Season 2, Episode 1
Cameron and Donna's gaming company, Mutiny, reaches a critical stage; Joe and Gordon are reunited.
Halt and Catch Fire is currently not in season.
Amidst radio reports detailing the damage left in Hurricane Alicia’s wake, Joe MacMillan, another force of nature, dresses for work in Cameron’s bedroom. It is 1983, shortly after the events of Episode Six (Season One), as Joe exits Cameron’s bedroom only to discover her waiting for him before an Atari console. She playfully requests that he stay, cuddle, and play a video game with her. Gaming is better when you “know your enemy,” she contends. “Love your enemy?” he challenges back. Joe finally relents, but after one round, he gets up, leaves, unable to sit static when there’s work to be done on the Giant. A flash of disappointment shadows Cameron’s face, but within this missed connection perhaps resides the seeds of an idea…
Flash forward twenty months to March 1985: Donna, considerably dressed down from her days at Texas Instruments, enters the same house, which is now completely transformed into the headquarters of Mutiny – a company built around the nascent idea of playing games “online” with your friends. Walking past fire hazards and bickering coders, she alerts Cameron that Mutiny is suffering from network lag issues and suggests that they take the network offline to fix the issue. Cameron refuses, just as Yo-Yo plugs in a cartridge game, blows a breaker, and causes the house to plunge into darkness.
The next morning, Gordon, now president of Cardiff Electric, is interviewed on a local financial news show about the successor to the Giant - the Giant Pro, and the subsequent acquisition of the company. When the host asks what’s next for him, Gordon explains that he plans to go back to his garage to begin his new business. Donna watches behind the camera, but, to Gordon’s disappointment, leaves early to go back to work.
In Austin, a very different version of the buttoned up Joe from Season One, finishes a run through the woods and returns to his cozy cottage home and into the arms of his girlfriend, Sara. He tells Sara that he needs to drive to Dallas the following day to pick up his check from the Cardiff Electric sale. “You earned this,” she reassures him, sensing his uneasiness at returning to his old life.
As Gordon packs up his office, he unearths from the back of a drawer a small vial of cocaine. He examines it closer, shakes it with familiarity, and quickly stuffs it in his pocket.
That night, as Joe and Sara host friends in their backyard, Sara tells the story of how she and Joe reconnected after college. Sara was on assignment, writing a magazine profile on the Fiske Observatory and searching the skies for contact when Joe walked in. He explains that he used to work in personal computers but left to pursue a simpler, happier life. He shares that he plans to use his money from the Cardiff Electric sale to start a company from scratch in Silicon Valley.
At the Mutiny offices, Cameron siphons power from a neighbor to resolve their power outage. Donna protests that it’s simply a patch for their problems, not a fix, and can get them into trouble with the power company. Cameron downplays Donna’s concerns and suggests they fix the lag issue by buying more second-hand equipment.
Gordon sits alone at a bar when several of his former Cardiff Electric employees walk in. Without his consent, they tell the bartender to put their drinks on Gordon’s tab, as they bitterly reveal that they’re now unemployed. Off seeing Gordon affected by their comments, Stan assures him that everyone in the group will have no problem lining up new jobs.
Donna fields an angry phone call from the power company as the coders leave for a “research trip” to the arcade. Cameron intuits that Donna would have liked to be invited and tells her that she doesn’t have to wait for an invitation. Donna, frustrated that she’s always the one to clean up the managerial messes Cameron sweeps under the rug, sounds off to Cameron about Mutiny’s lack of a real boss. Cameron angrily points out that no one asked her to do these things.
At the bar, Gordon tells Stan that he fought to keep everyone’s jobs but wasn’t able to dissuade Nathan Cardiff from selling the company. Stan assuages Gordon’s guilt by maintaining that if it weren’t for Gordon, he never would have had the opportunity to do the kind of challenging work he did building the Giant and the Giant Pro.
The next morning, Donna gets ready for work while Gordon talks about his plans for the future - reasoning that selling the company will allow him more time to dedicate to his passion projects. Gordon reminds Donna about their dinner that evening to celebrate his payout. Donna promises to be there, before rushing off to work.
At Mutiny, Donna notices that a couple Parallax players don’t sign off the network immediately after they’ve stopped playing the game - spending five bucks an hour to chat about spring break plans. Meanwhile, Cameron announces that she’s going to meet her secondhand goods dealer and buy more IBM XTs to help solve the lag issue.
Joe walks back into Cardiff Electric and joins Gordon and the other Cardiff Electric shareholders waiting to receive their acquisition checks. After an awkward silence, Joe says Cardiff is making a mistake by selling too soon. Gordon counters that it was a mistake for Joe to burn a truck full of Giant PCs and then run off into the woods. As they discuss the second machine Gordon built, the frost on their friendship begins to thaw.
In the conference room, Gordon receives his check for $838,121.56 and leaves elated. When Joe walks in, Cardiff rips up his check that took into account the cost of the burned shipment of Giant PCs. Cardiff snarls: “You destroy lives, you cost dozens of good honest people their jobs.” Joe takes it to the chin, and says it’s for the best that Cardiff got out of the business now.
In the elevator, Joe doesn’t respond when Gordon asks him how he’s going to spend his money. Instead he encourages Gordon to pursue his gift, “You’re a builder, that’s what you do.”
Donna joins Cameron in an empty parking lot as they wait for their aftermarket contact, Rick. Once he arrives, Cameron haggles the price for two IBM XTs down to $500. He finally agrees and as soon as he drives off, Donna realizes the XTs are counterfeit and thus unusable. Cameron offers to track down the dealer herself and get their money back. Donna opts to forgo her celebratory dinner with Gordon to help Cameron.
At home, the kids ask Gordon if Donna is still coming home for dinner. He tells the girls that she is working late again and won’t be able to make it, but says that they can still celebrate with a trip to the ice cream parlor.
Later, while enjoying their ice cream, the girls wonder why, if they’re rich now, Donna still has to work so much. As Gordon deflects the question, his nose starts to bleed.
Donna and Cameron stake out a seedy bar and wait for Rick to show up. Over drinks, Donna explains to Cameron that Mutiny is plateauing and will eventually go under if they don’t drum up more subscribers and produce another game. Cameron agrees but, like Donna, is not interested in product managing. As they bond, the walls between them break down - they agree to work together to run the company. Cameron will empower Donna as a co-leader and in exchange for taking over some managerial duties, Donna will be allowed to develop their new online message boards, called “Community.”
When Rick shows up, Cameron demands a refund. He slams her against a wall in response. Cameron and Donna flee to the parking lot and break into Rick’s van using keys that Cameron pick-pocketed during their scuffle. They spot a pair of brand new XTs and load them into their car.
Donna drunkenly arrives home from the long night and heads off to bed, after apologizing for missing their dinner. Before she disappears Gordon asks her if he’s done the right thing, moving on from Cardiff Electric. Donna reassures him, but notes, “Besides, it wasn’t up to you.”
Back in Austin, Joe confesses to Sara that he was cut out of the Cardiff deal. She comforts him, “We don’t need the money,” and in this moment, with those words, he sparks and asks Sara to marry him. She says yes.
Under the handle “camhowe,” Cameron plays a fierce game of Tank Battle on her computer. “Good game,” she types. “New subscriber?” Unbeknownst to her, her opponent is none other than Joe. “Yup,” he types. “Just signed on.”
Early the next morning, Cameron drives out of the city and waits outside a forbidding barbed-wire fence. She lights up as a familiar face walks out, none other than John Bosworth.