“We all have to take our lumps before we come into our own,” Jacob Wheeler, a new character played by the formidable James Cromwell, says in the opening scene of “New Coke.” “Makes getting there all the more sweet.”
The second episode of the second season is a series of lumps on the head, each character bangs into an obstacle and deals with the setback. While their struggles show us more about them, the hurdles slow the plotline and change its course. It feels like applying the brakes—but will getting there in future episodes feel all the more sweet?
The last scene does hint at progress—Gordon goes back to work in the garage and throws away the cocaine. He spent most of the episode high, zipping around making bad decisions like sending poor Stan to pick up the kids at school, where he gets mistaken for a kidnapper. “I’m not one of those people that gets addicted to stuff easily,” Gordon tells his doctor before going on a drug-fueled rampage over a glitch in Tank Battle. He’s reached his goal of creating a computer and fulfilled his promise to Donna by replacing her engagement ring, and now, sitting with his success and money, he just doesn’t know what to do with himself.
Joe is also rudderless and decides to take up the job offer from his future father-in-law. Sara lightly protests, but quickly gives in to her new fiancé. Joe imagines a slick sales job, but ends up doing data-entry in the basement. (His doughy manager introduces it as “dead end try.”) Joe has to help clean the bathroom and ask permission to use the microfiche—we’ve never seen him in this kind of environment. It’s ugly, mundane, sad, and devoid of possibility. It’s also fascinating to see him there, his shiny suit fabric muted under the florescent lights.
Speaking of lovely suits, Donna dresses up for Mutiny’s meeting with a venture capitalist interested in funding the company, while Cameron wears her holey jeans and a backpack. Both women doubt their own outfit choices, a relatable and sweet moment, but it turns out not to matter. The smug Mr. Bondham is less interested in their presentation than their biology. He waves a finger at their femaleness and asks about their “biological imperatives” to have children and disrupt business. The scene dovetails off of the sexual harassment Joan experiences in Mad Men and reminds us that unchecked discrimination in the workplace is still rampant in the mid ’80s.
The scene points out that gender equality has inched along while tech has developed at the speed of light. Only 10 percent of Americans had computers and only 15 percent of those had modems in 1985, Mr. Bondham points out. Drastic change is possible, when it’s change that serves those like Mr. Bondham.
The women have to deal with discrimination on all fronts of their business. In the past episode, they were physically threatened by the man selling stolen computers, and now his boardroom counterpart is trying to intimidate them. Both of these men are misogynistic hustlers, it’s just one of them is wearing an expensive tie and suspenders. The women have increased their strength by sticking together, but their bond weakens when Cameron hires John Bosworth, “Boz,” without consulting Donna.
Donna is able to brush off the disastrous meeting with the venture capitalist, but Cameron internalizes the sexism and lashes out at the next man who threatens them, a new character, Tom Rendon. He hacks into Mutiny’s network and “upgrades” their games, all to get their attention and a job offer. Cameron initially threatens him, “You don’t think a couple of girls could sue you into the ground?” But she sees his brilliance and hires him, once again making a hiring decision without Donna’s input. Cameron’s insistence on doing whatever she wants at all times wears on the women’s relationship, which had been developing into a strong partnership.
NEXT: What about Tom?