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Halt and Catch Fire - Play With Friends - Review: "I'm trying to be better"

There is no better time to be a Halt and Catch Fire fan than right now; the show has built up trust with its audience and every week since it premiered it has delivered one of the most pleasant dramas this summer; this is a statement I wouldn’t have made last season, where it was addictive but lacked a bit with its characters (though the cast has always been amazing), but this season the show has committed into making every single character likeable and has largely succeeded because of it. Every main character has their own crusade and the show is making those crusades interesting and its character are worth rooting for.

This episode is essentially a slow burn, but a delightful one; as I sat back and watched the 40 minutes or so of the episodes, I realized that the scenes’ pace were a bit slow, but I didn’t care, mostly because everything was either interesting or delightful. Every bit of conflict on the episode kept me wondering how the characters would work it out, and when everyone relaxed and just took a break I felt like I was taking that break with them. Just as Mutiny is trying to be immersive, I’d say Halt and Catch Fire as a show is becoming more and more immersive.

Everything's coming up together, just like last week, but this time it is even more connected than before. Mutiny is in crisis, so Cameron and Donna have to figure out how to fix it, while a guilt driven Gordon seeks for a way to help via Joe, who offers him a job to make use of the hardware sitting still next to his cubicle.

The show did a great job re-establishing one of the basic relationships of the show without denying what has happened so far. When Joe offers Gordon the job he refuses as he wouldn’t go down that road again, and that would be the logical thing to do since we all know how everything ended up last season, it wasn’t pleasant. But after seeing how shaken up Donna is by the failure of Mutiny and the decision to cut off community chat rooms, Gordon feels like he needs to do something, so he comes to an understanding with Joe that once they set everything up with the servers at his company, he will make Mutiny their pilot program.

As much as Gordon would like to feel in control it is obvious that Joe’s skillful power play puts them back on a similar season 1 kind of relationship, but it does so in a way in which both characters are completely aware of how different the circumstances are this time around. And they component above all else here: there is underlying affection behind every single scene.

Joe and Gordon have this implicit camaraderie in every scene they share ever since the season premiere. Gordon has his defenses high up since he still remembers how Joe bailed on him and burnt all those computers to the ground, but there is an undeniable sense of concern around these two; Joe is different and Gordon can tell, and it becomes even more obvious after Gordon collapses and Joe looks honestly worried about him. The old Joe would have told him “are you up? Good, keep on going.”, but now he looked truly concerned about his well being.

Lee Pace has done some tremendous work overhauling Joe this season, making him more relatable, more human and far less mysterious. He is still very good at manipulating, selling and making power plays, but now he does while showing a human side to it, which is what he severely lacked last season.

As for Donna, things are getting rather complicated; things with Cameron are worse than ever and for a while they entered this passive aggressive routine as she tried to push for the chat community to be kept alive while Cameron thinks they should focus merely on games. Thankfully, that doesn’t last long, though it took for a slip from Cameron while chatting with Tom to make them talk.

And boy, it was hard! Cameron saying that Gordon is the guy who knocked Donna up and trapped her is beyond hard, is cruel. Of course Cameron never expected for Donna to find out, she slipped and sent that to everyone and she feels like crap about it, like everyone would. That doesn’t make what she said less true.

Donna has shown that she loves Gordon and their children, but the show has also shown us that it is not enough for her. That’s why it is all the more devastating when, in the end, she stares at that pregnancy test, wondering what’s to come now. A new baby is the last thing she wanted, and as Kerry Bishé delivers that hauntingly sad performance I can’t help but feeling incredibly sorry for her (and even hating the writers a little bit, but as a whole they delivered great drama in the way they handled it).

Cameron has more things going on besides confrontating Donna; she wants to make a new game for the subscribers to get sucked back into Mutiny, and during this episode as she plays around with toy guns she comes across with a shooter kind of game ala “Wolfstein” or “Doom”. More than the idea of the game itself (which is pretty much on the nose) I just like the environment of Mutiny while playing, everyone is so happy, cheerful and laid back that it just makes you feel good, it’s a nice break from action. And most importantly, it makes the characters feel human.

Take for instance the photo group; even Donna who was pretty mad couldn’t help but laugh, it goes to show that she is more than just a workaholic. These people aren’t just sucked up in drama, they also have the ability to laugh and enjoy the little things that comes around it.

If anything, we may complain that the episode progress is kind of slow, but is the good kind of slow, the kind in which you just lay back and relax just as the characters grow more and more on you. Even Gordon, the most unlikeable character as this point (in my opinion), is trying to do the right thing and trying to fix the mess he left at Mutiny (though his pretension towards Joe at the beginning wasn’t doing much for me).

The best thing Halt and Catch Fire has done this season is that it has made the characters more relatable and complex. It has gone beyond the stereotypes that defined them and has allowed us to show some of the many faces that they have. If the show keeps up that good work and we’re all in for a marvellous season, full of twist and great drama brought out of people we are coming to care about more and more as the episodes progress. And that's all we could ask for and more.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

-It’s becoming harder and harder to grade the episodes because I like them so much, but I try to be reasonable. This episode was smooth all around but it didn’t blow me away, and at times it did lag, so that’s what it keeps it from a stray A. But I feel that grade is coming, sooner rather than later.

-For one moment I was going to be a bit mad that HACF was taking a cliché with the whole crew staying to help Mutiny out, but then some people quit and made it more realistic, so I have no complains there: some people really believe Mutiny will be worth something and some others think it will sink. It made for a great start of the episode as we cut through the opening credits.

-No Sarah this week; a shame since I want to see how she evolves through the season, but the extra attention to our main characters more than makes it up for it.

-Except for the fact that we didn’t have much of Bos this week, though I like how he is using his salesmanship to get people back on track with Mutiny. He was really convincing with that mother.

-Gordon’s fainting has to be related to his cocaine consumption, right?

-Didn’t mention it above because I think Tom and Cameron hooking up was incredibly obvious, it was just a matter of time. It did feel natural though, and sweet. After hooking up with Joe, Cameron seriously needed someone she can rely on, and I think Tom will be that for her.

-If Donna is in fact pregnant, what do you think will happen? Miscarriage or birth? For me it’s a tossup, I can see it developing either way.

-Failure? Moderate Success? Or Big Hit? Which one will Mutiny be by the end of the season? Since The Giant was a moderate success I think the show we'll lean towards either failure or big hit by the end of the season, but I can't tell which way it is leaning towards to.

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Revenge, Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time and about 23 more. Currently writing reviews for Once Upon a Time, The 100 and Halt and Catch Fire
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