I’ve watched a lot of TV shows in my life, but tonight I watched the finale of one of the most incredibly inventive, sincere, and unique TV shows I’ve ever watched. There will never be anything quite like Halt and Catch Fire again, I believe. Tonight’s end was the culmination of four years of something so special that I’m not sure how to put into words how grateful I am to AMC for finishing this series the way it deserved to be finished when by all rights it should have been cancelled long ago. There were weeks that this show got less than 200,000 viewers. For the duration, the ratings were rock bottom. I think there were a few episodes that, at its peak, might have hit 2 million viewers, but for the most part, nobody watched this show. It never got the awards recognition it deserved, it never got the viewers it deserved, and it never got the sheer attention that this incredible show warranted.
And I feel sorry for everybody that missed out.
Tonight’s two-hour finale was pretty much just a ‘everybody says goodbye’ kind of episode, one that let us see where everyone ended up and how their lives are going. But more than that, it was really about new beginnings and everybody continuing on in the same way that though some things must come to an end, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t worth having in the first place. Joanie left to travel the world and find herself with her new beginning. Cameron and Joe, though they really did love each other, just weren’t meant to be, so Joe went back east and found a new start, this time as a humanities teacher. Haley keeps her dad close as she starts over with who she wants to be and who she’s growing into. Cameron planned to leave and travel the country and start over, while Donna finally has reached the point where she realizes she wants to create again. The final visit to the Mutiny building they did together was just something incredible. That whole Phoenix scene was something so beautiful and such a perfect synecdoche of the entire story of their lives. I absolutely loved that the ending is a new beginning for Donna and Cameron. Their friendship/rivalry has been something so beautiful to watch build and change that this seems like the absolute most perfect ending for them, in that it’s not an ending at all.
Halt and Catch Fire involves so much that I want to see on television and rarely do, and all of it was in one package. The only reason I even heard of this show is because my friend was a big Lee Pace fan and talked about it. I didn’t watch it until after season 1 had already aired, and within a single episode, I was hooked. These characters were all so human. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Very few pieces of fiction manage to capture characters who are so real that you can understand them even when you hate what they’re doing. They all had flaws. There were no perfect people, it was always just people. The way they grew and changed over the years was just beautifully written and crafted into something perfectly believable. There’s just something so wonderful about the way we watched a decade of some people’s lives on our screen. That’s really what it feels like.
Artistically, there’s so much to be said about the way this show was crafted all these years. The cinematography is unparalleled, the sound work is impeccable, the costuming is phenomenal, the performances of the actors was always just fantastic, and this was just something so well directed that it never, not once, felt anything less than authentic. But more than that, there’s so much content here that fulfills the wants in representation of women and queer people that’s missing.
The women in this show. Good God, every woman in this entire four season series is a person. That sounds ridiculously obvious to those who don’t recognize the failures of female representation in media, but to have the women matter so much and be flawed and more than just their relationship to a man is something so special. Donna in particular is so amazing because she exemplifies everything a woman can be all in one person: She’s a mother and a wife, but she’s also an intellectual and a creator. She can solder circuits and build a company, she can become a high-powered business leader in the tech industry in the 80s and 90s and still have compassion and humanity. This character not just being what she was but doing it alongside another woman of similar strengths and weaknesses and working together and against each other and just being people is something so revolutionary because you don’t see that on movies and TV. You don’t see women doing their own thing without sacrificing the other parts of their lives. You don’t see women being women, not just a wife or mother or love interest or daughter unless they are not those things at all. To show women who are badass but not cold and distant, nurturing but still leaders, the sum of both mother/lover AND entrepreneur all without sacrificing either thing… it’s just beautiful.
Similarly, this was the first show I ever saw with a bisexual character whose sexuality was never the butt of a joke. They don’t shy away from Joe being bisexual a single time. The whole series long, who he is is never used as a plot device. Shit, he was openly bisexual in the 80s and 90s on this show and yet it never turned to something about AIDs or his sexuality being used against him some way. He’s just a character who happens to be bisexual. We see him with men and women and it’s never a big deal. It’s just him. As a bisexual person, when I first realized what was happening, I couldn’t believe that it was real. I was seeing a bisexual person whose sexuality wasn’t a punchline or tragedy trope. Even though his main love interest for the duration of the series is a woman, they don’t magically turn him straight, he has male lovers and boyfriends in the background and it’s never shied away from. And then to have the reveal at the end that Hailey, one of the children we’ve watched grow up, be a lesbian and have it, once again, not be a big deal, it was just great. Hers was a bit more of a plot point, because she was struggling and the ‘why’ turned out to be that she’s met a girl she likes, but at no point did anybody confront her over it. Even Joe, he just recognized it in her and didn’t treat her differently. There’s just something so different about how this show dealt with sexuality that, much like the women, it feels different and special and I’m so thankful I got to see this.
On episode one, we saw Joe MacMillan roll into town and change the lives of a whole group of people forever, and much like he said both to Gordon and to Cameron, he was ‘the thing that gets you to the other thing’. He got them to where they are. He altered the courses of their lives forever. I think it’s safe to say that after four seasons, Halt and Catch Fire was the thing that got us all to the other thing, and that is the experience of a rock solid TV show that will forever alter each and every viewer’s expectations for television in the future.
I will miss this show more than I probably have ever missed any show, and that’s saying a lot. I genuinely am grateful to AMC for giving us something this wonderful. I hope that you all have enjoyed this journey that we’ve shared together, and as always, and for the last time, I welcome you to comment or tweet me and keep the conversation about this groundbreaking TV series going.
Thank you, all of you, for reading along with me for the past two seasons in which I’ve been doing these review posts. I’m very grateful for your interactions.