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The Dream Of The '90s Is Alive On Halt And Catch Fire

Halt And Catch Fire ends its third season -- but, inexplicably, not its series run -- with the true centerpiece of the show left on the outside looking in.

Your Mutiny chums -- having already blazed a trail on personal computers, online gaming, and e-commerce -- end Season 3 of Halt And Catch Fire by taking Tim Berners-Lee's baby and running with it, doing the early work on what is to become the same World Wide Web that will one day let you enjoy same-day criticism of your favorite TV shows.

The noteworthy thing about the two-episode dénouement, however, is not the whatsit everyone's now working on or even the fact that we've jumped ahead four years to 1990, but rather that we got the band back together, man. Or at least, the members of the band that everyone can tolerate. Because while Season 3 ends with Cameron, Joe, and Gordon crowded around a computer, dreaming of building The Next Big Thing, two of our other players have been sent packing. Tom's gone, because he just doesn't share in the vision (and he probably realizes that his wife is still mad into Joe). And Donna's frozen out because Cameron still hasn't quite gotten over Mutiny being yanked out of her grasp. It's a curious note to end the season on, because Donna has become the show's most interesting character -- the one I find myself most invested in.

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That wasn't the game plan when this show started three years ago. Back then, Halt And Catch Fire was very much cut from the Mad Men cloth in that it was a period piece about a damaged genius trying to reinvent himself when he wasn't being his own worst enemy. The only trouble was that show kind of sucked: I binge-watched the first season of Halt And Catch Fire when I pulled the assignment to recap Season 2, and I'm not too proud to admit that after slogging through five episodes, I made liberal use of the fast-forward button and online plot synopses to get up to speed. The second season, which shifted the focus to Donna and Cameron and their efforts to build a company, was incalculably better, and this new season, despite introducing a poorly conceived new character, continued that upward trajectory.

A lot of the credit goes to the Donna character and how Kerry Bishé portrays her. This season, we saw Donna come more into her own as a business woman, even as she got overly ambitious and paid the price for it as the season drew to a close. The writing for other characters on this show tends to be erratic -- Joe is just a series of Tortured Genius tropes at this point, Cameron doesn't come across as nearly so brilliant as the writers seems to think she is, and Gordon is always just a hardship away from turning into a Perils Of Pauline-esque protagonist. But the writing for Donna continues to be on point.

AMC just renewed Halt And Catch Fire for one last season -- yeah, I'm as shocked as you -- so the good news is, we're unlikely to end with things as they are as Season 3 draws to a close. That means Donna finding her way back into the fold. And that increases the odds of Halt And Catch Fire going out on a high note.

Halt And Catch Fire-ish Element Present?
Business Crisis of the Week Seasons come, and seasons go, but we will always have our weekly business crisis. And if that fails, we can always have Joe fall through the floor of the dilapidated Mutiny office.
Cameron Howe: Punk Rock Girl Well, not with that hair she's not.

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Did this show suddenly turn into a Big Love reboot and no one told me?

Seriously, though: we're treated to a lot of talk about how kick-ass and awesome Cameron is, and that part in Season 2 where she brings WestNet down with a computer virus aside, the biggest evidence we have of this is people repeating how kick-ass and awesome Cameron is. I have many hopes for this show's final season, but the biggest one is that we finally settle on a direction for Cameron to go in, because she's been all over the yard this year.

Donna Clark: One Tough Mother You want to know how good Kerry Bishé is in this part? Watch the scene right after Donna gets the cold shoulder from Cameron and runs to her car in tears. We get a few heavy sobs before Donna spots herself in the rear view mirror and composes herself before calling her office to arrange a business flight. It's a scene a lot of actors might have overplayed, but Bishé really hits all the right marks. (And it shows how the Donna character is evolving, too -- hardening her own persona.)
Sisters Are Doin' It For Themselves They most certainly are not, not anymore.
Gordon Clark: Gloomy Sadsack Shockingly, the season ends with Gordon seemingly on the winning side of history for once, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Yes, I think a few too many hardships get thrown his way between the adultery, chronic disease and myriad business setbacks. But one thing that has always struck me about the character is the poignancy of his being one of the great Nearly Men of the tech world, the fellow who was bright enough to see an idea's potential, but without the right mixture of talent, luck, and tenacity to pull it off. To end this season with Gordon's ship possibly coming in at long last is as shocking as watching Charlie Brown finally make contact with that football.

I am sure I will feel differently next season when Gordon is invariably kidnapped by Somali pirates.

Joe MacMillan: Super Genius You know what? This season worked best for me when Joe was on the sidelines. I never warmed to the whole MacMillan Utility story arc, and the parts of this season involving him that did work best featured him playing a supporting role to others. I hope that continues in Season 4, but with the possibility of a rekindled love story with Cameron being trotted out in the show's closing moments, I have my fears.
The Crumbling Clark Marriage Gordon and Donna are finally divorced! WE DID IT, AMERICA!

Admit it: In Episode 9, when Boz calls her "Donna Emerson," you secretly hoped that Gordon had finally croaked and that a grieving Donna had been swept off her feat by prog-rock keyboardist Keith Emerson, didn't you? You didn't? Just me? Well, that's disappointing.

Tip of the cap to Gordon, though, for emphasizing in his video dating service how much he enjoys camping. That's a nice callback to the Great Camping Contretemps of Episode 5.

The Wit And Wisdom of John Bosworth Two John Bosworth scenes spread across two episodes is not nearly enough for my taste, thank you very much. I mean I'm glad that Boz and Diane are a thing and that he seems satisfied in his retirement -- and on his boat, SVP Of Sails -- but I expect Boz to be very much a part of the fourth season of this show, or we shall have words, Halt And Catch Fire -- stern, hateful words.
Meet The New Guy So not to relitigate stuff from prior episodes, but I never really warmed to the Ryan character. Part of that comes down to the writing -- we never really got past the "messiah-seeking ball of nerves" template -- and Manish Dayal didn't do the part any favors by really going to the tightly wound well a little too often. As a result, Ryan's suicide in Episode 8 wasn't quite the gut punch I think it could have been, at least not for me. I think this character was probably Season 3's biggest misstep: not enough effort was put into making Ryan the sort of character whose death packed any sort of emotional weight.
Period Piece Accuracy I was unaware that video dating services were still something we as nation were using in 1990, but then, as an awkward teenager I was perfectly capable of not getting dates without involving VHS tapes, thank you very much. One thing we as a nation were united on, however, was our hatred of Slater on Saved By the Bell, so kudos to Halt And Catch Fire for getting that detail right.
4 / 10
Final Score
40%
Halt And Catch Fire
60%
60% the setup of one last season that had better feature John Bosworth, goddamit
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