Season 2, Episode 4
Play With Friends
Joe and Gordon reunite to bring about Joe's vision; tensions run high between Cameron and Donna.
Halt and Catch Fire is currently not in season.
The morning routine is underway at the Clark House. Gordon makes unappealing bright green smoothies for Joanie and Haley, who wait unenthusiastically at the kitchen table. Joanie claims that she isn’t feeling well, but Gordon tells her to get dressed for school. As Donna enters the kitchen, Joanie wraps her arms around her and pleads to stay home, but Donna wiggles free from her child’s grip as she can’t afford to get sick right now. She already feels like it might be too late and asks Gordon to feel her head. He does, assures her she feels “Cool as a cucumber, just like you,” then kisses her. Donna, anxious to get back to the office to clean up the mess from Gordon’s computer virus, slips from his embrace.
Meanwhile, Joe excitedly pitches an idea to Ellis Mortimer, an executive at Westgroup Energy, to rent out their mainframe during off-hours to third party businesses in need of a larger, more powerful network. Joe is in full salesman mode, excited to have found his way out of the basement, but Mortimer shoots him down. When Joe persists, albeit condescendingly, to assure Mortimer that his idea will work, Mortimer suggests he just share the idea with his “future father-in-law.” Joe is silenced as Mortimer informs him he knows who he is. In fact, the only reason he took the meeting with Joe was as a courtesy because Joe is dating the boss’s daughter. He tersely asserts that he was at this company before her first marriage blew up, and he’ll be there after she’s done with Joe too.
Over at the Mutiny House, Cameron pounds Good & Plenty candy as she gathers her strength to address the staff in the wake of the destruction of their network by Gordon’s Sonaris program. She finally emerges from her bedroom and is immediately met by Donna, who has been waiting for her in the hall. As Donna tries to coordinate their plan of action, Cameron quickly brushes her off, insisting she’s got it. Cameron attempts to explain the dire nature of the situation. They’re almost out of money, and Mutiny can’t afford to pay their salaries. Instead they’re offering the coders shares of the company as compensation. Tom Rendon stands up and declares, “I’m in.” Other coders follow suit, except for Yo-Yo and Frosty. Cameron quips that Yo-Yo always wanted to work on cartridge games instead, but he replies: “Or maybe I don’t think the shares are going to be worth anything.”
The next morning, Cameron stumbles out of her room to find Bosworth has returned with breakfast tacos for the gang. He is also going over Mutiny’s invoices. He tells her that he’s found a couple places where they could cut their costs if she wants to hear him out.
Elsewhere in the Mutiny House, Donna works on a mangled XT, while nearby Lev types furiously, monitoring the Community rooms. He complains Community is too much work, and he’d like to go back to games. Donna tells him he can handle six groups. Lev corrects her. It’s now up to eighteen groups, hasn’t she been listening? As she joins him, she realizes people are signing on to Mutiny just for Community.
Donna continues to the kitchen where Cameron runs her hands through her hair in frustration as she tells Bosworth that they've already sent out mailers with instructions on reinstalling the software, but subscribers are still canceling. Bosworth replies: “Of course they are, you just gave your girlfriend the Clap. You think sending our mailers is gonna fix that? You gotta send her flowers, not penicillin.” Bosworth tells them their image needs rehabilitation. He points to an invoice for pre-paid ad space in Byte magazine. Donna reminds him they can’t afford an ad agency right now. Bosworth tells her they don’t need one, just an ad that says: We’re Hiring. “Folks see that, they think you’re cooking on the front burner.” Donna adds they can even include a photo of the staff at work in the ad just like Steve Jobs in the garage. Boz also advises them not to waste time with cold calls anymore. They need to go door to door, targeting their “whales” — their biggest customers. When Cameron protests they don’t have the man power, Bosworth volunteers himself.
In the mainframe room at Westgroup Energy, Joe pulls phone wires up through the floor with a tech from the phone company. As they finish, the man asks what he should write on the work order. Joe asks “what work order” as the man’s eyes land on the folded cash in Joe’s outstretched hand.
Back at Mutiny, the gang is mid-pitch meeting, except Cameron is the only one pitching. When she calls them out on it, Bodie quips, “C’mon guys, let’s get serious. There’s shares on the line here” — making it clear a subtle shift has taken place now that no one’s getting paid. The tables have turned and it’s Cameron’s turn to walk on eggshells with her staff. Thankfully, Wonderboy stands to pitch, except Cameron is visibly unimpressed and says they “need to go bigger.” She interrupts, “what if we create a shooter game that’s totally immersive… that shows the player’s perspective of his surroundings.” This grabs the team’s attention, and they begin brainstorming, just as Tom Rendon enters… late. Cameron’s attention has shifted to Tom, who looks exhausted. She tells the group we’ll pick up with the idea tomorrow, and moves to Tom who appears to be sleeping. Cameron asks what’s going on with him. But Tom downplays it, says he slept through his alarm. At this, Cameron snaps into boss mode and reminds him, “Just because you’re not getting paid anymore doesn’t mean you can show up late for work. It’s bad for morale.” Tom is slightly embarrassed with the other coders still in earshot, but assures her it won’t happen again.
