A Heartbreaking Narrative Turn Sets Up the Final Episodes of 'Halt and Catch Fire'
Gordon's death offers character moments certain to resonate through the rest of the series.
Halt and Catch FireAirtime: Saturdays, 9pm
Cast: Lee Pace, Scoot McNairy, Mackenzie Davis
Subtitle: Season 4, Episode 7 - "Who Needs a Guy"
Air date: 2017-09-30
Coming on the heels of Halt and Catch Fire's most hopeful episode of the season, this week's, "Who Needs a Guy", is both one of saddest, and one of its best. A lot of changes happen simultaneously: Donna (Kerry Bishé) gets pulled off of Rover, Bos (Toby Huss) and Diane’s (Annabeth Gish) get married, and a re-launch is being planned for Comet. By the end of the episode, however, they’re all rendered insignificant in comparison to Gordon’s (Scoot McNairy) sudden death.
There's a momentum that's been building all season; it rapidly comes to a stop when Gordon is found dead by Katie (Anna Chlumsky). The almost completely silent ways in which the news is spread from Katie to Donna to Joe (Lee Pace) to Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) to Diane and Bos mirrors the immobilizing shock to both the characters and the audience. Gordon’s health problems have often been a specter hanging over the series ever since he was diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy -- an untreatable condition resulting in brain damage -- in season two. Its effects were conveyed through Gordon's hallucinations, disassociations, and odd behavior, but had been fairly well managed recently.
It was only two episodes ago that Gordon burned his journals, where he'd meticulously monitored his mental state since his diagnosis. Just prior to his death, Gordon had been hallucinating Donna -- along with Joanie (Morgan Hinkleman) and Haley (Susanna Skaggs) -- in various moments throughout the family’s life together. As Gordon and Donna have been slowly rebuilding their friendship, they’ve reaffirmed the importance of each other’s place in their lives. Where the first few episodes of the season had them alternately ignoring the other or at each other's throats, the gradual thawing of their relationship has been one of the unexpected joys of the season.
In addition to Gordon’s relationship with Donna, the recent stumbles he's had with Haley were also on the road to repair. Between struggling to be a good parent and wanting to support Haley's passion for their work -- and further complicated by his suspicions about Haley's sexuality -- Gordon's been trying to find a way to reconnect with his daughter. His unexpected death not only leaves things unresolved for the two, but it also exemplifies the fragility of all of these characters' fraught relationships. The ups and downs they've been through, both together and individually, have resulted in some major chasms over the years, but things were finally moving forward, if in different ways than they would've initially imagined. Gordon's death brings that to a standstill.
In the moments before Donna and Joe find out about Gordon, they have a confrontation that's been building for a long time. Donna's offhanded remarks about Rover's numbers besting Comet puts Gordon on a different path, one that Joe is instantly suspicious of once he discovers it came from Donna. Joe makes it clear to Donna that he doesn't trust her, even when she insists that she's not out to hurt Comet. They yell at and insult one another, and Donna eventually admits that they won: Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and even Haley are all together and still creating, working together; even Cameron's pointed non-involvement keeps her more connected than Donna. It's a moment that feels important not just because it acknowledges Donna's inherent unhappiness (reinforced by her drinking), but it also clearly links her dissatisfaction to being separated from the people she had the most fun working with.
What could've just been a scene filled with high emotions and no resolution shifts when Donna angrily slams the door in Joe's face and accidentally hurts his hand. What follows is a tentative truce between the two. He comes in to ice his hand, she genuinely apologizes, and they finally see one another as real people and not just the enemy. Because they've been at odds with one another for so long, they've never had the chance to recognize or acknowledge the fact that they're more similar than they'd like to admit. Gordon's death may be the catalyst to bring that point home in a way that's productive, rather than antagonistic.
Meanwhile, even as Cameron is given free rein to pursue her gift of world building, separate from Comet or Rover, she's no longer isolated. Partly because of her relationship with Joe, but also because she's been surrounded by people who know and understand her better than she probably ever thought they did, especially in contrast to her short-lived marriage to Tom and their time in Japan. Gordon's friendship, in particular, has played a major part in helping to make her feel understood and connected; it's a relationship of real depth and feeling, even if the characters express very little.
How Gordon's death will ultimately affect these core characters, and the remaining story to be told in the final three episodes of the series, is uncertain, but it appears more likely than ever that Donna, Joe, and Cameron may come together again as a team. Halt and Catch Fire took a significant leap in killing off one of its main characters with three episodes to go. Thankfully, the series has proven over four seasons that it doesn't take anything lightly. There's an intrinsic thoughtfulness to how the show lays out each season, and it never wastes a minute of an episode. "Who Needs a Guy" sets a course that can't be undone, but there's little doubt it's the right choice.