'Halt and Catch Fire' recap, 'The 214s'

For The Baltimore Sun

Gordon has turned to meditation to try to recover from his mental breakdown at the end of last episode. He seems to have pulled it together -- and not a moment too soon, as Cardiff is gearing up for the COMDEX sales convention. We see Joe working the phones and securing some prime floor space at the show.

The company will have to put out an elaborate spread to try to bring in potential customers at COMDEX, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars that they don't have. John writes some checks, but we're not sure just how he plans to come up with the money to cover them. Joe alerts Cameron that she won't be able to come to the convention, likely as a cost-cutting measure. She seems fine with this, but isn't sure how Gordon will take the news that he won't be going either.

Cameron was right to think that Gordon would be upset. He flies off the handle at Joe, but Joe is ready for him. He alludes to a prior mishap that Gordon had at the convention in 1981, when his prior brainchild, The Symphonic, had major glitches during a demo.

"I can't afford to have the sting from that distracting potential buyers," Joe tells Gordon. Gordon isn't pleased with having the great failure of his career thrown in his face, and vows to show up at the convention anyway.

Things could get more complex for Gordon at home, as we see Hunt arriving at the Clark's house. When Donna sees him, Hunt gets cold feet and asks her to forget that he was ever there. He tells her that he thinks she's an amazing woman, then bails.

Back inside, Gordon is waiting for Donna. He isn't aware of Hunt's presence, but tells his wife that he's charged an expensive flight and room for COMDEX on their credit card. Preoccupied, she takes the news well.

At Cardiff the next day, John's investor, Nathan, is waiting for him in his office when he arrives. Nathan is there to confront John over something that he's done, but before we can find out what underhanded thing the Cardiff boss did, John jets off to a meeting, leaving Nathan in his office.

We aren't kept in suspense for long, as John interrupts Joe and Cameron in the meeting and gives Cameron some advice, thinly disguised as a sales pitch to the clients in the room.

"You want this machine to stand out from every other machine on the floor, you got to stop talking about the machine and you got to start talking about the people that made it," he says. "They bled for this. The future is coming whether we like it or not, but it ain't written anywhere that it includes any of us. Getting there ain't free. There's a cost. People that put up the money, they like to take the credit, but the credit belongs to them that built it. This machine is the future. Make them see that."

John steps out of the meeting and right into the arms of the law. He's arrested, and the FBI orders everyone else to stay where they are. They say that they're going to shut the company down, as they begin seizing computers.

Gordon sees what's happening and locks himself in a conference room with the Giant prototype. He quickly begins disassembling the machine, looking to salvage whatever he can of the project. It appears that he is able to accomplish his goal just before the feds get into the room.

Meanwhile, over at Texas Instruments, Donna goes to see Hunt, but his secretary tells her that he's tendered his resignation.

Joe corners Cameron in a storage room and asks her why the FBI would be after John for hacking, when there are only a few people that he knows that could hack anything. Cameron tells him that John asked her to hack into their bank's system, to temporarily transfer some cash so that they could stay afloat.

Joe, Cameron and Gordon huddle at the Clark's garage. Gordon accuses Joe of being a part of the scheme, but Joe denies any involvement. Cameron admits to Gordon that she was involved in the plan, explaining that the company was broke. "You too are perfect for each other. You're both psychotic," Gordon tells them. "Don't act like you threw a bake sale. You robbed a bank," he tells her.

To further stir the pot, Gordon tells Cameron about Joe's publicity stunt, when he allowed her to think that her BIOS had crashed. "You only destroy things. You've never created anything," Cameron fires at Joe. "I created both of you," Joe says, before Cameron nails him with a right hand that Ronda Rousey would be proud of.

While Cameron and Gordon ponder their futures, Joe goes back to the office to work the phones. He makes a sales call, but the potential buyer says that he plans to wait for IBM to start selling their portable early the next year. Joe wasn't aware that IBM was getting into the portable business. Cardiff hasn't even had their moment yet, and they're already facing the prospect of being obsolete -- if they can survive this crisis at all.

Donna's mom is here to inject some levity into an otherwise heavy episode. I've said it before, but Annette O'Toole playing a gossiping mom with drink always in hand is the best part of this series.

Donna tells her mom that Hunt is leaving the company, and explains what almost happened between them. Her mom offers to support her no matter what she decides to do, but clearly wants her to ditch Gordon. "You need to think long and hard about why we keep ending up back here," she says.

Gordon decides to take matters into his own hands and steals the pieces of the Giant that he was able to stash at Cardiff. He brings them back to the garage and starts to piece it back together. Donna interrupts him and tries to talk some sense to him, but he stops  her.

