Halt and Catch Fire
Season 4, Episodes 1 to 3
Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis
Regular airtime: Saturdays, 9pm
This review contains spoilers for the first three episodes in Season 4 of Halt and Catch Fire.
The return of Halt and Catch Fire for its fourth and final season puts some distance between the events at the end of season three, while also remaining unequivocally tied to its repercussions. It also emphasizes that the relationships that have been at the center of the series are vital to what made the previous season the series’ best so far. These relationships will clearly continue to be front and center in driving the story forward, even as the early days of the internet wave pushes the plot forward.
The season opens on a series of quick scenes between Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Joe (Lee Pace), as their warehouse office space slowly grows; they’ve obviously made their IP company idea a success. Still, while Gordon is involved and engaged in the day to day of their company, Joe is in the basement surrounded by post-it notes filled with individual website addresses. Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) is still in Japan with Tom (and a more absent business partner to Gordon and Joe than they anticipated), while Donna’s (Kerry Bishé) surrounded by the trappings of her success. It’s immediately obvious that they’re all essentially plodding along, clearly missing the excitement that working together brought to their lives, even when that excitement soured in the face of major disagreements and disloyalty.
Cameron and Donna are framed in an especially interesting way at the beginning of the season; they mirror each other, while also reminding the audience that their relationship was what made season three the best season yet. The complexity of their friendship, complicated by their ultimately divergent approaches to work, brought out sides to the characters that had previously only been hinted at. Cameron’s initial, easygoing trust in Donna, coupled with the support they offered one another, was never part of her relationships with Gordon or Joe. Similarly, Donna was never given the full opportunity to stretch her talents either working for others, or as Gordon’s supportive wife. In building something together from the ground up, they grew to understand each other in fundamental ways. Even though things fell apart in the end, there’s enough unfinished business between the two (and really, all four) that the coming together again feels inevitable.
Cameron’s return is initially met with anger, which quickly turns to relief for Joe and wariness from Gordon. Gordon’s always had a soft spot for Cameron, however, and eventually, he accepts her return as positive. McNairy and Davis’ performances in the scenes where Cameron and Gordon reconnect by playing video games together do an excellent job of speaking to the characters’ friendship, one that includes the pure enjoyment of what they do. Neither offer Joe’s charismatic intensity or Donna’s ambition, or rather, they don’t express it in the same ways. Instead, it’s their unqualified love of creating and problem-solving that bonds them even when they clash. It’s an important distinction that cements their friendship as separate and apart from the rest of the group.
In addition to bringing these characters back together, this early part of the season places Gordon and Donna’s youngest daughter, Haley (Susanna Skaggs), in the forefront in an unexpected way. She and Joanie (Kathryn Newton) have clearly grown up in the time that separates the seasons, and while not entirely surprising—given that both her parents are fully immersed in the world of computers—she gravitates toward that same world. Her interest in and her facility with computers quickly leads to her being an integral part of the Gordon/Joe/Cameron team, much to Donna’s consternation. Meanwhile, Joanie is rebelling against everything related to her parents.
The new idea driving the group came from Joe’s obsessive collection of websites. When Haley is tasked with their data entry, she also pulls together her own curated list of the best sites, and seeing that come together, rudimentary though it may be, sparks excitement. As they systematically set out to index the entire Internet, Donna has a team working on the same plan based on a throwaway conversation with Gordon. Pitting Donna against her ex-husband and ex-partner could very well result in the same kind of backend deal making and manipulations that occurred at the end of season three.
While Gordon and Joe are jumping back into a new venture, one that’ll surely bring Cameron back into the fold more permanently (particularly as her latest game is panned), Donna is chafing against the corporate culture she was instrumental in building. There remains a great deal still to be resolved between Cameron and Donna, and their brief interactions so far have ranged from odd to confrontational, but at their core they know that what they’re able to accomplish together is rare and exciting. Haley will further complicate matters, to be sure, yet she may also be the bridge that leads to their reunion.
Halt and Catch Fire is the kind of show that doesn’t shy away from dealing with the complexities of relationships—the selfishness, the connections, the petty bitterness, the support—and the many iterations such relationships can take. These characters have deeply hurt one another, but they’ve also been uniquely understood. In setting the season during the advent of the Internet, there are connections to be made between the simultaneous excitement of being part of a world-changing technology, the cutthroat scramble to get there first, and how these characters relate to one another in such an environment.
For all the big events this show covers, it never sacrifices nuance and thoughtfulness for twists or attempts to outdo itself. It’s a pleasure to watch a series that’s confident enough to let its characters succeed and fail without having to spell out who’s right and wrong. More often than not, they’re each a little of both.