Tonight, Halt and Catch Fire said goodbye to one of our beloved characters: Former frustrated genius Gordon Clark passed away. We should’ve seen this coming, given the decision he made to stop keeping track of his illness and his general contentment with his life at the moment, but it was still surprising. This season, Halt and Catch Fire has had a bit of trouble concealing its plot mechanics, but I actually didn’t see this one coming.
When the episode opens, Gordon receives quite the surprise: Haley has cut her hair, which gives Joanie so much joy and makes Gordon reflect on what he found out about his daughter in the last episode. Gordon offers to let Haley come back to the company if her grades improve, but she says she doesn’t want to come back, so that’s that.
Donna, who is planning on taking some time off after everything that went down last week, pays Gordon a visit to chat about Haley. While Gordon is concerned about everything that Haley is going through, Donna just thinks she’s being melodramatic. In fact, Donna has something else on her mind: Since she’s been taken off Rover, she reveals to Gordon that Rover is blowing Comet’s traffic numbers out of the water. However, she suspects that Rover’s speed might be its downfall because it’s not sticky; people aren’t coming back to it, which is an important aspect. Imagine how much we use Google now. It’s where we go for news, our email, even Word documents at this point.
This new piece of information gives Gordon a killer idea: Comet needs to stop worrying about being the fastest and instead focus on being the site that people come back to. Joe resists changing the company’s mission because Gordon got this information from Donna and Joe doesn’t trust her. So as Gordon tries to fix Comet’s electricity and A.C., the two of them debate this issue back and forth, and Gordon avoids revealing the reason Donna gave them this piece of information.
At one point, Gordon brings up how Haley cut her hair and apologizes for the way he lashed out at Joe in the previous episode. Joe repeats what he said last week: Gordon should invite Haley back because he’s worried about her feeling like even more an outsider at this time in her life. Gordon agrees, and Joe hops on the phone with Haley, who agrees to come back. One of my favorite parts of this season has been the development of Joe and Haley’s friendship. It’s one of the sweetest and most poignant parts of the show.
After hours of working on the electricity, Gordon finally fixes it, and he and Gordon finally figure out what to do with Comet. Essentially, they want to make it a homepage, with sections on entertainment, news, stocks, etc. Joe, who clearly feels kind of alone since Cameron has quarantined herself out in the Airstream to work on her new gaming project, wants to start working on the relaunch immediately, but Gordon has plans with Katie and leaves Joe on his own.
Left to his own devices, Joe decides to go seek out some answers, so he pays a visit to Donna — who was busy beating Cameron’s game and drinking — to find out just why she decided to share that information with Gordon. The two of them get into it on Donna’s front lawn and bring up each other’s past sins. Joe doesn’t trust Donna because she tried to get him to thrown off the browser project, and Donna resents Joe because she’s alone and he has everyone: Gordon, Cameron, Haley, and to some extent Joanie. Donna’s sense of loneliness has been apparent since the season began, and thanks to Kerry Bishé’s performance, it’s powerful to hear her express it. Donna tries to slam the door in Joe’s face but ends up slamming it on his hands.
Cut to: Joe icing his hand in Donna’s kitchen. This moment has brought them together. Joe knows how it feels for people to suspect the worst of you, to question your integrity, and he apologizes to Donna for doing that to her. Their conversation is yet another touching moment, this time between two characters who have spent much of their time on this show at odds, and it couldn’t have happened until they finally came face to face. Again, the show is highlighting how important that human, personal touch is.
Meanwhile, Gordon is back home waiting for Katie to arrive. He starts having visions of Donna and their daughters around his home; it’s like he’s seeing what their life would’ve been without him, or maybe his life is flashing before his eyes and he’s remembering the most important parts of it — not the Symphonic or Comet, but the people who meant the most to him. It’s not entirely clear he’s dying in the moment, but you get the feeling that’s the case.
And it’s confirmed when Donna calls to tell Gordon about her night with Joe, only to find an upset Katie, who just discovered Gordon dead. As was the case with Ryan’s death last year, we don’t actually see the moment Gordon dies, which makes it all the more emotional. Halt and Catch Fire is more interested in how Gordon’s death affects the people around him than it is in the actual event itself, which has been the case for most plot developments on this series.
Over the course of the show’s run, Gordon has become the one who keeps this crew together. What will happen without him? Will Donna and Cameron ever find a way to make it back together, or will they drift apart? Joe has been his best with Gordon at his side. Will he able to continue to relaunch Comet without him?
Everything else that happened in the episode:
- Donna and Diane make up, and Diane reveals she’s stepping down as managing partner. In the time since the last episode, she has changed her mind and wants to recommend Donna for the job, which is an interesting if not completely earned development.
- Cameron is hard at work on her new video game world, creating bots with distinctive personalities whose choices change depending on circumstances. She thinks it’s the best thing, but her patron, Alexa Vonn, is less than impressed by it all and thinks Cameron isn’t thinking big enough. Nevertheless, Alexa is willing to give Cameron some creative space — Cameron is the visionary, and Alexa is just there to make sure she has everything she needs.
- Meanwhile, the seams of Joe and Cameron’s relationship continue to show. Joe travels out to the Airstream to spend time with her, but she’s too busy working. He wants to go on a hike and imagine what kind of house they’ll build on the land, but Cameron is totally consumed by her work, driving home that they may want different things.