'Halt and Catch Fire' season finale recap, '1984'

For The Baltimore Sun

1984 brought us another presidential term for Ronald Reagan, the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the return of "Jeopardy! to television" (with Alex Trebek as host), and the birth of Hulkamania, Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, LeBron James and Ethan Renner.

But perhaps most notably, at least for the purposes of this recap, 1984 featured the debut of The Macintosh, Apple's first machine that targeted the everyman, with an eye on taking down IBM. Its arrival at the end of the last episode, and the memorable Super Bowl commercial that announced its introduction, form a prominent backdrop for the season finale of "Halt and Catch Fire."

Gordon is giving Donna the cold shoulder as the episode opens, insisting on sleeping on the couch and the like. This has been going on for a week, we learn, but Donna announces that their fight is over, and that he's sleeping in the bed with her tonight. "I'm still very mad at you," he tells her. She laughs in his face and so ends their latest round of conflict.

The interaction between these two characters has been my least favorite part of this series, perhaps because I see more of myself in Gordon than I'm willing to talk about.

Joe and Gordon meet with Nathan Cardiff, Cardiff's owner, to show them their Giant. Joe tells him that they already have an order for the machine that will net Cardiff $40 million.

"I'm 65 years old. Why would I want $40 million when I can settle for $5 million and just kick back, Jack?" he asks. He tells them that he has had offers to sell the company, and that he's considering shutting the place down and washing his hands of it after the unpleasantness with John Bosworth.

"I'm not talking about money. I'm talking about legacy," Joe counters. He pitches turning the company's focus entirely on computers -- with himself at the helm, of course. "You both run it. As equals," Cardiff responds, "Because you are a rattlesnake," he says to Joe, "and you, you're a bunny rabbit, but you're the brains behind this thing," he tells Gordon.

After some quick thinking, Joe cuts a deal that gives him and Gordon 8 percent of the company to split. Joe and Gordon shake hands. They have their deal.

Some time later, the first test shipment of Giants arrives at Cardiff. Gordon has the staff test each machine in advance of their release.

Joe, meanwhile, is in John's old office, watching a VHS copy of the Super Bowl from the day before. He isn't watching for the game itself, though. He calls Gordon in to watch one of the most famous commercials of all time, Apple's
"1984" ad. "They're telling the world that they're going to topple IBM," he says.

Apple's ad has Joe plotting. He suggests delaying shipment on the Giant in order to change it, or to package some software with it that will make people remember it. Gordon tells him that it's too late for that, reminding him they sacrificed their chance to be memorable in order to get their machine out there.

Gordon then jets off to pick up Donna for lunch -- right after she quits her job at Texas Instruments, clearing the way for her to come aboard at Cardiff, presumably. Cameron, meanwhile, has taken a job at a phone company, where we see that she has plenty of time on her hands to check in with her former programming team.

Back at Cardiff, some of Gordon's hardware team have found a bug in one of the test units. "Look, I know this is unfortunate. But life gives you lemons, right?" Joe says. He's lobbying for a delayed shipment that would allow the software team to bundle something with the Giant.

The bug sure couldn't have come at a better time for him to make his point, a fact that isn't lost on Gordon. And it isn't exactly beneath Joe to deal in subterfuge.

"In 60 days, I want a killer app ready to ship with the Giant. A top-notch program for our top-notch machine," Joe tells the software team, giving them a deadline to carry out his vision.

"I think Joe did it on purpose," Gordon tells Donna later. "He can't live in reality. He's always chasing some fantasy... The truth is that I can't trust him."

"You have worked too hard and risked too much to get here. We both have," Donna says. "Nothing can be allowed to jeopardize that... I think you know what I'm saying."

She's saying that you need to be a man, Gordon. Can you do that? There's a showdown looming.

After a day at work, Gordon returns home to a very stoned Donna, who is clearly enjoying her current unemployment. "What is Joe's Achilles heel?" he asks. "Casualwear," Donna replies. I laughed. He tells her that he plans to use Cameron to force Joe out of Cardiff. He'll turn her in to the government for her role in the hacking scheme, unless Joe leaves.

