It’s all starting to come together for Season 2 of “Halt and Catch Fire” in episode 4, both for the characters and the show itself. In “Play with Friends,” Joe (Lee Pace) and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) teamed back up to overhaul West Group’s computer system for Joe’s time sharing scheme, finally revealing how the show’s male leads’ storyline will intersect with Donna (Kerry Bishé) and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) over at Mutiny. More important, though, is that “Halt and Catch Fire” followed up episode 3, it’s best to date, with, perhaps, an even better hour as the AMC show settles into quite a groove.
Through the first three episodes of the season, Joe has largely been an island, existing in a sort-of separate story universe from the other three main characters – save for picking up his Cardiff check and an abbreviated dinner party with Gordon and Donna. Though that has produced some positives – Sara (Aleksa Palladino) has been a welcome foil, mitigating Joe’s more egotistical tendencies – it has not always made for the most dynamic television.
The Joe/Gordon team-up breaks that trend and is a welcome change of pace for fans. Whatever character growth Joe and Gordon have experienced in a season and a half on the show, they do not seem to be able to show it to each other. Each scene together – particularly a conversation in a bar that devolves from calculated underhandedness to Gordon telling Joe, “I wish I could punch you in the face” – felt like the Joe and Gordon of Season 1, sizing each other up and trading attempts at manipulation. However, there is undoubtedly a more tangible affection between the pair that is on display when Joe seems genuinely concerned after Gordon’s fainting episode.
Of course, that reunion only happened because Gordon wants to use West Group’s servers to host Mutiny and relieve some of Donna’s problems, hoping to redeem himself for the Sonaris disaster. The server fix was the lynch pin in Gordon’s episode long husband-of-the-year campaign. He seems to score a moment with Donna while empathizing with his wife’s attachment to Community, but overall the marriage seems bound for trouble. Donna will not be happy when she finds out Joe is the man behind Mutiny’s server solution and it will undoubtedly lead to more tension with Cameron. That lie and the big pregnancy bomb in the episode’s final moments, let alone the tease of Gordon’s health issues, could be harbingers of serious marital issues down the road.
Speaking of Cameron, the coder spent the hour making a conscious effort to be a better boss, welcoming the new – and endless entertaining – contributions of Bosworth (Toby Huss), struggling to tell her employees that she must forego their salaries, and working tirelessly to come up with a more innovative game idea. She even manages to maintain a managerial demeanor when telling Donna that she plans to ditch Community, but her one slip in professionalism – venting about Donna to Tom over Community – was costly. Although, it could be the darkest-before-the-dawn moment for the duo as Cameron’s embarrassment also led her to recognize the value in Community.
Cameron also recognized the value in Tom (Mark O’Brien), her new love interest. For a romance that has seemed inevitable since the character’s introduction, the lead-up to the couple’s kiss was surprisingly organic. The closet fake-out, where the pair essentially invented the network shooter years ahead of schedule, was a sharp scene that struck an impressive balance between sexual tension and detail-oriented tech talk.
That balance is at the heart of what has made “Halt and Catch Fire” so strong this season. Where Season 1 sometimes struggled to decide if it was more about the Cardiff Giant or the characters creating it, Season 2 has managed to better mesh the characters and their creations. Tom serves as a romantic interest for Cameron, but also as the muse of inspiration that leads her to her innovative shooter concept. West Group’s servers provide a technical solution for Mutiny, but the partnership lays the groundwork for a disastrous fallout when Joe inevitably reenters Donna and Cameron’s lives.
How will it all play out? Fans will have to wait find out, but it seems certain sparks will fly. As Cameron says, “Everybody wants to shoot their friends sometimes.”
What did you think of “Play with Friends?” Tweet your thoughts to @Ja9GarofaloTV.