Warning: This contains spoilers. Not seen Episode 7? Read our spoiler-free review of Halt and Catch Fire Season 4’s opening episodes here.
“Who needs a guy?” cries Gordon Clark (Scott McNairy) in Episode 7 of Season 4, as he manages to fix the air conditioning in the office, which has been on the blink all day. It’s the kind of small victory that has defined Gordon’s life. He’s a man who has always been a fixer, an engineer whose skills lie in making things happen. Some of his happiest moments involved tinkering with his ham radio in the cupboard.
Part of the joy of Halt and Catch Fire has been seeing Gordon grow and change over more than a decade, learning how best to use his talent: while Season 1 saw Gordon drive himself to near insanity in an attempt to realise his ambitions, the show really clicked when Gordon started to focus on helping others. He flourished when he spent his efforts supporting Donna, even more so when he spent his efforts encouraging his daughters: he moved from a self-centred maniac to a generous secondary character in other people’s narratives.
While Donna is now off buying and funding start-ups, Gordon has long been the one being acquired, or being beaten by bigger rivals. It’s only in the last season that he’s really accepted that – and it’s been an absolutely joy to watch, from his strengthening bond with Haley to his connection with Katie (Anna Chlumsky), both characters who would never have had the screentime to develop in Season 1. Once fanatically building computers in his garage, Gordon 2.0’s now busy making Mark Hamill jokes, as he tries to describe Haley’s new short haircut to Donna. (“Shorter than Dorothy Hamill’s, but not as short as Mark Hamill’s… somewhere mid-Hamill.”)
Who needs a guy, he asks? Nobody, because they have Gordon. Gordon the husband. Gordon the father. Gordon the Mario Karter. Gordon the occasionally keen camper.
How heartbreaking it is, then, that Episode 7 should be the one where we bid goodbye to Gordon. It’s a hugely moving farewell, partly because of how much we’ve grown to love Scoot McNairy’s character, and partly because of how beautifully it’s done. His death, we presume from some kind of stroke caused by his ongoing condition, occurs off-screen – but we still see what matters.
Specifically, it’s a dream-like sequence, in which Gordon walks through the house, going from room to room. He’s following in the footsteps of Donna, as she moves around, preparing work, getting food for their daughters, cradling a baby – a montage that slowly moves through the years of their relationship, a life flashing before Gordon’s eyes that feels anything but cliched or cheesy, not least because the show doesn’t fully explain what we’re seeing at the time.
There are other things that happen in the episode – and it’s proof of how sharp the writing of AMC’s show is that so much happens before Gordon’s departure, without ever taking away from it. Haley’s (Susanna Skaggs) hair, of course, is a major milestone in her growing acceptance of how different she is from the world. It’s also a jab at Gordon, to whom she’s not really speaking, as he tries to invite her back to work at Comet, only for her to shun his offers of reconciliation. Donna (Kerry Bishe) is less concerned than him, as she’s more preoccupied with the thought of becoming managing partner at the firm – why? Because, in the episode’s sweetest subplot, Bos (Toby Huss, who can do no wrong) and Diane (Annabeth Gish) decide to get married, a union born of their love for each other and their desire to make the most of the time they have, following Bos’ recent heart attack. Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) is a guest at the ceremony, and seeing them on such good terms after all the Rover debacle is enough to melt anybody’s heart.
But that acknowledgement of mortality by both Bos and Diane sets a tone of finality for the episode – one that looms over Gordon’s every moment, even when we don’t know what’s coming. His interactions with Donna, once fractious, have become more amicable than ever, as they come to accept each other once more – a relationship that Joe (Lee Pace) is suspicious of, after all their fallings out over the years. So when Donna tells Gordon that Rover users are finding what they want online in 30 seconds, he’s impressed and trusts the data – but Joe questions it. The result is a discussion about Comet’s direction, as Gordon argues they shouldn’t try to beat Rover at speed, but should aim to turn Comet into a destination in itself, where people want to spend time – not the fastest search index, but the stickiest.
Joe confronts Donna at her house, a heated argument that gradually resolves at a similarly friendly point of mutual recognition and respect – and you can’t help but sense Gordon’s role in healing that rift, as part of Joe’s softened edges and increasing altruism and conscience has come from working alongside El Gordo. Joe, in return, helps to bring Gordon and Haley back on good terms, as he rings her and persuades her to return to Comet. It’s the last conversion between this father and daughter, one that takes place entirely through the mediator of Joe – and it’s testament to the strength of Pace’s, Skaggs’ and McNairy’s performances that Gordon and Haley might as well have been talking face-to-face. Between Comet finding its purpose and his relationship with Haley as affectionate as ever, Gordon’s life is pretty much perfect. He’s got Katie waiting for a romantic dinner. He’s even got the air con working.
Cameron, meanwhile, is enjoying the functioning Internet in her Airstream, as she begins work on her next project. “What I’m trying to do is create a world where actions have consequences,” she explains, as she introduces her AI-populated computer program to generous backer Alexa (Molly Ephraim). Alexa, though, challenges her to think bigger – self-learning AI? It’s not the stuff of games, but the stuff of nano-bots in human bodies and robots on Mars.
It’s a perfect encapsulation of what Halt and Catch Fire has become: a series that thinks big while simultaneously thinking tiny. Charting an age where people are always catching the next wave of technological breakthroughs, it’s equally a drama about people repeatedly starting over in their relationships, as they change and evolve – a growth that is driven by the consequences of each person’s actions.
When Gordon passes away, then, what we see isn’t a montage of his professional successes: it’s a reminder that the most valuable legacy of his life was the people in it. And Season 4 has been full of that realisation: “You got Haley and Gordon and Cam,” Donna spits at Joe, before they make up. “You got everybody.” This is now a show in which relationships have become the real priority, something thrown into sharp relief by Haley working at Comet, Bos marrying Diane, and Cameron and Donna breaking apart Mutiny. What follows Gordon’s death gently drives that home, as we watch Katie tell Donna, Donna tell Joe, Joe tell Cameron, Cameron tell Bos – a daisy chain of phone calls often without words, which is at once comforting and devastating to witness. Like Gordon with his ham radio all those years ago, it’s not about the tech or the tinkering: it’s about connecting. Who needs a guy? We all need a guy. Without Gordon, the rest of the characters will need someone over the show’s final episodes – and there’s no doubt that they’ve got each other.
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.