At the same time, Joe is visiting Cameron, who has already quit her job at the phone company. "I can't do this without you," he tells her. "Oh God, you're pathetic," she tells him. Joe asks her to come back to Cardiff, then to start her own company, then tells her that they should start their own company in California.

"That sounds nice. Build something together, a partnership, make our own future. Yeah, except you're not the future. You're a footnote. For a while you had me fooled. I mean, I thought I heard a heartbeat," Cameron says. "There wasn't a heartbeat. It was an echo. I loved you because you recited my own ideas back to me and pretended they were your own. You want to know the truth? You're still exactly what you were the day your mom let you fall off that roof. Yeah. Just a sad little boy with a lot of wasted potential," she says, closing the door in Joe's face.

Joe arrives at Cardiff the next day and Gordon tells him that the entire software team has left to work for Mutiny, a new company that Cameron has started. She moves quickly.

Cameron visits Donna in an effort to snap her up to be Mutiny's hardware expert. Donna turns down her overture, but it seems like she'll end up there. Back at Cardiff, Gordon calls Joe into his office to spring his trap. Joe relents and agrees to ship the Giant as-is, even before Gordon has to threaten to blackmail him. Joe is a defeated man, it seems.

We then see a launch party at Cardiff, as the first shipment of Giants sits in a truck on the parking lot, waiting to be sent off. Inside, a freshly-shaved Gordon gives Donna the replacement ring that was referenced a couple of episodes ago.

Gordon gathers everyone outside to christen the delivery truck. He toasts Joe and Donna, then smashes a bottle on the truck's bumper. Joe looks pleasant enough, but he seems to be plotting something. After everyone else leaves, Gordon shakes hands with Joe, then takes off, leaving Joe alone with the truck full of computers. I wouldn't have done that.

As Gordon and Donna drive home, they're hit from behind at a red light. When Gordon gets out of the car, he's jumped by two men. One of them takes off in their own vehicle, while the other throws Donna out of the Clark's car and speeds off with it, leaving them stranded.

Joe, meanwhile, has driven the truck out into the middle of nowhere. We see him dousing it in gasoline, then tossing a lighter into it. I knew it was a bad idea to leave him alone with the merchandise. We then see Donna and Gordon arriving home after a trip to the hospital. Their phone rings as soon as they walk in, but we're not privy to who was on the line.

The next scene flashes forward a number of weeks. Things are somewhat normal at the Clark residence, with Gordon packing lunches for the kids while Donna stares off into space, nursing a broken arm.

All is not well with Mrs. Clark, and Gordon knows this. He asks Donna to come to Cardiff, saying that he's stretched thin, running things on his own. So, it appears Joe split. Donna turns him down, ultimately deciding to take Cameron up on her earlier offer.

"A lot of people are going to want us to fail. But that's because we're the future," Cameron tells her team as she welcomes Donna into the fold.

Joe, it seems, is on a trip, somewhere with dirt roads and horse trails. "What do you want to see up there?" a gas station owner asks him, as he goes off with a backpack. Joe doesn't answer.

"So, what's next? What are we going to do next?" Gordon asks Cardiff's employees, as they sit around a conference table.

What's next, indeed? All indications point to this being the series finale for "Halt and Catch Fire," and there was certainly finality here. Joe is wandering, doing Joe things. Cameron and Donna are working on something that will end up being the future in network gaming, but there were no loose ends left there. Gordon is left to ponder what's next, but he's probably made enough money that his future is secure.

There were flashes of brilliance in this 10-episode run, but I'm not sure if the show ever had a good enough idea of what it was and where its strengths were to gain any real traction. It introduced conflict between characters that we didn't know well enough to care about. It touched on some interesting themes, but didn't explore those themes deeply.

Were the 10 hours devoted to this show time well-spent? I don't know. But thanks for reading.

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