A review of the two-hour final season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire coming up just as soon as I’m named Little Miss Flawless 1970…
“Are you there? I’m here.” –Joe
Halt concluded its third season with two episodes airing on the same night that leaped the action into the ’90s. In a nice bit of symmetry, season four opens with two episodes as well that bring us another time jump, but one revealed in deceptively complicated form: the entire pre-credits sequence of the first episode, “So It Goes,” covers roughly three years since the meeting of the minds in the season three finale, as Gordon builds up CalNect into a thriving local internet service provider (successful enough that he can hire Blue Man Group to play his birthday party), Joe hides in the basement waiting for Cameron to finish their web browser, and Cameron and Donna are off pursuing other adventures. The whole thing is presented as one fluid take, and even though there are some very clear seams (whenever the camera pans through the floor, or when it pushes in on Gordon’s shirt — a trick Alfred Hitchcock used nearly 70 years ago to hide some of the edits in Rope), it’s still an impressive piece of choreography and direction, as well as a clever way to illustrate how relentlessly time marches on even when a man like Joe MacMillan wants to slow it down.
By the time the opening credits have played, we’re already into the Clinton administration, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a big enough hit that Joe has to explain it to Cameron, Mosaic has already won the first phase of the browser wars(*), and it’s time for all four of our leads (plus Bos and Diane) to figure out what the next phase of the battle is.
(*) Hi, kids! Time for a walk down memory lane! When the World Wide Web first became a thing, there were no graphic browsers at all. We used Lynx, which was a text-only interface (and apparently still exists in some form). I remember the first time one of my engineer friends from college showed me Mosaic, I felt like I had just touched the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
It’s a tricky area the show is playing in at the moment. Joe and Gordon couldn’t actually invent Mosaic, nor can they invent Google, as we see Gordon and Donna each working on ideas about indexing the web, but there were plenty of Google precursors that either didn’t have the staying power (Alta Vista) or have had to content themselves with a life as Pepsi to Google’s Coke (Yahoo!, which in its early stages didn’t look too different from what we see of Haley’s nascent website). There are ways that the final season can show any combination of our characters making a huge breakthrough, and even another fortune, without them actually rewriting history, but the closer the series gets to the present day, the more we recognize the world its fictionalizing.