In the Big Eighties New Wave soundtrack wars, Joy Division is a weapon best used sparingly. Like a proto-Cobain, the heavily mythologized tragedy of lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide hangs heavy over every note, threatening to overwhelm the song’s value as signifiers of either the time period or a character’s psychological state. So when a Raveonettes/Trentemøller cover of the band’s “She’s Lost Control” shuddered its way through the air as Cameron Howe crashed the system of the company that stole her life’s work, it time to sit up — or in her case, lie down — and take notice.
But has she lost control, really? Was “Kali,” tonight’s penultimate episode of Halt and Catch Fire Season Two, a portrait of a woman falling apart? If you’ll pardon the Clintonian doublespeak, it depends upon what the meaning of the word “control” is.
If it means using her intelligence and talent to shape her own future, Cameron has got that in spades. In the space of a few days, she devised a brand new business plan, successfully sold their most innovative game, designed the interface for Mutiny 2.0, and hacked Jacob Wheeler’s new network — all under the worst professional circumstances she’s ever faced. You can read it in her eyes, actor Mackenzie Davis’ most expressive asset, when she lies on the grass as her dirty deed goes down: She is in full command.
She’s also alone. After busting out his ice-to-an-eskimo sales skills one last time on her game’s behalf (his “damn I’m good” chuckle at his own pitch is priceless), friend/father figure John Bosworth leaves for pastures that, if not greener, are at least not directly atop a faultline. Her boyfriend and close collaborator Tom Rendon takes off under far less cordial circumstances after she cuts their relationship loose to focus on righting the business ship. That’s enough to send her, temporarily at least, back into the arms of Joe MacMillan; when he cuts off their kiss, she leaves him with a Trojan horse as a wedding present, all but ensuring their continued estrangement.
The only person who remains firmly in her corner is Donna Clark, with whom she takes the cathartic early-morning gun-range excursion that opens the episode. Their partnership has been tempestuous, but by now Donna’s loyalty seems beyond reproach. It’s she who sits down for an excruciating meeting with Jesse Evans, the Westgroup hotshot who replaced Joe and ripped Mutiny off, making herself the face of any future litigation. And it’s she who makes the convincing case for Cameron’s beloved Extract and Defend to its eventual buyer, touting its claustrophobic tone and Cold War culture-jamming like a true believer. She’s so much a part of Mutiny that when she returns to the office and announces the sale while lounging resplendently in a desk chair (quick aside: Kerry Bishé is lowkey the sexiest woman on TV), the coder monkeys carry her around like a conquering hero. Cam can’t bring herself to share in the celebration, retreating instead to her office to keep plowing ahead. Maybe “Isolation” would have been a better Joy Division soundtrack selection for her.
Yet her continued ability to build and innovate — “her genius is all around us,” as Joe puts it, “and will be, I suspect, for years to come” — puts her solidly ahead of the other two members of Season One’s holy trinity. While she’s busy figuring out a way forward, Gordon Clark essentially gets trapped in one of its labyrinthine levels IRL. The show brilliantly builds up a mounting sense of unease around his search for the people that “stole” his build-to-order idea: The door to the garage he parks in locks behind him. The company has cleaned out its office and gone out of business. His car apparently goes missing. A worker tells him the section he parked it in doesn’t exist. Finally, he falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his leg, trapping him in this netherworld for hours. Only after he sees that his car was there all along as he’s being carted away to the hospital does the misery finally get the best of him; his ambulance breakdown is the character’s most poignant scene yet.
Joe’s big moment hit harder still. He’s exonerated of any role in the theft of Mutiny just in time to be made the fall guy once again: Everyone, including his wife, blames him for Cameron’s hack. “I’m getting tired of being second-guessed and manipulated and distrusted when I have done absolutely nothing wrong,” he declares — a familiar sensation if you’ve ever felt like people want you to apologize simply for existing. In fact, that’s kind of Sara’s point. “You’re an accident,” she tells him. “You’re something that happens to people who deserve better.” And as Sara points out, he talks about Cameron in a way that suggests she’s the prize he really wants. Words finally fail him. After a shaky first season, Halt has gotten really good at writing fights, and this one was the most crushingly lopsided yet. With only one episode to go, seeing whether this deft drama repairs the breach will be must-watch stuff.
Previously: The Agony and the Ecstasy