Halt and Catch Fire ended its terrific four-season run this weekend with an emotional, satisfying finale. Alan Sepinwall already wrote his recap and tribute to the show, but Brian Grubb and Josh Kurp also had things to say about it all, so this is them doing that.
“I have an idea.”
Josh: Does it matter what Donna’s idea was? Not really — but it also doesn’t matter what happened in The Sopranos series finale, which is also set in a diner and involves someone parking, after the cut to black, and we’ve spent the last 10 years obsessing over the man in the Members Only jacket. It’s fun to play the “let’s over-analyze everything” game (I last played it during The Leftovers finale — Nora was totally lying), but that’s not the point of the scene. It’s about putting a friendship on the line for “an idea,” despite Donna and Cameron knowing there’s a 95 percent chance it’s going to end in flames (like where a Phoenix comes from). But yeah, she invented PayPal, right?
Brian: Yeah, that’s the thing. On one hand, it doesn’t matter at all what the idea is. And it’s kind of better that we don’t know, because if they told us then we’d do the nitpicking thing you mentioned where we compare it to real life and say “Well, does this mean X company doesn’t exist or is this another idea that gets swallowed by history like the Comet/Yahoo fiasco”? The show wasn’t really even about that anyway. The idea was just a way to get them back together, and seeing the excitement in both of their eyes as it happened made the seasons of turmoil between them kind of worth it. Maybe they’ll become billionaires. Maybe it’ll play out exactly like their imaginary company, Phoenix. Again, not important. Not today at least. The point is that Donna and Cam are a team again. I love it.
But on the other hand, not knowing is killing me a little bit. Just a little. I’m fine. Basically.
The Ballad of Cam and Donna
Brian: I was really happy that the last hour of the show focused almost entirely on Donna and Cameron. They were the beating heart of the show and had been ever since it made the move in season two to follow them as they built Mutiny, instead of following Joe as he did… Joe things. It was very cool to see them come full circle to become partners again (probably!), thanks to Haley’s broken computer and Donna’s inspiring speech and Cam taking an accidental dive into the pool in front of everyone.
Josh: That will not be the last time we bring up the pool splash, I promise. Anyway, yes, Donna and Cameron (Dameron? It’s already the last name of a Star Wars character, but Oscar Isaac doesn’t mind sharing). Theirs is one of my favorite relationships, romantic or otherwise, I have ever seen on television. It always felt real. They squabbled, they made nice; they brought out the worst in each other, they brought out the best in each other; they knew the right thing to say at the wrong time to annoy the other, they knew the right thing to say at the right time to make the other feel better. Halt and Catch Fire became a great show once it focused on Donna and Cameron. So, it’s no coincidence that, unlike most prestige dramas overseen by a male creator (or male creators), both episodes of the finale were directed by women.
Emotional moments in the finale, ranked
Josh: These are the three times I cried, with the line that got me the most.
3. Joe and Cam’s farewell — “I wanted this to work.” (The moment when you admit to yourself that something you wanted so hard to succeed isn’t going to? Yeah. Ouch.)
2. Cameron and Bos’ farewell — “You got a lot of love in you. More than anybody I ever met. It’s bursting out of you. You’re taking the world in these in these big gulps, and you can’t help but to let yourself get drowned in it. Overwhelms you, makes you live like you’re ready to explode at any minute. They don’t see it. I do. It’s a burden you carry.” (Bos is not a great father, but he is a wonderful father figure.)
1. Donna’s speech — “I am a partner by trade and a mother and a sister by design.” (Someday in the future, I would like to attend a fancy party where Kerry Bishé gives an inspiring speech about feminism, and MacKenzie Davis accidentally falls into a pool. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.)
Brian: My three.
3. Joanie’s phone call about mud — This was sweet and wonderful and perfect. I have a soft spot for wild child kids connecting with their parents. Donna’s face when Joanie was talking… yeah, tears.
2. Haley getting her heart broken by the waitress — This was devastating, but between her dumping her doof boyfriend and Donna and Cam having the “Do you think she’s gay?” conversation by the pool, you get the feeling things are gonna be okay for Haley.
1. Yeah, Donna’s speech and the pool thing. If this show had a Game of Thrones-size audience, this would already be in the GIF Hall of Fame.
