Halt and Catch Fire recap: 'Nowhere Man'
As much as Donna, Cameron, Joe, and Gordon want to move forward into the future, they can’t, because their pasts linger uneasily beside their present. Old wounds and past failures color how they view their latest projects. Try as they might to separate the the personal and the professional, they can’t because their work is so close to them; it’s part of them. So when something is on the verge of not going as planned, it’s a very big crisis as we see for Joe and Donna especially in “Nowhere Man.”
Before diving into the core four, we need to talk about Anna Chlumsky, who remains incredibly charming as Katie in this episode. While “Nowhere Man” is mostly focused on her newfound relationship with Gordon and we don’t get to see much of her Chief Ontologist work, that’s fine because it’s some of the most purely entertaining and least **Prestige TV** parts of the episode: From her teasing Gordon about his love of Sneakers with a heavy Russian accent, to Gordon asking her to help him identify a song stuck in his head, it’s another way this show reaffirms that these are just people looking for connection but in the least showy way possible.
Tonight’s the first time Katie meets Gordon’s children. Surprisingly, she hits it off immediately with Joanie, who was rather difficult the last time we saw Gordon bring someone home in the season 3 finale. Haley, on the other hand, is very awkward about it all, especially after Joe’s outburst in the office about it (more on that in a second). While Katie’s night with the kids goes off pretty well, Gordon ends their night early because his symptoms start flaring up again and he’s exhausted.
At least part of the reason for his illness rearing its head again can be partially caused by stress at work. In the wake of Rover’s miraculous algorithm fix, Joe is spinning because he thinks Comet’s personal touch is no longer relevant. He asks Cameron to come in for a brainstorm with him and Gordon, but she says no because she thinks they should keep their work separate (Obviously, the real reason is that she feels guilty about helping his competitor). Comet is incredibly important to him, so in his mind, her saying no to helping him work through this problem is the same thing as her indecisiveness on moving in with him and running away to her airstream. Alas, Cameron doesn’t quite understand how hurt he is and runs off to the woods. Naturally, Joe isn’t in the best of moods when he arrives at the office the next day and he lashes out at Gordon when he arrives at work.
Even though Rover’s fortunes have turned for the better, they aren’t able to enjoy it because Donna is very suspicious of how Cecil was able to fix the algorithm. Her suspicions weigh on her mind when she comes home and finds Joanie playing Cameron’s game Pilgrim, which turns out to be just as frustrating the review said. While Donna can’t stand to be in the same room with Cameron, she still finds herself at least mildly intrigued by the game, but for now she ignores that impulse to sit down and play it.
Tanya wants to use Rover’s new funding to expand its programming team, but Donna says no because she wants to see if Cecil can come through under pressure once again. This is her way of putting the screws to the team come clean about how they actually fixed the algorithm because she doesn’t believe Cecil did it on his own. She turns up the heat on him and says that they’ll only be able to hire new programmers once Cecil sits down with legal and explains how the algorithm works so that they can patent it. Unfortunately, Cecil has no idea how it works, because Cameron is streets ahead. (Recap continues on the next page)
Meanwhile, Cameron’s ex-husband Tom shows up at the airstream with some divorce papers for her sign, interrupting Cameron’s attempts at escaping her guilt since she still feels bad about how their marriage ended. Even after everything that’s happened between these two, their rapport is still rather warm and they briefly forget about the hurt as Tom tells her he finally solved the mystery of some weird noise in their apartment building (it was a bird). But the happy times only lasts so long because the word “lie” comes up and then things get very awkward. What’s even more awkward? Tom telling Cam that he and his new girlfriend/wife are moving to suburbs because she’s pregnant. While that throws Cameron for a second, she nevertheless hugs him goodbye and apologizes for everything that happened.
Cameron returns home to Joe’s apartment looking to make amends. She can’t reach him at work, so she asks Gordon to see if he’s around. Gordon does find him, but lies about it because Joe’s mind is elsewhere and he needs a friend more than anything else.
Joe is having trouble figuring out what problem he needs to solve for Comet. “I can’t see it anymore,” he says, bringing up that ineffable future. “It was never about where it ended up. It was about how it felt. When I saw it, I knew how it would feel to build something with you, but this Friday afternoon, all the queues are clear, I don’t know what come next.” Gordon reassures Joe that he’s finally made it to the future and that he’s just like everyone else: he has no idea what’s going on and that’s what life is. Joe apologizes for what he said earlier, and Gordon accepts but warns that he’ll rip off his head and s— down his throat if he ever brings up Gordon’s sex life in front his daughter again, a hilarious and incredibly unpretentious piece of dialogue.
Bos shows up at Cameron’s apartment and asks her to help out with some of the specs for the patent, but Cameron refuses because they had a deal this wouldn’t get back to her. Bos begs, but she says no and kicks him out. Later that night, Bos has dinner with Diane and Donna, and when Diane steps away for a moment, Donna goes in for the kill and accuses Bos of opening her up to attack from enemies in the city by bringing someone else in on her project. And to that, I say, Donna, who are your enemies? You sound like Drake when he claims he has people trying to “end” him in “Work.” No one is out here trying to end either one of you. But, I digress. Their exchange quickly turns hostile as Donna says she only hired Bos because Diane asked her. Bos tries to get up, but collapses as he stumbles away.
At this point, it’s not entirely clear exactly what happened to Bos, but lets just assume it’s a heart attack or something. Donna, who feels very guilty about causing Bos’ health crisis, accompanies Diane to the hospital. There, she runs into Cameron, who rushes into the hospital because she, too, feels responsible for putting Bos in the hospital. Their interaction isn’t as cold as it usually is, but Donna puts two and two together that Cameron worked on the algorithm. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but stay out of my business,” says Donna before storming off.
As they drive home from the hospital, Cameron asks Joe to pull over because it’s time to get real. She begins by telling him that part of the reason she told Tom she was unfaithful was because she wanted him to leave, which leads into her admitting she helped Rover out with their algorithm. “A part of me just wanted to see if I could do I,” she says. Joe does his cold Joe thing and simply asks why she’s telling him now. “Because I love you,” she says. While Cameron is unwilling to address her role in ruining her friendship with Donna, at least she’s taking responsibility for the other ways in which she has self-sabotaged in the past. This entire conflict brings the show back to its interest in how work can get in the way of the personal, and how these people still struggle to figure out how to manage the two because their work is so personal to them. In trying to make herself whole through this algorithm, she potentially ruined whatever she had with Joe. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until next week to find out the outcome of this conversation.
That night, Donna calls Gordon to chat about, well, stuff, but Gordon is too tired from his illness to talk. Once they hang up, Gordon gets out of bed and destroys all of the journals he was keeping monitoring his illness. Meanwhile, Donna plays Cameron’s game and actually figures it out. Sure, she still can’t be in the same room with her, but she’s still looking to connect with an old friend and playing Pilgrim is another form of intimacy. Pilgrim was an immensely personal project for Cameron; she put part of herself into the game. Unlike everyone else, Donna understands the game’s logic because she knows Cameron, and all the good and bad that comes with that. Here, for this moment, the combination of the personal and work isn’t as combustible as it has been in the past.