It turns out that “recovery from a mild psychotic break” is a good look for Gordon Clark. For the first time all season, his hair’s groomed and his beard’s neat; he looks comfortable in his clothes instead of like a living mannequin for Short-Sleeved Dress Shirts Warehouse. Actor Scoot McNairy is a handsome guy, after all; now we can see that beneath the beard and the big glasses and the flop sweat, Gordon had something to offer Donna back in the day besides their shared love of electrical engineering.
What’s more, this is a case where you can judge a book by its cover. Now Gordon is able to turn on the charm, bantering effortlessly with Joe, Cameron, and Bosworth as they plan for the big COMDEX computer convention before the bank-hacking bust that drives the episode. Even the camera seems captivated: As he reminisces about the party scene the last time he and Donna attended the big show, grinning ear to ear, the camera doesn’t cut away for a second.
Yes, he freaks when he finds out Joe is not taking him, but lots of people would. Plus, he quickly recovers – Gordon has the presence of mind to steal key components of the computer they’ve officially christened “The Giant” when the feds swoop in. He’s also got the vision to keep the project going anyway, the balls to break into the office and steal the rest of the computer, and the charisma to convince both Cameron and Joe to come along for the ride. Pay attention to the way he reassembles the team. It doesn’t just mean good things for Cardiff Electric — it means good things for tonight’s episode, “The 214s,” and for the series itself.
The way Gordon rallies the troops is remarkable for how different it is from the way Joe got the band together in the first place. Joe played off Cameron and Gordon’s resentments and frustrations with both the world and one another; every step in their journey together required Joe to concoct some fresh outrage to glue them together. By contrast, Gordon woos his long-time rival Cameron by sincerely complimenting her contributions and bonds with her by swapping tales of their computer “first times.” He shares the story of how he popped the question to Donna using “our own polyalphabetic cipher” inscribed on the engagement ring. “You proposed to your wife with a decoder ring,” Cameron says; her half-amused, half-awestruck tone of voice will be both recognizable and delightful who’s ever been praised for being a gigantic, yet somehow entertaining, nerd.
Finally, Gordon lures Joe, who’d been ready to defect back to his father Joe Sr. at IBM, by telling him he’s something he probably never thought he’d be: a role model. Before, Gordon was a frustrated desk jockey. Now? “Yesterday, I broke into a crime scene,” he says in one of the episode’s best lines. Earlier, Joe had barked “I created both of you” at Cameron and his right-hand-man engineer as a punishment for their questioning his leadership; Gordon sees the truth in the sentiment, and uses it not to wound, but to heal. There’s a lot of that in this episode, and thank God: After a season of often fruitless fury, the gang’s getting along, and the show’s so much more watchable for it.
Donna’s storyline is a surprising case in point, several times over. When her boss, Hunt, materializes outside her house, it seems like he’s giving in to temptation. But he ends up resigning from the company rather than get caught up in an affair he seems to believe they’d both regret. Donna, in turn, is driven back to Gordon not as a default, but because she discovers the engagement ring he’d reordered for her. She discovers his passion for his work is echoed by his passion for her, and that she needs both. Her announcement that she’s not leaving him, she’s leaving with him, was one of the most pleasurable moments of the series so far.
The Bosworth bits were better still. Toby Huss has been a marvel as Boz all season long, but in the opening sequence he outdoes himself. Spooked to discover Nathan Cardiff has paid him an unscheduled visit, he’s all jittery energy, glancing over his shoulder as if to see who the next surprise will be. Later, he marches into a sales meeting and, knowing this is his last chance to convey his true feelings before the cops come, Bosworth radiates respect for Cameron and Joe, proclaiming “The future belongs to them that built it.”
It’s a lesson Bosworth has taken to heart, as Cameron discovers when she pays him a last-minute visit on the road to COMDEX. He knows coding lingo backwards and forwards now – to shield against Cameron getting swept up into the hacking investigation, sure, but also out of obvious, genuine interest, perhaps for the first time in his career. He sits in a room lit beautifully with late-autumn light, as comfortable with himself as Gordon, Joe, Cameron or Donna finally seem to be.
More importantly, this episode makes us feel as if Halt, at long last, has finally found a home for itself. Its quintet of lead characters now lean on one another, sacrifice for one another, admire one another — they’re rallying each other, and the audience as well. It’s still more Breaking Bad than Barney and Friends, which is as it should be, and tensions will no doubt flare again in due time. But what’s true within the show is true about the show as well. Things were shaky at best and infuriating at worst for so long. To cut through the chaos, surmount the obstacles, and realize the vision, it turns out that team spirit is indeed essential.
Previously: Rising Storm