Halt and Catch Fire is coming to an end and I can’t stop crying. Not because it is ending, although that’s sad, too. Or because barely anyone is watching such a good show, in part due to AMC banishing its final season to Saturday nights, because I have chosen to take the healthier view of the situation and just be thankful that the network even allowed the fourth and final season to exist in any form. No, I am crying because things keep happening that are tearing me apart. In a good way. Mostly. Maybe “good” isn’t the right word. Let’s go with “beautiful.” I am crying because it’s all so beautiful.
This is some kind of trick the show pulled off. Back when it started, in 2014, it was basically a C+ version of Mad Men that took the wrong lessons from a great show, focusing on brilliant-but-difficult-but-handsome Joe Macmillan (Lee Pace) and leaving other characters to React to the Things He Did. I would go so far as to say it was “fine,” but even that would be a stretch because I gave up on it in the middle of the first season and only jumped back in for season two because people I trusted assured me it was better. I still haven’t seen the last few episodes of that first season. I feel okay about it. Almost as good as I feel about not making a “C++ Mad Men” joke at the beginning of this paragraph. Because the show is about computers, you see.
Except it is not really about computers. That was the key. When it came back for season two it was about people, plural, and especially its two main female characters, Donna and Cameron (Kerry Bishé and Mackenzie Davis), who were starting their own online video game company in the late-1980s, back when women had a tough time in gaming and tech, unlike today. (Hold on, let me just take a big sip of coffee before I fact-check that last part.) Joe was still banging around doing Joe things, and his former business partner, Donna’s then-husband Gordon (Scoot McNairy), was doing Gordon things while helping Donna and Cameron with their company, but now the show was a true ensemble, with a bunch of complex and layered characters who moved the plot forward by talking to each other. It’s the rare television drama in 2017 without explosions or dragons or people getting their insides spilled all over the ground in graphic fashion.
Not that there’s anything wrong with those kinds of shows. Game of Thrones is good even when it’s not very good and I giggled like a maniac when a woman on American Gods launched someone’s spine out through the top of his head via groin kick. When you strip those things out and rely almost entirely on words, though, you better have some really good words. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes an unwatchable slog. But there’s a flipside to that coin: If you have those really good words, you can create a much more intimate viewing experience filled with wonderful, deep characters that people develop strong feelings about. And if you create that intimate viewing experience filled with wonderful, deep characters that people develop strong feelings about, you can, if you so desire, metaphorically, launch your audience’s heart out through the top of its head via groin kick.
This is where we talk about Gordon. Gordon is dead. Gordon died at the end of the final season’s seventh episode and it absolutely devastated me. I feel at least two ways about it, and maybe more. Let me try to talk through it. I’m doing this as much for me as I am for you.
On one hand, it was — I’m going to use the word again — beautiful, because it was handled so delicately and almost entirely off-screen, with a flashback to his life with Donna and a focus on a bright light serving as our only indication of what was happening. And it happened when Gordon finally seemed happy and together, after going through a divorce and business failures and issues after getting diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease that ended up killing him. He went out in a relatively good, content place, and between that and the way it was shot, it gave a great character a dignified exit.