Warning: This contains spoilers. Not see Episode 3? Read our spoiler-free review of Halt and Catch Fire Season 4’s opening episodes here.
“It was never about where it ended up. It was about how it felt.” That’s Joe (Lee Pace) in Episode 5 of Halt and Catch Fire’s fourth and final season, as he sits back and reflects on the success, growth and potential failure of Comet. The last time we saw him doing so, it was decidedly more dramatic: he was railing at Cameron in their living room about Rover’s sudden leap forward with its algorithm, meaning that Comet was f–cut to end credits.
Now, he’s calmer, but he’s no clearer about what he’s doing in life. He’s the Nowhere Man of the episode title, staring into a potential digital void of irrelevance, which may or may not even be their fate. Joe has always been a man of vision, or he likes to think of himself as a man of vision – only a season ago, he was standing in front of a room full of journalists, presenting himself as the next Steve Jobs. Although, of course, he was around first, and he still hasn’t found a way to reach those heights before or after Mr. Jobs.
Joe does the logical thing and asks Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) to help Comet with some coding, but she says no, wanting to keep their work and personal life separate. But this is Halt and Catch Fire: they’re the same thing, as every technological development and business decision impacts every relationship on-screen. That’s nothing new for us to consider, but what’s revealing is the way that Cameron’s position in the middle of all this rivalry gives us a fresh look at her relationship with Joe. Despite their romantic entanglement, he can’t tell that she’s the one who secretly helped Rover (poor Cecil). Donna (Kerry Bishe), though, can. Is that because he knows her less well than her former business partner? Or because he’s distracted by his feelings for Cameron? Either way, it doesn’t bode well for their future.
Donna’s suspicions have been growing for over an episode, and it’s when Joanie starts playing Pilgrim at home that she finds herself considering Cameron more and more – not just how to beat her game, which Joanie can’t figure out, but whether she was involved. Now, she takes proper steps to confirm it. Step one: she refuses the Rover team more funding until Cecil patents the algorithm, which he can’t do, because he didn’t actually write it (pool Cecil). Step two: grill Bos, who has dinner with Donna, in which the main course is his heart on a plate, served cold.
Bishe is on fire this season, here almost literally, as she sports a red blazer that might as well be coloured with the blood of her enemies, as she scorches through the office taking no prisoners. It’s been a joy to see her fully unleashed with zero F’s given – but, of course, every professional move has a personal consequence. And so it is that Bos ends up walking away from their dinner, only to have a heart attack in the middle of the restaurant.
Toby Huss goes toe to toe with Bishe in their dinner, each actor capable of expressing so much without speaking: in a single look, we know that Donna knows what Bos did, just as we know that Bos knows Donna has worked it out. Angelina Burnett’s script is fantastic at crafting these moments for the actors to flex their muscles so quietly – and, only moments later, do we get the same trick again, as Donna and Cameron meet at the hospital. Cameron mentions she had an argument with Bos earlier in the day, and the sight of the penny dropping on both sides of the waiting room is unbearably tense.
“Stay out of my business,” declares Donna, still unable to muster one iota of regret (Bos, it turns out, is fune). Cameron, on the other hand, is all water to Donna’s fire: “I was mean,” she confesses, vaguely, with tears in her eyes, like a child who’s just hurt her father without meaning to. She tells Joe she wants to keep work and personal lives separate – and it’s because she, just like the rest of them, is all too familiar with what happens if you don’t.
Cameron, finally, admits to Joe that he was she who he helped Rover – a tearful admission in an awkward car journey. It’s one that she prefaces with a confession about why she told Tom she was unfaithful, not because of clunky exposition, but because all this is part of the same thing: to Joe, a professional betrayal is no different to personal infidelity. There is, however, a crucial difference: Why did she tell Tom? Because she wanted them to break up. Why is she telling Joe? “Because I love you,” she says.
Cameron’s childish nature has been a major theme this season, so it’s a relief to see the magnificent Mackenzie Davis get a chance to play something other than selfish and immature – and a promising sign that the coding genius, whose success was once worth celebrating not wallowing over, is about to rejoin the show’s central ensemble proper.
Joe, though, is still all at sea, a Nowhere Man who takes his personal frustrations out at work – to the point where he yells at Gordon in the office, blurting out to everyone that he and the company’s chief ontologist are sleeping together. Pace regrets it the moment it comes out, his lips tightening just a fraction, while Scoot McNairy, whose Gordon was once petulant and irritating, is all calm maturity in the face of such an outburst. Composed and more confident in himself than ever, he looks Joe in the eye and reassures him that the business will be ok, and that it’s about living in the present rather than looking to the future. Then, he adds: “If you ever scream about my sex life in front of my kid again, I’ll rip off your head and shit down your throat.”
It’s a gorgeous line of dialogue that Pace receives with a slight smile and McNairy delivers with an affectionate glare. It’s also precisely the kind of natural, low-key touch that marks Halt and Catch Fire out from the crowd of award-winning shows that get all the attention: the show has always been the indie film to HBO’s blockbusters, and it feels more low-key and indie than ever in its final run.
How fitting, then, that the show should have So Yong Kim at the helm for this episode: the director of For Ellen is a queen of milking small-scale, intimate interactions for maximum emotion, which makes her the perfect fit for Halt.
As if to prove it, this episode also delivers us two emotion gems, each of them standalone conversations with secondary cast members.
One sees Tom turn up on Cameron’s doorstep (do Airstream’s have doorsteps?) to inform her that he’s moving to the suburbs, that his new partner is pregnant, and that he finally found out what that weird noise in their old place was: a parrot. The last one is a nice chance for the warmth of their chemistry to flood back, albeit briefly, before their part amicably – and not altogether comfortably – for each to move on. It’s a short interaction, but all that Cameron needs to complete her growing up, after her self-imposed period in her remote cocoon.
The other is date night between Gordon and Katie, as they hang on the sofa and watch old movies. Anna Chlumsky is once again radiant as the charming ontologist, bringing a welcome burst of happiness to the struggles of our earnest quartet – and while she and Gordon have only been using each other’s search bars for a short while, they’re already a comforting fit. She even gets on with Joanie, which is a very promising sign – although, what with Joe’s outburst and them working together, Haley’s naturally less ok with it. But there’s still a hint of difficulty between the two, as Gordon ends their night early, due to his exhaustion and illness: will the age gap be too much for their relationship to work?
What’s so infectious about their partnership is that neither of them are worried about that. Whereas Joe gets frustrated by being unable to peer into the future, Gordon lives his advice of focusing not on where it ends up, but on how it feels now. It’s not dissimilar to the philosophy behind Cameron’s game, which has flummoxed so many people, as one has to find satisfaction in the game’s looping return to the same start point – until one starts walking in a different direction entirely. Donna, tellingly, is able to deduce that, as she picks up the game and starts to play it herself in secret. She knows Cameron well enough to get it – and the fact that she’s picked it up to do so is a sign that she’s still looking to reconcile with her old friend, even if it’s only at a distance.
How will all of this resolve itself for the final five episodes? There are still boundless possibilities for all of these characters, but we know neither will win the search engine race for the web – if anyone mentions Ask Jeeves in the coming instalments, we’ll be absolutely delighted – and you know what? That doesn’t matter. It’s about the messy, genuine relationships that continue to shift and grow between all these people. Regardless of how it ends up, for now, Halt and Catch Fire still feels as good as ever.
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.