Gordon makes a big decision about Haley's involvement in the company, and Donna clashes with Diane
God, what a fantastic episode! “A Connection Is Made” might be the strongest episode of the season, and it’s the first time this truly feels like the final season of Halt and Catch Fire. It draws on the characters’ long history together and features several allusions to the first season, which season 4 continues to cast in a better light.
Wasting no time at all, “A Connection Is Made” begins by revealing that Joe and Cameron are actually in a good place following Cameron’s big confession in last week’s episode. Things are so good that Joe is willingly eating cheese egg, which still sounds disgusting. Given that Cameron is not helping Rover out anymore, Joe thinks Comet still has a chance to succeed, and he’s focused on making it the first thing people think about when they think about the internet.
Donna is busy putting her house in order. She forces Cecil to resign from Rover because she wants to protect the company and hire someone to reverse-engineer the code so that Rover can have something proprietary (remember when Joe and Gordon tried reverse-engineering someone’s work back in season 1? Those were the good ‘ol days). One of the recurring themes of this episode is how these people have changed over the past three seasons, but they aren’t completely different people. Donna can be rather cold and demanding with the Rover team, but here, she shows off a softer side that ultimately convinces Cecil that leaving the company is the right thing to do.
As the title suggests, this episode is all about connection and how that can be a wonderful thing, which is perfectly encapsulated by the way the gang decides to celebrate Haley’s birthday. Joe, Gordon, and Katie venture out to Cameron’s land to launch rockets into the sky with the birthday girl, and it’s probably one of the show’s most joyful scenes ever. Cameron recording the moment on a camcorder is a charming period ornamentation.
Writer Julia Cho digs into the importance of relationships by juxtaposing that scene with Donna, at home drinking by herself. The sense of loneliness that was present in the season premiere starts to creep up again, but then Joanie comes home and ends up connecting with her mom in a way that we haven’t seen before. Donna opens up about the one time she took a risk (read: jumping off a cliff into the water) and admits that she admires Joanie’s fearlessness and tells her never to lose it.
The next day, Joe marvels at how quickly Haley has grown. Obviously, Joe really wants children, but Cameron is either oblivious or doesn’t care because she doesn’t want them. “It’s great if you can give birth to a 14-year-old,” she says callously. Joe heads off to work, and Cameron sits down at his computer to check her email, which holds a surprise: Someone made a Cameron Howe fan website that covers the Giant, Mutiny, Space Bike, and the failure of Pilgrim. It’s a virtual reminder of the highs and lows of her career, and reminds me of a Childish Gambino lyric: “Because the internet, mistakes are forever.” (The rest of that verse — “but if we f— up on this journey, at least we’re together” — also feels applicable to this episode.)
But, that’s the whole thing about this episode, which is elevated by how much it connects to past seasons: Joe, Cameron, Gordon, and Donna’s past failures weigh heavily on their minds and impact all of their actions in the present. That’s one of the reason Donna has steeled her heart at work. That’s why Cameron has declared that she’s done with the tech industry (until someone makes her an offer she can’t refuse). That’s why Joe, who is notorious for only thinking of himself, seems to be taking a more collaborative approach to Comet, actively seeking out his coworkers’ ideas for inspiration, which he does here as he videotapes them sharing the first thing that comes to mind when the think of the internet (spoiler alert: it’s porn). (Recap continues on the next page)
In a surprising development (to be fair, the EPs did tease it in our season preview last month), Joe ends up making a strong connection with Haley. He takes her to Hound Dogs and asks her what she likes about the internet. She says she was drawn to it because it’s a place where people can be themselves and no one is pretending. While Joe is definitely on the same wavelength as Haley on that, their real moment of connection comes when he watches the way Haley talks to Hound Dogs waitress Vanessa and realizes Haley has a crush on her. (In case you forgot, Joe is bisexual, and it’s one of the reasons he has always felt like an outsider.)
Gordon and Donna learn that Haley is failing multiple classes, so Donna makes Gordon handle telling Haley she needs to cut back on Comet. That goes about as well you imagine and ends with Haley stomping out of the Comet offices. After some time passes, Joe drops by Gordon’s office to reason with him and suggest that he let Haley come back to the company, not only because she helped found it but because it’s a place where she feels accepted. But Gordon, who is too pissed, rejects his idea, especially because he believes Joe is more concerned with Comet than Haley’s wellbeing.
“That’s why you’re not a parent and you never will be,” says Gordon. The camera lingers on Lee Pace’s face, which briefly lets slip just how hurtful those words are. Given his obsession with the future, it’s not surprising that Joe wants kids. As the great philosopher Houston once said, “The children are our future.” That’s probably another reason why he is investing so much in Haley.
Meanwhile, Donna’s professional life starts to spin wildly out of control. After firing Cecil, she tries to lure in another CTO named Aaron, who accepted an offer from Microsoft and only agreed to meet with her because he wanted to tell her how much Mutiny’s Community meant to him. However, her passion for Rover convinces him to actually come work for Rover — though that probably won’t happen because Donna ends up sleeping with him.
Freshly released from the hospital, Bosworth finally comes clean to Diane about his debt problems and Cameron’s involvement in Mutiny. Diane goes to see Donna about it and tells her to make Cameron to sign a release so that they can assume full ownership over the code. Donna refuses because she’s still hurting over the Mutiny debacle. Seeing no other option, Diane takes Donna off the Rover project and tells her to get her s— together. At first, that last bit surprised me, but then we see what Diane meant when Joanie comes home from school later that day and finds Donna drunkenly playing Pilgrim. Drunk Donna repeats that whole fearlessness speech she gave to Joanie earlier in the episode, which undercuts whatever bond they had developed. But that’s only the beginning.
Earlier in the episode, Gordon told Cameron that she needs to find something to do because she gets into trouble when she’s lonely (like helping out her boyfriend’s competitor), but that advice seems more applicable to Donna. That night, Donna goes out for a drive and gets pulled over by a cop as she’s jamming out to “We Belong.” Cut to a few hours later: Gordon picks Donna up from the precinct, which is the perfect callback to the pilot.
The next day, Donna reluctantly drives out to Cameron’s airstream with the release. Cameron, who is definitely more open to seeing her old friend, signs the agreement and says she doesn’t want any money. Even after everything that’s happened, Cameron still knows when something is up and asks Donna if everything is okay, but a distraction ruins the moment and Donna flees the scene, leaving Cameron to set up her new computer and internet connection to get to work on some new project. The episode ends with a shot of the satellite dish atop Cameron’s airstream. A connection is made — literally.
What made me love this episode so much is how it shows off Halt and Catch Fire‘s ability to take things as massive as technology and the internet and make them feel incredibly personal. The ways in which the characters interact with each other in the episode serve as a great metaphor for how the internet works today. At its best, it fosters connection and community, like in that joyful rocket scene; it’s where people can find their community and, hopefully, not feel as alone. But it can also bring out the worst in people. Every time one of the characters has a disagreement, they see it as a personal attack, revert to their basic instincts, and lash out with the most hurtful thing they can think of. We see that in Gordon and Joe’s conversation after Gordon fires/grounds Haley, and when Donna takes a shot at Diane and Bosworth’s relationship. And this metaphorical business wouldn’t be anything without the cast’s amazing performances. Honestly, this may be my favorite episode of the season so far.