Meanwhile, Gordon walks, panting, through his neighborhood in his red Adidas tracksuit. When he sees Joe, sitting outside of his house, he starts running at full speed down the street. Gordon leads Joe toward the door, explaining, “I was out doing my miles… did nine miles.”
Gordon takes Joe out to his garage to show off his new gadgets, while telling him all about his healthy living habits. As Gordon finally gets the remote in his hand to work, the blender turns on in the kitchen. He explains to Joe that he programmed the remote to control all the appliances in the house. Joe remarks he’s been working on some pretty innovative stuff over at Westgroup Energy. He is looking for “a ground floor engineer” to convert the mainframe for outside dial-in access to ultimately time-share Westgroup’s IBM 3090. Despite Joe’s best sales pitch, Gordon tells him he’ll need to find somebody else.
In another suburban Dallas neighborhood, Bosworth knocks on a front door. A teenager opens the door. Bosworth asks when he expects his dad to return home, but is answered by the teen’s mom, Cookie, who joins them at the door, “That’s the million dollar question.” He introduces himself as the head of customer satisfaction at Mutiny and explains he came by to apologize to her son, apparently, for all the network hassles and to see what he can do to bring them back “into the Mutiny family.” However, this only irritates Cookie more, who blames video game companies like his for keeping her son isolated when he should be socializing. He follows this up quickly asking the boy if he’s become friends with any other Mutiny users. At this, the teen brightens, spouting off a long list of friends he’s made through Mutiny to his mom’s surprise. Bosworth explains, “Mutiny is their church, it’s where they find community.” He turns to leave, a knowing smile spreads across his face just as Cookie calls to him to come back. He knows he’s got this whale back on the hook.
Back at Mutiny, Cameron explains to Donna that she’s been doing some inventory to figure out what games they can lose to help lighten the network and that she’s going to have to cut Community. Donna is shocked, as it hardly uses any bandwidth. Cameron tells her it’s not about bandwidth, it’s about security. “Community is our most vulnerable spot. Someone shares the wrong file, we get infected again.” Mutiny can’t take a chance of that happening. Donna reminds her if they want to make this a place where people can connect, then there’s going to be risk involved. Cameron knows, but isn’t willing to take the chance on something this small.
At the Clark house, Gordon enters the bathroom and is startled to find Donna fully clothed, lying in their empty tub. She explains it’s the only place the girls wouldn’t look for her. She tells him how Cameron wants to cut Community. Gordon assures her that Community is a big idea and she has to find a way to see it through. Even if she could get past Cameron, and get the XTs back up and running, they still can’t survive long term on a rickety homemade network. Gordon considers this, knowing he may have a solution to Donna’s problem in Joe.
Later that night, Cameron pulls into a supermarket parking lot on a snack mission when she recognizes the stock boy pushing a row of shopping carts — it’s Tom Rendon. Tom explains he used to work there in high school and the manager let him pick up a couple shifts, just until the shares are worth something. Tom tells her where to find the fireball jawbreakers and Good & Plenty, having taken in her specific additions. They part, both uncomfortable by the awkward run-in.
The next day, at an underground meeting — literally, in Westgroup’s parking garage — Gordon lists off his terms to Joe, who listens patiently. Gordon will provide his services for free in exchange for Mutiny being their first client, at a discounted rate. Joe immediately asks what he screwed up over at Mutiny. Gordon is defensive then asks finally, “Do we have a deal or not?” Satisfied, he hands Joe a list of equipment they’ll need. Joe asks if he can do it tonight.
Back at Mutiny, Donna asks if Cameron has ever used Community. Cameron says she has. Donna then asks which is her favorite room. Cameron tells her she knows what Community is. With respect, Donna disagrees. The code might not be revolutionary, but people are interacting online in a way that can be more authentic than in real life, and that is addicting. Cameron throws up her hands, acquiescing. She’ll give it a try, but warns Donna not to expect her to change her mind. Donna lingers a moment and then asks, “Because you just don’t like it or because it didn’t come from you?”
In the other room, coders cheer as Boz moves another “whale” on the bulletin board from the “delinquent” column to the “closed” column. As Bodie kicks back and shotguns a beer, Tom gets a request on his computer to talk privately with CAMHOWE via Community. As the two chat and flirt, Cameron loosens up, and makes disparaging comments about Gordon. Unfortunately for Cameron, Tom informs her she accidentally sent the most recent quip to everyone.
When Donna emerges from the bathroom moments later, the coders are silent, their eyes tracking her as she makes her way to her computer where Cameron’s message awaits her: CAMHOWE: No, Gordon = The guy who hung two kids on her and now she’s trapped!
