In lieu of its somewhat limited chances for renewal, “1984” finds Halt and Catch Fire coming to a conclusive, if somewhat flawed, end. The completion of The Giant, the seed of which brought our three leads together in the first place, is now a tangible (albeit much less imaginative) reality that finds them each going their separate ways. Much like the series as a whole, this season/series finale is the definition of a mixed bag, a concoction of moments that work extremely well placed against scenes that do not work at all.
Throughout the whole episode, the proceedings are relatively uneasy. For one, we have—of course—been conditioned to always believe that, in the world of Halt and Catch Fire, disaster and ruin are always looming just around the corner. Reiterating this is the episode’s visual vocabulary, which gets a lot of mileage out of subtle, Dutch angles and a disorientating use of lenses that projects a sense of ominousness.
With The Giant set to ship off into stores and Joe and Gordon receiving a significant portion of the company from Nathan Cardiff, everything seems to be going well for an operation that seemed doomed to extravagant failure just last week. While Gordon is on cloud nine, Joe is more hesitant. At the beginning of the episode, he shows Gordon the now iconic Mac “1984” commercial. Gordon dismisses it as merely a hollow light show , but Joe is drawn in by the spot—partially, it seems, because he believes the runner looks an awful lot like Cameron. He then suggests that they delay shipping and try to come up with some creative applications to adorn the computer, a move that Gordon (understandably) opposes.
Cameron, meanwhile, has since jumped the Cardiff ship after they stripped her interactive program away from The Giant at COMDEX. She quickly realizes that she can use her connections at the phone company to create an efficient network between various computers. In a nod back to the pilot episode, Cameron is now becoming an early adapter of what will soon morph into the Internet. This new venture appears to give her a new boost of confidence and passion. Perhaps it’s because of this that she’s able to so thoroughly call Joe out on his bullshit when he comes stumbling to her door begging to be taken back.
At first, this scene appeared to be yet another example of Joe’s inconsistent character. Whereas before he treated relationships as being as disposable as tissue paper, he becomes an emotional, lovelorn Lloyd Dobler here. That wouldn’t be so bad if the show had felt as though it earned this transformation, but—and this is no doubt because I was never a big fan of their relationship—it just really seems like he’s acting this way because the script is telling him to. The fact that the man who once let Cameron believe her work had been lost due to a short-circuit is now suggesting he leaves Cardiff so that the two of them can run away together is just not a reconciliation I can make in my mind.
The scene suddenly becomes a lot more memorable when it comes to Cameron’s response to Joe’s proposition. In a brief monologue, she proceeds to systematically deconstruct the flaws in Joe’s personality, flaws that many critics covering the show have been pointing out for months.
“I loved you because you recited my own ideas back to me and pretended they were your own,” Cameron says. “You’re still exactly what you were the day your mom let you fall off that roof: just a sad little boy with a lot of wasted potential.”
Harsh? Maybe. But damn it if it doesn’t feel good to hear someone articulate it.
Joe seems to take this criticism to heart and arrives at work later to discover that Cameron had actually taken a part of his advice. He walks into the office to find that all the coders have left their posts to join Cameron at Mutiny, her new company. Without anyone to develop new ideas, Joe drops his desire to create new apps and recommends to Gordon that they go ahead and ship the computers. This works out well for Gordon who, just prior to this, was about to threaten jail time for Cameron if Joe did not drop his pipe dream for a better computer.
Indeed, more than anything, this episode belongs to Halt and Catch Fire’s longtime VIPs—Gordon and Donna. Most of the episode’s best scenes involve Donna, whether its her gleefully bombing a TI job performance interview to get herself fired or finding a bag of pot and devouring all the Oreos-style cookies in the house. Also, in yet another nod that this might be the last hour of the show, Gordon shaves his magnificent beard so as to make himself look a bit more business-like as the new head of Cardiff. Not that Donna will be joining him in his new venture. She has decided to accept a job at Mutiny. As such, the episode pays off her complicated relationship with Cameron, which has always been one of the more interesting dynamics on the show.
And so the episode (series?) comes to an end with Gordon now heading what will soon become an obsolete company, Donna and Cameron dipping their toes into the future and Joe heading out into the wilderness, ostensibly to find the observatory where his mother resides.
Going back to my point about Halt and Catch Fire always prepping you for disaster, perhaps the most surprising thing about “1984” is that nothing bad really happens. Of course, there is the Clarke’s carjacking and Joe dousing the first shipment of The Giant in fuel and setting it ablaze, but these are more ham-fisted symbolic gestures than anything else. Even the defection of Cardiff’s coders is treated as little more than a nuisance, considering that the computer has already been made. Rather, because this might be the final hour of the show, the creators opt for broader, more conceptual strokes. Joe and Gordon may have succeeded in the short-run but, as we all know, history will not be on their side.
Looking back at the arc of these ten episodes, it is fascinating to see how the show has undermined expectations. It started with the idea that it would center on two forward-thinking men and their crazed, rebellion-prone girl hacker; by the end, the men have been compromised and took the easy, non-innovative route while the women, as represented by Cameron’s Mutiny company, are aligning themselves with the true future.
It’s probably safe to say that Halt and Catch Fire has been a bumpy road. There were fantastic moments that will no doubt resonate with audiences for the rest of the year, but they are intertwined with the frustration of having misguided ideas like the “Joe mystery” take up such a large chunk of the season. Yet, through it all, I do hope Halt and Catch Fire gets its second year. For all its problems, it’s a show that did seem to learn about its strengths and weaknesses throughout its limited run and could very well turn into a much sharper show if given the chance to continue.
In any case, it’s been great following the show and we’ll see what the future holds!