A review of tonight's Halt and Catch Fire – the last episode before next week's two-hour season (and hopefully not series) finale – coming up just as soon as I shoo away Alf…
“I can't work with Joe MacMillan anymore.” -Joe
Though Ryan Ray never entirely clicked for me as a character, he left one hell of a suicide note – one that, with the benefit of the Halt writing staff's futuristic vantage point, neatly predicts the advantages and disadvantages of the networked worked Ryan was trying to build with Joe. The internet can bring us together in ways that are both wonderful and terrifying, can introduce us to like-minded people who bring us joy and expose us to like-minded people who are only encouraging each other's worst attributes, can make us feel safe in one minute and vulnerable the next, allowing us to be best friends with someone who lives half a world away but also perhaps tuning out the ones who are standing right next to us.
It's a nifty piece of writing summing up a future that the Halt characters feel achingly close to helping give birth to, even though they couldn't seem further away by the end of “You Are Not Safe.” The internet – even the primitive 1986 version – should be bringing all the characters together, but it only seems to be pushing them apart.
In the wake of her decision to leave Mutiny rather than participate in what turns out to be a disastrous IPO, Cameron commits even deeper to her marriage by agreeing to move with Tom to Japan, no longer feeling connected to Donna, and afraid of how deeply she still feels connected to Joe. (Gordon and the Clark girls, she'll miss, but what can you do?) All of Cameron's concerns about the state of Mutiny prove right when the IPO tanks (not helped by Donna's interview with a shallow business TV anchor who doesn't understand what the internet is yet), while Gordon and Joe's network business gets stuck in limbo because of the FBI's pursuit of Ryan, and because of the ailing Gordon's reluctance to move the project forward without Joe by his side.
One of the episode's earliest scenes is both priceless and sad, as Joe has to convince Gordon that he played no part in releasing the anti-virus software code to the public, even if it's perhaps the most Joe MacMillan-y stunt anyone on the show has ever pulled. But he's telling Gordon the truth in that moment, just as he is to Ryan when he explains that he can't work with someone like who and what he used to be; he's seen up close how much damage that can cause, and Ryan's suicidal leap off Joe's fancy balcony only reinforces his desire to make a break from his old patterns. But if Joe doesn't want to be Joe anymore, than what is he? And what hope is there for any of the characters to pull out of the shaky positions in which they find themselves?
“You Are Not Safe” didn't have a single scene as intense as the Mutiny boardroom meeting from last week, but its cumulative power was impressive, as it covered the four months between Ryan's hacking of the anti-virus software and his death, while increasing the level of isolation and anxiety each of the four main characters were feeling despite not being fugitives from the law.
While Donna and Gordon still technically have businesses to run, everything is in such a state of flux that I would hesitate to try predicting anything about what's to come in next week's final episodes. Will they be the end of the series? I hope not, and based on how AMC – and a lot of the cable industry – has operated lately, I suspect at a minimum we'll get some kind of announcement about a fourth and final season, which gives the title more value to Netflix or other potential streaming rights buyers down the road. Commercially, there's no defending these ratings, even if AMC gets other value out of the show because they own it. Creatively, this one's too great to say goodbye to. Just check out the look on Lee Pace's face as Joe begins to understand why his balcony door is open, or the charged awkwardness of Joe's visit to Cameron's house, or how Donna struggles to get control of her own breathing upon realizing how poorly the IPO has gone. That's a show operating on all cylinders, and one I really want more than just two more hours of.
Some other thoughts:
* Okay, first Mr. Robot has an Alf cameo in the midst of its TGIF parody dream sequence, now Cam not only gives a trick-or-treater dressed as Alf some candy, but uses the name as her online handle when tracking down Ryan. Are all computer-themed series now required to drop Alf references? If so, step up your game, Silicon Valley!
* A light moment in a mostly dark episode: Gordon struggles to ask Joe if he and Ryan were more than just friends, and Joe good-naturedly stokes Gordon's (relatively mild for the '80s) gay panic.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org