It’s 8pm, as Joe and Gordon reconvene at a bar across the street from Westgroup. Gordon bought all the equipment and hands Joe the receipts. He’s confused why Joe is reimbursing him personally, and also declines to give him a security badge. Just as it dawns on Gordon, Joe rushes to explain he tried to do this by the book, but he needs evidence to back up this idea to Jacob Wheeler, the CEO and his future father-in-law. Gordon suggests they check with Sara to see if she is okay with the idea of Joe breaking into her father’s company in the middle of the night and messing with his state-of-the-art mainframe. Joe is happy to, right after they call Donna to tell her she’ll be leasing her new network from Joe.
Back at Mutiny, Cameron steps onto the back porch to find Donna alone, angry and hurt. Donna tells Cameron that if she has a problem with Gordon, she should come to her. But above all, not to ever, ever talk about her kids. At this, Donna becomes a bit dizzy. Cameron asks if she wants water, but Donna brushes it off, says she thinks, on top of everything else, she has Joanie’s flu. Cameron finally apologizes to Donna. Donna then reminds Cameron of the feeling of freedom she had when she wrote that message – the things she felt comfortable saying online she couldn’t say anywhere else — that is the value of Community. As Cameron finally takes this in, Tom interrupts to tell them it’s time for the group photo for the Byte ad.
Back inside, Tom wrangles the now drunk coders for the photo, positioning a miserable Cameron and Donna front and center. Just as Tom is about to shoot, Bodie slides half-naked into the middle of the shot. Cameron and Donna can’t help but laugh.
A little later, drunken coders armed with dart guns move stealthily through the house, hunting and picking each other off. Cameron sits in her office, watching Donna as she packs up and leaves for the night. When Carl stops to crouch in Cameron’s doorway, she asks if he’s taken down Community yet. He says he hasn’t. Cameron tells him to just leave it up for a few more days. He takes off, just as Tom marches in and hands Cameron a dart gun and a red bandana and tells her she has 15 seconds before he shoots her.
Cameron moves through the house in first person POV, efficiently taking down coders on the blue team. She ducks into a closet, surprised to find Tom there. Despite their weapons pointed at each other, it’s a strangely intimate moment, alone together. An idea strikes Cameron — this is the game: a first person shooter game with other users on the network as the enemy. They excitedly brainstorm until Bodie opens the door and shoots them both. They remain undeterred until they overhear that Tom’s date is on the phone. Both blush as Tom excuses himself to leave, but Cameron manages to squeeze out first, the moment clearly passed.
Late night at Westgroup Energy, Gordon is hard at work on the mainframe while Joe stands by. The two men talk, and reminisce a bit about building the Giant and Gordon’s challenges with the Giant Pro. Gordon mentions that he could be far more successful if he was able to build the machine based on a user’s actual desires – tailor-made. When Joe leaves to get them some fresh cokes, Gordon has a sudden dizzy spell. He then collapses, unconscious. Gordon manages to get himself up just as Joe returns. Joe hurries to Gordon, concerned, but Gordon brushes it off.
The next morning at Mutiny Cameron emerges from her bedroom to find Bosworth moving the last “whale” on the bulletin board from “delinquent” to “closed.” She applauds, tiredly. As she pours them coffee, she tells him she isn’t going to ask him to work here again, this time she’s telling him. And his first task is to help her run this company better: “she wants to be better at this.” Bosworth assures her she’ll get there. Just then, Tom enters with the photos from last night. As Cameron moves closer to see them, Bosworth eyes the two together, then formally introduces himself to Tom. They shake hands. The three laugh at the image of Bodie in front of the group in his underwear. Bosworth taps the photo. “There’s the ad, right there.” Cameron agrees, “Yeah. Play with friends. That’s the tag.”
Later, Cameron and Tom are in the backyard cleaning up cans and trash from last night’s dart gun festivities. She asks about his date and he tells her it didn’t go well. In fact, he had to cut it short because he couldn’t stop thinking about their game. But as he stops picking up cans and moves closer to Cameron, it’s clear it isn’t just the game he couldn’t stop thinking about. They kiss.
At the Clark house, Gordon calls to Donna in the bathroom, she isn’t feeling well, again. He tells her maybe she should go see a doctor, just to rule out anything serious. But as he says this, he eyes himself in the mirror, wondering if perhaps he should take his own advice. Gordon then moves closer to the bathroom door and tells Donna he actually has some great news that might make her feel better. He says he managed to convince his contact at last night’s consulting gig to lease their network to Mutiny at a major discount — $3 an hour. When Donna doesn’t respond immediately, Gordon presses. Prompted, she agrees that is great news and asks if he can give her a minute. Gordon agrees and tells her he’ll be in the kitchen, but instead moves closer to the door, listening. On the other side, Donna sits, shaken as she eyes a pregnancy test in her hand — it’s positive.