Warning: This contains spoilers. Not see Episode 3? Read our spoiler-free review of Halt and Catch Fire Season 4’s opening episodes here.
“Put it behind you,” Joe (Lee Pace) tells Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) in Episode 3 of Halt and Catch Fire’s final season. “Start fresh.” “It’s not that easy,” she replies. And how. Joe has always been the one on the show who finds it easiest to jump from an old project to a new project, and Cameron has always been the one who gets most emotionally attached to whatever she’s working on. What a brilliant stroke of genius it is, then, that they are the characters the show pairs together.
In only a few minutes, the episode already manages to make them a convincing – and adorably satisfying – couple to watch, as they’ve evidently fallen into each other routines, and are comfortable enough to mock the areas where they clash. He buys her a pair of headphones to stop her games being too noisy. She teasingly makes a mess to disturb his organised, minimalist existence. They’re a joy to behold, partly because we can see the joy on both Pace and Davis’ faces. After all, it’s not often in Halt and Catch Fire that people are happy.
Inevitably, it doesn’t last long. And, best of all, the characters don’t expect it to – they can all see each other making good and bad decisions, all too aware of what they’ll bring. That sinking feeling in Episode 1, as we saw Donna (Kerry Bishe) realise that Rover needed to do the same thing as Gordon and Joe, and create an index of the web? They all get that feeling at some point.
Gordon (Scott McNairy) is the one dispensing the wisdom today, railing at Joe, as he, like, us, clocks his unusually cheerful disposition.
“It’s like you’re a train, and she’s a train, and you think ‘Ah, we’re both trains, we should get along great!’ But then, both the trains are on the same track and they’re both headed right for each other and guess what! Both the trains are carrying dynamite.”
He’s absolutely right – but Halt and Catch Fire’s train will never run out of steam by going up and down these same tracks, because the show understands that collaboration is essential to success in technology. The media myths may tell us that one lone outsider is usually behind groundbreaking progress, but that’s not true – and even Joe has learned that. Joe, whose skill in life is not only seeing the bigger picture, but also pushing other people to paint it.
That’s another Gordon speech, as he lectures Joe on the danger of nudging their newest partners to breaking point. Their partners? Haley and Joanie (Kathryn Newton). After Haley made Comet a living, breathing website, based on Joe’s Post-It notes, he’s already jumping at the chance to take things further – and while we’ve seen Joe’s destructive relationships lunge at a pet project before, this time, it’s different.
It’s a fabulous step from the show’s writers, because it finally finds a place in the story for the daughters, beyond being collateral from Gordon and Donna’s marriage. And it’s one that makes sense: as the web evolves, it’s only natural that the younger generation should be part of it.
“How do I make it, you know, cool?” Joe asks Joanie, after claiming to like the band that’s on her t-shirt. As if Joe’s attempt at long 90s hair wasn’t enough, the age gap between his generation and Gordon’s kids only becomes more amusing, as an adult website accidentally loads, leaving everyone in the room laughing with embarrassment and Gordon freaking out.
Their involvement does wonders for developing Gordon’s character too, as he and Joe debate how much to pay her for her work on the site. Joe, of course, is all too keen to talk about it in the usual start-up language, while always emphasising that the idea was his to begin with. Gordon, meanwhile, actually suggests low-balling his own daughter and underpaying her by $15,000 – despite the fact that he’s just netted a tidy sum by selling up CalNect, following last episode’s heated rivalry with AOL. Haley, naturally, insists on continuing to do work on the site instead.
While that collaboration is getting under way, Halt and Catch Fire is still delicately picking over the ruins of its most recent failed partnership: Cameron and Donna. It’s not just Joe, you see, who has trouble working with others.
Cameron becomes more and more of a diva with every season, and Davis is a dab-hand at being both a deer in the headlights and the maniacal driver of the car. Attending a conference talking about the future of gaming, it’s so perfect that she should end up sidetracked by a question from Donna in the audience, as the subject moves from the industry’s future to their past conflict – neither of them have moved on in life yet, each still hung up on Mutiny (a name that, in retrospect, sounds highly prophetic).
There’s a hint, though, that Cameron is starting to learn how. After Tom sends her the last of her boxes from Japan, she accidentally knocks it into the road from the roof of her car, only for a truck to come along and squish it to smithereens. So long, baggage. By the time the credits roll, the rest end up in the rubbish bin behind Joe – literally throwing the past away.
Cameron’s problems with authority and commerce, though, are still relevant, as Atari decide to put a hold on her game. When a copy is leaked to Electronic Gaming Monthly, and given a terrible review, the nails on the coffin are firmly in place – and, of course, we learn that Cameron was the one doing the hammering, as she leaked the game to the magazine, hoping to shame Atari into supporting her. Can she ever work with anyone again? Or, as her relationship with Joe blossoms, will she only ever be able to get one of those parts of her life right at a time?
Donna, for her part, is pushing people the wrong way too – getting angry at Bos and the Rover team for their lack of progress, she’s persuaded by Diane to be nicer. And so she invites them all to her house for dinner and drinks. What follows is a gloriously awkward evening, which gets everything right about socialising with work colleagues – right down to the uncertain handshakes and uneasy hugs. Bishe is great when playing the confident, smooth entrepreneur, but she’s even better when she lets that facade slip, nervously looking around her living room with the fear of someone losing both in and out of the office. Trip continues to be a wonderfully annoying presence at work, but Bishe’s performance is so nuanced that we can’t help but wonder whether their fractious relationship really is just all her – maybe he’s a nice guy, after all. (Well, except for all the boastful guitar playing.)
By the time Donna’s forcing everyone to drink, we’re firmly feeling sorry for her, while cringing in pain at her efforts to bond. While the divorce of Donna and Gordon has always seemed like a shame, it feels all too apt this season, as the pair reunite for catch-up dinners that see them both project a similar air of success, even as things crumble privately around them.
A comment from Joanie, who crashes Donna’s dinner party, and another from Trip in the middle of a meeting, lead her to Haley’s Comet – and it’s only when she chats to Gordon that the pieces fall into place. Donna, stubborn, offers to buy them out to avoid competing. Gordon, equally stubborn, refuses to sell or stop their development – if Donna doesn’t want to trample over her daughter’s ideas, he reasons, that’s up to her. Both refuse to give ground, but there’s a hint, for once, that Gordon isn’t doing it for himself, but for Haley (a superb Susanna Skaggs) – the first time that he’s really grown into someone mature and considerate. Donna, on the other hand, gives a moving speech at her work party about not connecting enough with Joanie as a baby, one that she delivers with tears in her eyes.
If last episode’s highlight was a phone call between Cameron and Joe, Donna and Gordon’s spiky dinner is the highlight of this chapter. Because as Gordon leaves in a foul mood, they both know they’re like trains as well, and a collision is on the cards, if they do nothing to avert it. This time, though, things are more personal than ever: this time, it involves their children. Collaboration, as the show repeatedly reminds us, is about compromise as well as sheer conviction. But will either of them be willing to compromise by ruining their relationship with their kids? Family’s one thing you can’t put behind you.
After three seasons, who knew Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 could still find a way to up the emotional stakes? What a final run this is turning out to be.
Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 is available on Amazon Prime Video. New episodes arrive every Monday, within 48 hours of their US broadcast. A subscription costs £5.99 a month, or, if you want next-day delivery on Amazon products too, is included with a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.