The final season of
Halt and Catch Fire has been the series’ best. That’s been its pattern — each season surpasses the previous one — but it’s only possible because of the story that’s been building over the last four seasons. Season four’s episodes have been some of the most satisfying of the series; that it culminates in one of the best series finalés in years is a testament to the thoughtful work of its creators, Christopher Cantell and Christopher C. Rogers.
Much of season four has been dedicated to repairing the relationships at the core of the series. Spanning about a decade,
Halt and Catch Fire has followed these characters through a great deal of triumph and turmoil, sometimes together, and sometimes at each other’s expense. The complex history between Gordon (Scoot McNairy), Donna (Kerry Bishé), Joe (Lee Pace), and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) has bled from their professional lives into their personal lives and back again. Their connected lives have been messy and often ugly, but regardless of the pain they’ve caused one another, they also understand each other in ways no one else can.
Gordon’s death in
episode six cast a pall over these characters in a way that made it possible for them to set aside all their past resentments in an effort to mourn and move forward together, with the remaining episodes a slow and steady reaffirmation of the bond they share. They eat, share stories, and genuinely enjoy being together. Along with Haley (Susanna Skaggs), Joanie (Kathryn Newton), Bos (Toby Huss), and even Diane (Annabeth Gish) rounding out the remaining three, they’ve created a family. Yet, even as they appear to be growing closer, the final episode pulls them apart again.
Joe and Cameron break up, and when Comet is usurped by Yahoo!, Joe leaves. Cameron is also poised to go to Florida to see her mom, and Joanie is away in Bangkok coming to terms with her father’s death. Joe’s clearly lost and searching for a path, prompting an impulsive visit to a palm and tarot card reader, Denise (Carol Kane), who sees destruction in his future, although it’s tempered by a bright horizon on the tarot card. Joe’s largely absent for the rest of the finalé, as Donna and Cameron take center stage.
More than any other relationship in the series, Donna and Cameron’s has been the most fraught. They initially found a deep connection in one another, one that allowed them to reach a potential they’d never been able to before, while connecting on a truly personal level. They understood one another in ways they didn’t understand themselves. When their relationship blew up, it affected them both for the worse. As they’ve been able to put the past behind them, they’ve rediscovered that connection, and surprisingly, Cameron makes a last-minute offer to Donna to work together again. It’s a spontaneous request, one that Donna is unprepared for, and leaves them in a state of awkwardness just as Cameron’s leaving town.
What follows is one of
Halt and Catch Fire‘s most brilliant sequences. As Donna hosts a cocktail party for women in tech, Cameron is there to witness her speech. Donna is more honest than we’ve seen her be in a long time, taking responsibility for her mistakes, and acknowledging the toll her work has taken on her life. It’s a moment of both vulnerability and strength; her honesty is liberating, and it shows. The scene ends with Cameron falling in the pool and ending the party.
It’s a typically Cameron clumsy response, but one that prompts a conversation that’s been a long time coming. Although they’d already admitted they missed one another following Gordon’s death, they get to fully recognize the impact they’ve had on each other. Then, in an impromptu visit to their old Mutiny (later Comet) office, they imagine working together again. Phoenix, their new pretend venture, follows the steps we’ve already seen play out over the last couple of seasons; however, this time they acknowledge they’d remain friends. It’s an incredibly moving moment to see them back in the place in which they really came into their own, and Bishé and Davis beautifully exemplify the range of emotions it inspires.
The series has built these characters so carefully over four seasons that seeing the various places they end up is perfectly in keeping with the journeys they’ve taken, both individually and collectively. When Donna is hit with inspiration, she can’t help but immediately share it with Cameron (“I have an idea”), even as she’s about to leave town. It’s a simple statement, but it speaks volumes when their excitement is obvious. Having them come together again to build an idea from the ground up makes for a satisfying ending.
So when it’s revealed that Joe is now a teacher, one on whose desk are photos of the most important people in his life (Gordon, Cameron, and Haley) and other reminders of his previous life, it seems the most unexpected and obvious culmination possible. His words — “let me start by asking by asking a question” — says everything you need to know about
Halt and Catch Fire. While Joe’s strength has always been in his ability to articulate enthusiasm and encourage that in those around him, the series has also taken the excitement of the budding technology field — from the ’80s into the early days of the Internet — and inspired its audience. These characters have grown in myriad ways, while also remaining true to their early incarnations. Much like another brilliant series that ended this year, The Leftovers, Halt and Catch Fire never had a large audience. Still, its place in television history is secure; this is a series that’ll continue to be discovered, and inspire others.