A Shrine - Gordon’s Garage
In Cameron’s Pilgrim I mentioned the Japanese shrine that Cameron talks about over the phone. Every twenty years the shrine is rebuilt with new material, looking the same as the original, but not actually being the original. Joe thinks it’s beautiful, while Cameron explains she believes people do it for how the process makes them feel, the doing of it. Following Cameron’s explanation of the Japanese shrine rebuilding, these shrines are physical manifestations and reminders of a process that the characters wish to repeat.
In this series, the process is not so much about building a computer, creating or playing a game, or achieving a business model. Those are all just a medium to these characters to connect with the people they want and need to connect with, even if they are not always aware of it. Ultimately inspiration comes down to the people you relate with and how curious you are about what is happening in the world.
Each pivotal character has a shrine, representing their connectivity to somebody who inspires and motivates them, and by the 4th season we can see a returning pattern of what they try to recreate and from the very beginning season 4 identifies to which location or “shrine” this is tied to. The bond they try to hold on to, reestablish or set-up with a particular person is automatically linked in their mind to a certain room or building in their memory.
Because a building or a place is durable and physical a “shrine” is easily mistaken as lasting and always perfect. In reality it is but a momentarily event when everything feels perfect and ideal. Other events and bonds are like the elements eroding at its perfection, and in the worst case scenario natural disasters or demolition teams with a wrecking ball. Each character is aware that their shrine is under possible threat at any given time, and tries to deal with this in their own particular way.
This meta-analysis will limit itself to discussing Gordon’s Shrine.
We see the Japanese shrine
in 4x05 in Pilgrim as Donna is transported to it with the avatar. Gordon’s lit
up tent in the camping scene in 4x01 has the same warmth, and thus is a visual
“shrine identifier” moment from Gordon’s POV. Gordon has a memory vision of Joe
leafing the IBM BIOS binder in his garage morphed into the camping environment,
right before we are treated to that beautiful image of Gordon’s warmly lit
When in 4x05 Gordon asks Joe
what he saw for the future in the garage back then, Joe explains was how it would feel to work with
him, “the doing of it”, and how that was more important to him than the actual
end result. So, we could have no clearer comparison of what Gordon tries to
recreate whenever he works together with Joe: that doing-of-it feeling with Joe
in Gordon’s garage ten years ago, an idealized moment full of potential when
their bond was just perfect.
SEASON 2: SURROGATES
Throughout the seasons we learn that the garage was always important to Gordon, even before he met Joe. He grew up in an autoshop, and he made his first computer project for Comdex 81 with Donna in his garage. So, the garage was always a shrine location to Gordon, but not until he reverse engineers the IBM chip for the BIOS with Joe does it become an ideal moment that he continues to seek, rebuild and re-enact in some way, and can only be perfect if Joe is his partner in it.
At the start of S2, after
Cardiff is sold, Gordon intends to return to his garage, proclaiming it on TV
even in an interview with the host no so incidentally called “Chip”. He intends
to do it alone, but can’t help tell Joe in the elevator, who apathetically
agrees that is what Gordon should do. Excited like a child, he orders several
computers, sets them up, admiring the blank slate, but soon finds himself
stuck. He can’t do it alone.
Since consciously Joe is still out of the question as a partner in that moment, Gordon reaches out to Donna and Mutiny instead, seeking a problem he can help solve for Mutiny (Tank Battle) and eventually writing Sonarys, which ends in disaster.
reconciles with Joe on a personal level, enough for Joe to contact Gordon to
help set up the Westgroup mainframe. Gordon sends Joe packing when this
conversation occurs in Gordon’s living room, but he agrees to do it when
meeting Joe in the garage parking lot.
