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'Halt and Catch Fire' recap, 'Up Helly Aa'

It's Vegas, baby!

Our ragtag foursome arrives at the 1983 COMDEX in Sin City to sell their Giant, only to find that their reserved hotel suite, where much of their wheeling and dealing was to go down, has been given away. The pending criminal investigation into Cardiff has frozen the company's accounts, leaving Joe, Cameron, Donna and Gordon scrambling to find a solution.

They could do what I once did and sleep in a hotel lobby there, but that wouldn't lend itself to throwing a lavish party for potential clients. Also, speaking from experience, it would probably be about 20 minutes before a guy with a walkie talkie would approach and kick them out.

The crew has also lost their booth on the convention floor, but Gordon hatches a plan to squeeze into a spot marked for some folks who sell printers that he met at the show in 1981. Joe poses as an IBM executive and talks the printer company out of both their floor space and their hotel suite. Too easy.

Joe starts prepping the suite for company, as Gordon and Donna try to get the Giant up and running in the bedroom. On the convention floor, Cameron creates an eye-catching display with a foam block and some spray paint, directing customers to the hotel room.

Cameron's display draws a large crowd to the suite, but Gordon and Donna aren't able to get the Giant to work. With the crowd growing restless, Joe makes the call to do a demo without actually being able to demonstrate anything that the machine can do. "It's Las Vegas, Gordon. Time to bluff," he says.

He puts the machine before the crowd and proceeds to bait and switch. He mentions that Vegas is for having fun, and that it's no coincidence that the world's largest porn convention is taking place at the hotel next door at the same time. He calls in four, um, ladies, who Cameron hired earlier in the day, and orders the crowd to party tonight and come back to see the Giant on the convention floor the next day. "Tonight, let the Giant turn you on," he exclaims. "Please, never tell our daughters I was a part of this," Donna tells her husband.

While the party rages on, Cameron hits it off with a programmer from California. He's close to her age, and wants her to come work with him eventually. Right now, though, he just wants her to go eat pancakes with him. She obliges, and leaves. Joe is sweet-talking a client, but this catches his eye.

"I ate pancakes and watched the sun come up with the Xerox boys," Cameron tells Joe the next morning. "That sounds entirely too wholesome," he responds. Well, she also brought back a piece of the Hoover Dam, so, we know there was some light larceny as well. Joe mentions California and tells her that maybe she should go there. "Maybe we should," she says.

There will be time for personal reflection later, perhaps, but the Cardiff team encounters a real problem when they get to the convention floor. They see Hunt and the Clark's neighbor, who was fired from the Giant project, unveiling a machine called The Slingshot that looks very much like their Giant.

"As Goliath found out, victory goes not to the swift, nor to the strong, but to the little guy who strikes first," Hunt says in his pitch. He catches Donna's eye in the crowd; she rushes at him and shoves him. Joe pulls her away.

The Cardiff team retreats to their room to regroup, but Donna and Gordon shut Joe and Cameron out while they go over some things. "Are you sleeping with him?" Gordon asks about Hunt. "I kissed him. And for two and a half seconds I felt better than I felt in two years," she says. "There were you and me reasons. You can't pretend we were on some moonlit carriage ride... It wasn't an affair, but it should have been."

Donna storms off, while Gordon goes off to sulk. "The Slingshot is faster, it's cheaper. We're dead," Joe tells Gordon, later. Gordon grabs a drink and a screwdriver and sits down to tinker with the Giant.

Joe sits down with Hunt and tries to reason with him. "You're a pawn-shop hack, selling my dream under a cheap plastic mask," he tells him. Joe threatens to sue, but Hunt points out that by the time they see a courtroom, they'll already be selling the third Slingshot edition. Hunt does offer to give Cardiff $2 million -- more than they would get in a settlement, he points out -- to go away.

"We'll never sell to you... I feel sorry for you... You'll never create anything of your own," Joe says. "And neither will you," Hunt fires back.

Joe and Cameron return to the room, where Gordon has been working. He's ripped Cameron's operating system out of the machine, opting for something cheaper that will use less memory. This will enable them to beat the Slingshot on speed and price. "We had a problem, now we have a product," Gordon says. Cameron begs Joe to put things back the way they were, but Joe won't relent. "It's what's right for the machine," he says.

Cameron runs off, and Joe gives chase. "It's called survival," he says. "It's an existential choice. Sell none of the original or a million of these... We need to demo by the end of business or we're dead. I need you there."

When Cameron balks, using some colorful language, Joe restates his case. "OK, how about, I want you there. I want you with me." "Then put it back in," Cameron says. Will Joe relent?

We're about to find out, as we see Joe on the convention floor, giving his pitch. "What are you really asking for? Something special? Give me something warm, something fuzzy? This is a machine. It's not your friend. It's your employee. It works for you. And the way it should be evaluated is thus: how well and how fast does it do the things I ask? Answer? Instantly. Anything less is a waste of your time. What is the margin of error? Answer? Zero. Anything more and you failed. Speed... You want speed, and this machine is the fastest one you'll find. Period. You want to play a game with your kid? Join him for craft time at preschool. You want a buddy? Buy a dog... You want to get something done? Buy one of these."

After giving one of the more direct cynical pitches of all time, Joe thumbs through his notes and finds a smudge on one of the papers, left there when Cameron was eating while he was writing. He quickly puts the notes in his briefcase. He's chosen survival over the unique experience with technology that Cameron's system would have provided. "We took one idea all the way, and it cost us. It cost us people," Joe says. "But the evidence of that cost is here." The pitch works, and at least one client approaches Joe for an order. "We'll negotiate tomorrow," he says.

Donna (who returned while Joe was giving his speech) Gordon, and Joe retire to their room, where they open some warm champagne. This is one of the more muted celebrations I've ever seen. Joe goes off to retrieve some ice. In the hallway, he sees an open door. Inside the room, Apple is giving a demo for their new Macintosh. Joe is transfixed.

"It speaks," he says. It's personal and unique, two things that he decried in his pitch that highlighted functionality. He knows that he made the right call for that moment, but that Cameron had her finger on the pulse of the future.

Much like Joe, it seems that the writing team decided that this episode would be best used to serve the show's functional needs, rather than it's personal ones. Just one episode remains this season, and that could very well serve as a series finale, given that there has been no renewal announcement.

We know that Cardiff likely did well enough at the convention to survive, so the only loose ends to tie up in the finale concern the relationships between our four main characters. That's an area where this show has struggled, and I question the wisdom of resolving all of the other conflict first.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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