Thranduil: Thorin losing his mind over a rock with a lightbulb in it.
Bilbo: What about me? I had to go after it for him! Nearly got eaten by a dragon!
Bard: That wouldn’t have happened, Bilbo.
Bilbo: What do you mean?
Bard: Smaug talks too much to eat anything.
Thranduil: I’m surprised he lasted that long without talking his reflection to death in all that gold. How’d he survive so long without food anyway? Some of that gold had to be chocolate coins. He’s huge.
‘Halt & Catch Fire 3x03: Flipping the Switch’ Review
“What does CQ mean?”
Joanie’s question is as much genuine curiosity as it is an accusation aimed at her father’s choice to hunch over a pile of circuits in a closet instead of tucking her in. Gordon’s answer is, “It’s what you say when you’re looking for other people who’ve made radios.” He goes on to explain that CQ comes from the French sécurité, meaning safety or security, inadvertently skewering his own desperate hunt for human connection across an ocean of static.
The idea of people in search of belonging has always been part of what animates Halt and Catch Fire, but it’s especially central to ‘Flipping the Switch.’ Halt’s characters feel alone, and the show pushes the sensation of loneliness in many ways. Joe surrounded by back-slapping boardroom idiots. Donna drinking at lunch with a virtual stranger. Cameron stuck in a little girl’s room in another family’s home and fighting to get back to work on a program she wrote with her ex. It’s a smorgasbord of isolation, almost all of it self-manufactured.
Take Gordon’s retreat into his HAM radio cave. In part, it’s a decision driven by his inability to believe that Donna has forgiven him for his infidelities. As he says during the boardroom temper tantrum that serves as the episode’s action centerpiece, every time he looks at his wife he sees reminders of his transgression against their relationship. He’s right, to a point. A drunken Donna admits to Bosworth that she’s still hurting over Gordon’s affair, but it’s abundantly clear that most of the problem is Gordon’s inability to get out of his own way. Even the shoulder he chooses to cry on is no shoulder at all, just a mutter in a radio headset. We never really hear the other man speak aside from a quick acknowledgement of Gordon’s transmission. What Gordon’s really looking for is a part of himself that can accept the life he’s living, some buried element that can believe what he needs to believe in order to move on.
Boz’s appointment with the sports memorabilia marketplace company Mutiny is looking to buy plays like a comedy interlude shown in lieu of commercials. From the minute he and Diane show up in the deserted office to the moment Boz, sensing weakness, rips up Mutiny’s offer the whole thing is just a screwball good time. Outside, Diane looks like she doesn’t know if she wants to fuck Boz or offer him a job. Even here, though, the episode’s themes resonate. Mutiny is working hard to connect people by buying an empty office.
“This is a beautiful place you have here,” Ryan stammers to Joe after arriving at the security mogul’s house during a glittering pansexual riot of a party set to David Bowie’s ‘Absolute Beginners’. “You know, it’s dark. You can’t really see what everything looks like.” It’s the episode’s cheekiest line, a one-to-one map of the mind games Joe plays with the young man he’s trying to manipulate into acting as his conscience. At the party Joe stands separate from the tumult, framed against the night sky in a neat mirror to his quiet contemplation next to the sweeping windows in his office in the second half of last week’s two-part premiere.
The party acts as a springboard for Joe’s aim to fight his company’s board and keep his antivirus platform free, but it also gives us our vision of the security everyone covets so much. That vision is Ken, an asshole executive first spotted slurping a young woman’s face while feeding her lines of coke. “Ken knows exactly what he’s doing here,” Joe says, and indeed the man is never shown as anything but certain in his own odious way. The firm bonhomie with which he tells Joe he’s sure reneging on his promise and charging his users is the right thing to do is downright nauseating. He treats an act of extortion like tough love, elevating corporate bullshittery to the level of moral imperative. That’s what certainty gets you.
Watching all the work Donna, Gordon, and Cameron do to unmake the horrible awkwardness of the fight implode in an instant is maybe the funniest thing Halt has done this season. All it takes is Cameron opening her mouth and Gordon immediately melts down again, holding his face in his hands and groaning, “Oh my God, oh my God,” while the boardroom dissolves into insults and accusations. Gordon’s stilted apology flames out so fast it’s hard to follow. Maybe it’s because Cameron and Boz needle him after he makes it. Maybe it’s because the call he fought against, sending Boz to deliver the buyout offer, panned out so swell. Or maybe it’s just that human connection is elusive and fighting is a great way to hear your own emotions turned up to 11, and to feel someone else’s directed at you.
‘Flipping the Switch’ ends on a high note, but it’s also a resolutely nebulous one. Ryan’s awkward, impassioned plea to Joe to reverse his decision about charging for the company’s software bears out in the end. Frustrated after his humblebrags and well-masked bullying fail to sway Cameron during a chance meeting, Joe takes her barb about his faked Zen humility to heart and pivots toward keeping his promise. “Don’t smile,” Joe tells Ryan when the young man lights up upon hearing that they’ll be working out of Joe’s house to create an alternate revenue stream, one that’ll enable them to keep 2.0 free. “We might fail.”