Since it’s only a one-time deal, Gordon surrogates Joe with his Cardiff engineering team to build computers on demand. But again that fails, and on top of it he learns that Joe is moving to California with Sarah (again in the Westgroup garage). Gordon is so rattled that he can’t find his car anymore at a garage parking lot, gets lost, falls and is taken to the hospital. On the surface, Gordon’s breakdown seems amped by having business competition, but the whole breakdown occurs after he already discovered his rival is already total loss. And the doctor specifically stipulates to Donna that his breakdown in the garage parking lot was not related to his neurological disease, but purely psychological. Hence, Gordon’s arc in S2 emphasizes that Gordon’s well being and happiness relies on having a work & friendship relationship with Joe. He literally falls apart and is lost without Joe in his garage shrine.
It is actually Joe’s visit to Gordon’s garage in the S2 finale to return the chip back to Gordon’s shrine that gives Gordon the fire to successfully transform himself from a hardware engineer in a world that is fast gearing to a virtual network world into a successful software coder: Gordon changes a few lines in the malignant Sonarys to turn it into an anti-virus cure. Except Gordon picked his family and Mutiny over working with Joe and learns that Joe built Macmillan Utility with Gordon’s program.
SEASON 3: ABSENT SHRINE
The entire shrine is destroyed, as there are no garage scenes for Gordon in S3. Throughout that season Gordon maintains that he does not want to work with Joe, not even if Joe offers him 70% of Macmillan Utility. He truly believes this and that is why we don’t see him in an actual garage.
When Joe gives Gordon
credit and hands him a 20 million company, the two patch up their friendship
and want to work together, but it proves impossible. There are various plot causes
for it, but the visual absence of the garage-shrine is the tell. The browser
project depends on Cameron and Joe isolates himself in the basement. Gordon may
have built the network successfully by himself upstairs, but it is an empty
success for Gordon with Joe in the basement. Callnect looks more like a Cardiff
office floor than a garage, and Gordon was unfulfilled by that, as much as he
was by the Giant-professional.
RE-ERECTED BY CAMERON
It is not until the opening scene of 4x04 that the garage shrine has been rebuilt for Gordon.
Cameron uses it as a temporary autoshop when she brings her bike in and repairs
it. In the same scene Haley inquires whether Scientology is a religion or a
cult. A Comet is a returning object in space. And Joe and Gordon bond in the
office agreeing with each other, absolutely content with what they have done. So,
we have all the elements to identify a returned shrine moment: garage, a
spiritual element, the name of a recurring event of the past, and Joe and
Gordon being a bro-romance team all wrapped up in one scene.
Once the shrine is erected again, Gordon wants to preserve the shrine via maintaining control. Remember how he offered Joe 49% of Macmillan Utility in S3? Sure, giving Joe even 1% was a miracle, but that specific number shows how great a need Gordon has to control Joe. Another way he tries to have control over Joe is by wanting to keep the shrine exclusive for them alone. He does not want a third party influencing Joe, especially if they might pitch an idea to Joe that Gordon is not yet on board with, and then Gordon gets outvoted. Gordon has his gifts and talents, and a conservative reasonable voice to ground a development team is important, but he is also the person with the most limited view. He only truly innovates when being outvoted and all his excuses are thrown by the wayside.
An ever constant person he does not want around Joe is Cameron, but in S1 we also saw how obnoxious and insulting he was to Simon, and in S4 he’s just as wary of Haley being brought in initially. Sure, in S4, his need to keep Cameron out of the equation is not entirely selfish. He cares for Joe as a friend and he has witnessed him pine away in the basement for three years, for one reason only – Joe’s in love with her. And it is not even wrong that Gordon tries to look out for himself as well, when a miserable Joe usually means that Gordon is left out in the cold to muck around by himself.
What Gordon fails to account for is that he put the fuse in the dynamite in S1 when he made the unilateral decision to take out Cam’s OS. Nor does he recognize and is not fully aware how Cameron has been instrumental in re-erecting his garage shrine:Cameron advised Joe to give Gordon credit
- Joe wouldn’t have been meticulously keeping all those post-its with urls if he had not been waiting for Cam.