Bos Bos Bos
Brian: Let me say this: Bos was not allowed to die. Just couldn’t happen, especially after we lost Gordon. I wasn’t expecting him to die or anything, and it probably would have been weird and bad for reasons beyond my unending sadness, but I still had palpitations when I saw him hooked up to that blood pressure cuff, and not even him saying “I get lightheaded when I shit real big” settled me down all the way. My blood pressure was probably higher than his in that moment. But then he got a clean bill of health and marched out of the hospital in slow-motion to the tune of “Fanfare for the Common Man” like he was an astronaut landing on the moon and all was right again. Bos is the greatest.
Josh: It will never not be remarkable that Bos, with his comforting bushy beard, was played by the same actor as Artie the Strongest Man… In the World. And Kahn and Cotton from King of the Hill, but mostly Little Pete’s best friend from The Adventures of Pete and Pete. What a career. What a final line for Bos, too: “Don’t let me get old.” In a sense, that’s Halt and Catch Fire in a nutshell, isn’t it? It’s about how technology — computers specifically — is the “thing that gets us to the thing.” And failure. But it’s also about worrying about time passing you by. There’s always someone else, someone younger, who knows more than you. That’s what made the “Fanfare for the Common Man” scene you mentioned so incredible: he’s made peace with his mortality. In his farewell scene with Cameron, he’s no longer “Bos,” the guy who could bullshit with the best of them. He’s just John.
Where do you think the characters are now, in 2017?
Josh: I’ll start. Joe settled down with a nice man named Derek, and they became one of the first gay couples to get married once it was legalized in Texas. Joe doesn’t own a smartphone.
Brian: Donna and Cam started a very successful tech business and got out just before the bubble burst. Donna is now a venture capitalist with a bestselling memoir and Cam runs a highly successful coding program for teenage girls.
Josh: Joanie is a therapist by day, and sees a therapist by night. They talk about her relationship with Donna a lot. Haley runs the world’s foremost L7 fansite, but is better known for founding Refinery28, which is totally not a made-up Refinery29.
Brian: I choose to believe that Bos is still alive today, in 2017, doing Bos things and making cinnamon-free chili. Hell, he could even be running a little food truck. I doubt it, because this all puts him close to 80 and I think Diane would prefer he chill in the garage and slow dance with her, but still. Can’t rule it out. Also, not really related to anything, but Trip is in jail for running a Ponzi scheme. I know this for a fact.
What do you think the show’s legacy will be?
Brian: Man, I don’t know, which is awkward because I was the one who wrote this section heading. It was a really beautiful show. I wrote a big thing about that last week, how it morphed from Don Draper But Computers into an actual legitimate successor to Mad Men. People talked to other people. The characters were real, sometimes painfully so. The drama came from them interacting with each other, in different pairings and groups. It got trash ratings and its final season aired on Saturday nights so the number of people who finished the series is probably, like, under three dozen. You can be a pessimist and stomp your feet about how no one watched this show but everyone watches whatever cop procedural is currently airing on CBS, as is your right as a viewer of an underwatched show. You can also be an optimist and be thankful that such a beautiful little show even got a fourth season at all, and hope that the shorter run will help it find viewers who are looking for a moderate commitment binge-watch at some point down the line.
I think I fall into the latter group. Mostly.
Josh: Is this part of the post where I admit I really didn’t like season one? Scratch that, I still don’t like season one. This is not an uncommon opinion, but I’m not sure if I even finished the season. I didn’t tune back in until nearly two years later, when I heard (from people who write about television for a living, not anyone in the real world) how much better it had gotten. That’s Halt’s legacy on a macro scale: one of those proverbial “It gets better after season one, I swear” shows. But on a micro level, for the viewers doing the swearing: it’s one of the most beautiful and, more importantly, beautifully human shows I have ever seen, with an incredible finale that belongs in the Series Finale Hall of Fame. These were ultimately decent people who wanted to change the world and find a community where they belonged, and through the internet, they did. But even though they mostly meant well, they were also people, and people are flawed. So is Halt. But that’s what made the show, and the last two seasons in particular, so outstanding. We saw the growing pains. But all the hard work — from the creators for tinkering with the story they wanted to tell and the audience for hanging around — was worth it.
Hopefully Halt and Catch Fire is more Yahoo (“Ya… hoo?”) than Comet.