Gordon tells her that the Giant is not like his failure with the Symphonic, and that he plans to get with Joe and Cameron and try to sell the Giant on their own at COMDEX. "I know it's crazy. And you're crazy too, but you forget that you are," he tells her. "Be crazy with me."

Donna tells her husband that she's behind him, and he runs off to look for Cameron and Joe. Once her husband leaves, though, we see that Donna plans to act very differently than she said she would. She calls her mom and tells her that she and her daughters are going to come stay with her.

"We're the talent, not Joe," Gordon tells Cameron after he finds her in a bar. His initial pitch to her fails, but he eventually gets her on board with his plan. They go to Joe's place to try to sell him, but he's not home, so they go in to wait for him.

Back at the Clarks', Donna sits down to look at the Giant. She's impressed. She looks through the broken pieces of the Symphonic, which Gordon smashed earlier when he was begging her to back him up. She finds a ring box among the ruins, and breaks down.

Gordon tells Cameron an elaborate story of how he had planned to propose to Donna with a ring, but Donna found the ring and pawned it to buy Gordon a computer kit. She told him that he could buy her another ring once he had sold his first PC. He tells Cameron that he just bought Donna that ring. So, that explains the ring box.

Cameron and Gordon might be in for a long night, as we see that Joe is not even in Texas at the moment. He's in New York confronting his dad, who works for IBM, as you might recall. He asks him whether or not IBM is working on a portable, and his father says yes.

"So you can  crush my machine? Crush me?" Joe asks. "It may come as a shock to you, Joe, but you're not the center of the universe," his dad says, denying that he had anything to do with the project.

Joe Sr. orders his son to sit and tell him why he's really there. Joe makes reference to his mother dying after his father sent her away, and says he drove across the country trying to figure out if he was his son or hers. "Do I remind you of her?" he asks. "Is that why you hate me?"

"I love you," his father replies. "And I loved your mother."

"You let me think she abandoned me and then told me she was dead twenty-three years before she was," Joe fires back. Well, I can see why that might cause some bad feelings.

"I sent her away because she almost killed you, and yes, I lied to protect you. She let you fall, for heaven's sake," Joe Sr. tells his son, confirming that the story that Joe told Cameron a few episodes ago was true.

"She wanted me to be a dreamer," Joe protests. "She wasn't a dreamer, she was high," Sr. says. "A real dreamer, someone that matters, makes something out of nothing, and that only happens with hard work. You understand that. You always have. You're more like me in that regard, and thank God."

Joe's dad offers to get him his job back at IBM, provided he decides to return to New York permanently. "People have short memories," he says.

"Not me," Joe counters. Joe asks to be made the primary leader of the portable project, should he come back. His dad agrees, and it seems like the Giant might be dead.

Joe returns to Texas the next morning, finding Cameron and Gordon waiting for him at his condo. "I'm going back to IBM, to build a portable PC that will actually see the light of day," Joe tells them.

"When you're finally faced with a real opportunity to be a visionary, and lead a battle that's worth fighting for, you're just gonna move on... You're no visionary, but I never thought you were a coward," Gordon tells him, before hitting him with his COMDEX plan.  "People will be lining up to see the train-wreck that is Cardiff Electric, and when they do, we blow them away," Gordon says. "You, you made us all crazy, so don't act like you suddenly found sanity."

The only thing they need from Joe, Gordon says, is his money. Joe says that the only money he had went to pay for his wardrobe and his car. "I guess someone was buying my act after all," he says. But he's on board, and agrees to sell the car.

The trio goes to the Clark's house for Gordon to pick up his bags for COMDEX. When he gets there, he sees Donna there, with a bag of her own packed. After a dramatic beat, she tells him that she's coming with him. "I guess I am crazy," Donna says.

Before they head off, Cameron stops off to visit John, who is out on bail and hiding out at his lawyer's house. He assures her that he'll take the fall for their scheme. "I'll be alright... Go to COMDEX. Knock 'em dead. Do that for me," he tells her.
And with The War on Drugs "Red Eyes" (one of my favorite songs of 2014) playing in the background, the gang is off to try to sell their machine.

As I watched "The 214s," it was hard not to think of "Shut the Door. Have a Seat" and "For Immediate Release," two "Mad Men" episodes that have the same sort of heist-film feel.

Any time I compare a piece of television to "Mad Men," which I contend is the greatest TV drama ever, that's high praise. No, this show is not "Mad Men." But if it can sustain the sort of brilliance that it flashed here for any longer than one episode, it's on the right track.

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