- Cam’s remark on how Joe would soon run out of post-its gave Joe the idea to index the web. Despite initially chastising Cam about this and remarking on it negatively to Donna over dinner, he’s now running a new company that he actually has nothing but fun in.
- Cam helps Gordon see that Haley just want to spend time working with her father
- Cam puts the dash on the T by bringing in her bike and actually making Comet a garage setting.
- Joe’s complacent, cooperative and happy in a way he has never been before
When in 4x01 he tells Cameron it probably is for the best for Joe that their meeting at Gordon’s birthday party didn’t go so well, that’s ok. He’s just looking out for Joe. When later he tells her she was cruel to give Joe fire for the mountaintop unwittingly, Gordon may tell himself he’s just looking out for Joe, but that would be a lie. He’s upset with her, because she inspired Joe to a new idea and Gordon sees the signs that threaten the status quo. He is at least as out of line as Joe is in 4x05 about Katie to both Cam and Joe when he discovers their romance has been rekindled. Since Gordon cannot control who Joe chooses as a romantic partner (hell, Joe is 5 years his senior), his next step is to use passive aggressiveness against Cam’s presence at Comet, while Joe lights up like a Christmas tree with Cam in his lap checking out Rover’s HTML.
Initially, Cameron is not
eager to get on board of the team and makes the adult and respectful decision
to stay out of the business side. But the start of 4x04 was the moment where
Cameron’s professional interest is piqued and she is right in her prediction
that Comet will run into trouble once the web expands further (Rover would not be the sole company looking to solve “search”). If Gordon had
not acted like a jerk to her in that scene, she probably would have ended up helping
them. Instead, she bows out and respects Gordon’s wishes of business
exclusivity. She has no hunger to develop a new computer game and physically stays
away from Comet ever since, eventually leading to the circumstances at the
start of 4x05. Joe and Cam have their actual first fight over Cam’s refusal to
help them out for even two days. Even if Joe has no full scope on all of Cam’s
reasons yet, he does instinctively identify Gordon as part of the issue. Worse, his
best friend is not just keeping Cam away from Comet, but Gordon is having fun
with his own lover at work. Joe lashes out to Gordon about Katie, because he’s
The volatile argument
between Gordon and Joe reveals that Comet was turned into a playground by Joe’s
initiative. Joe bought and wanted the air hockey. Joe’s probably also the
person behind the pool table, the foosball, and the surfing competition. So,
Joe turned the autoshop setting into S2 Mutiny. Just as we hardly need any
outspoken explanation why Joe refused to leave the basement, screwing around
with post-its (instead of Cam) for three years, we hardly need Joe to vocalize
his subconscious motivation to make Comet’s work environment into a playground:
he wants and needs Cameron there.
Gordon’s objections to Cam being part of the professional equation and Cam respecting it and stay away from the place, leads to Joe mutating it into something else, as well as Cam using Bos’s plea for help to prove to herself she can write a brilliant algorithm, putting Rover one over Comet in the “competition” (which is actually a false competition: a guide of great websites is fun, but ultimately not the answer that a search engine is), and puts his relationship with both Joe and Haley in jeopardy.
Unless Gordon allows Joe
the freedom to seek inspiration with a muse, his shrine is doomed for
destruction once again. One of the possible solutions to allow Joe into
bringing other partners into the shrine and still preserve a balance of
opinions is for Gordon to bring in someone as well. In S1, Gordon brought in
Donna for Comdex 83, and the Giant with Cam’s OS would have been a success if
Donna and Gordon hadn’t been so careless with inside information that led to
the Slingshot. In S4, Gordon’s bonding with Katie likely aims to do the same
thing. Unfortunately it may already be too late. The seeds have been sown already.
Note: I will post other shrines for other characters as well, and point out how they may be self-sabotaging as well. So this meta-analysis does not have the intent to put it all on Gordon.