronistic music. And so, when "New Misery" -- released nearly thirty years after the events in this episode unfold -- starts playing as Joe gets his HIV test results, I must declare shenanigans.

Also, based on the views from Joe's apartment, I assume he lives in a floating palace in the sky, so that his balcony can more easily overlook whatever San Francisco landmark the producers want to feature in that particular shot. I only hope it's rent-controlled.

5 / 10
Final Score
Halt And Catch Fire
REM's "Everybody Hurts" Video
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