Halt and Catch Fire is an interesting way to take the temperature of our current television climate. It is a very, very good show, with all of the hallmarks of a prestige cable drama, and yet it’s nobody’s favorite. Still, we’ve been covering Halt and Catch Fire since the first season, and Marisa has always found something about it that spoke to her personally, so she decided to write about the individual episodes as it heads into its final stretch. Read her reaction to the previous episode, “A Connection Is Made,” here.
Halt and Catch Fire isn’t really a show that depends on being spoiler-free, but if you haven’t seen “Who Needs a Guy?” and plan on catching up, you probably shouldn’t read behind the cut.
Ladies and gentlemen, we gather here on this solemn occasion to mourn the death of Gordon Clark.
Gordon, if I may be blunt about the dead, was not the most exciting guy to be around. He was satisfied with his lot in life, and only meant to preserve it, not increase it. He was not fashionable. He didn’t have visionary ideas about the future. He might not have had the greatest self-awareness, and he was rarely the first to have insights into his own family. His loves—video games, Sneakers, Katie, and, first and foremost, his family—were simple ones.
But Gordon was dependable. He was the one that you called when you had a brilliant idea—from cloning an IBM PC to indexing the World Wide Web—and needed someone who could put it into tubes and wires in the real world. He was the one who could subtly help you work out your problems over some kind of video-game head-to-head competition. He was the sensible one you butted heads with when you wanted to go a little crazy, because you secretly wanted him to set reliable boundaries and drag you back to Earth. He was the one you called, crying, when you needed to be picked up from jail—and you needed his shoulder to sob into more than you needed the bail money.
He was the one you turned to when the air conditioner broke, because that was the type of problem he liked to solve: It made sense, and he could get out his toolbox and get things working the way they should.
His death was, at once, tragic and perfect. It was sudden, but Gordon was not unprepared. There were hints that this was coming—with his neurological condition worsening, he hired a full-time driver. He’d recently burned the collection of notebooks he used to log his symptoms, having realized that clarity would never come and that help was not on the way.
Gordon died alone. And yet, he was not scared. His death was ultimately peaceful—beautiful, even—and even though they were not physically with him, he was surrounded by family in spirit. (I was not there, either, but I shed a tear.) I once had a professor in a class on crime novels who said that Vito Corleone’s death was the greatest the Godfather could ask for; he was with his family, in his own garden, and went out on his own terms. Gordon was no Don Corleone, but he went out on his own terms as well.
So when we mourn Gordon, we do feel sorrow over a life cut short, but he was happy and loved. Instead, we turn to that old cliché: We really feel bad for those of us left behind. If Gordon was the glue that held things together and the grease that kept it running smoothly, what happens when he’s gone?
Some people (Joe) will grasp for what Gordon had. It looks increasingly like Joe isn’t abandoning the idea of turning inward, to the simple family life. He tells Cameron that he wants to build a small, nothing-fancy house (compared to his Zen monstrosity of an antivirus-era city apartment) on Cameron’s (mostly soundtracked by Pavement) land; he enjoys being the father figure he gets to be to Haley. But I can’t help but wonder if he really means it, or if, lacking vision at work, becoming a family man is his Next Big Project.
Others (Cameron) will grasp for what Gordon never had. Over and over, Gordon extolled the virtues of being successful enough. If a company was doing well and he was enjoying the work, why push to be the biggest thing going? If it’s not fun, he told Haley, stop doing it. Cameron, on the other hand, has a VC telling her what she has isn’t enough. Think bigger, bigger, bigger—ask for more, more, more. If it means sacrificing fun and family, well, there are grander things to think about. This certainly puts her on a collision course with Joe, but, just like Joe, I can’t figure out if that’s really what she wants, or if she’d be better off just using her A.I. to create a game that brings people joy.
And still others (Donna) will try to gain back what’s lost. She’s been working for this big promotion at work; when it’s finally offered to her, she’s unfulfilled. Mutiny is the most fun she’s ever had. What she wouldn’t give to be back in the basement of Cardiff Electric or the bricked-over boardroom of the future CalNect? She’d be working with Joe, Cameron, and Gordon on something that might not pan out, but the work is its own reward. This, of course, is impossible.
The problem is, whether they want more, less, or to stay the same, it’s going to be harder for all of them without Gordon there to bounce ideas off of. They were so used to having him talk them down from the control room. They’re going to need help doing the last thing he wrote down before he died: re-launch.