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“1984” capped off what was an odd and disappointing debut season for AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire. And while the job of a season finale is to begin preliminary set up for the next season while also wrapping up the main plots of the first season, “1984” calls into question the entire existence of this debut season. Has the audience just witnessed a comic-esque origin story of sorts? And, perhaps most intriguing, would it be better if Halt and Catch Fire never returned with the only season standing alone as a miniseries?
In “1984” the Giant is ready to be mass manufactured and shipped but Joe gets cold feet because he doesn’t feel his machine is innovative enough. He initially sabotages one of the machines in hopes of buying Cardiff some time to, at the very least, make a great program that can be shipped with the Giant. Once Joe sees that the software development team has lost all inventiveness with Cameron’s departure, however, Joe accepts his defeat and tells Gordon to go ahead and ship them all.
It wouldn’t be an episode of Halt and Catch Fire without needless melodrama and Gordon’s plans to stop Joe were certainly that. In the span of about two episodes Gordon has gone from bumbling idiot to hard luck genius, which is what he was always meant to be. Unfortunately his transformation does not make him any more likeable or sympathetic a character.
After Donna quits her job and starts smoking weed all day, Gordon realizes he must do something to Joe so that he can ship the Giant. He decides that he is going to tell Joe he has turned Cameron into the feds for her role in stealing company funds unless Joe quits his job – despite the two working together earlier in the episode to force Cardiff to give the two a 4% share of the company. This seems like an incredibly extreme measure, even for Gordon, but then again he did break a store window to get Cabbage Patch Kids. Luckily Joe comes clean so Gordon doesn’t have to do anything.
Donna’s motives behind quitting her job at Texas Instruments aren’t exactly clear. Whether she is quitting because Gordon is now making the big bucks – as evidenced by him leasing a sports car – or because of her former boss quitting is unclear. It certainly did not seem as though the company new that she made at pass at her former boss so that can’t be the reason why she quit. In any case she mopes around the house all day before being offered a job by Cameron at Cameron’s new startup, Mutiny. At first Donna rejects the offer but by the end of the episode takes the job because she is tired of being bored, I guess.
Cameron’s startup is focused on online gaming. She first gets a job at a phone company to see what their infrastructure is like and if they are, in fact, preparing their phone lines for modem capabilities. After she quits that job and rebukes Joe’s apology and offer to start up their own company she quickly hires the entire Cardiff software department, despite not being able to pay them anything. Cameron has always been more interested in the user experience of personal computing so this actually makes sense for the character.
And all that leaves us with the most ridiculous moments of the series so far. After a clean-shaven Gordon schmoozes at the first shipment party at Cardiff, he and Donna leave the party in his nice new sports car and leave a clearly displeased Joe with the shipping truck full of Giants. Gordon gets rear-ended and as he goes to inspect the damage he gets car jacked and Donna is thrown from the car. Meanwhile, Joe has stolen the shipping truck and parks it in the boondocks before burning the entire thing. After these two incidents we jump forward in time and see that Joe has disappeared from Cardiff and that, apparently, there were no repercussions for his actions.
While Joe’s actions make some sense, based on his desire to be more innovative and him compromising his dreams, what is the point of Gordon getting carjacked? Is it to show us that the universe does not want Gordon to ever be happy? Is it so he can give Donna a lukewarm pump-up speech about finding a job? It doesn’t make any sense.
In any case, by the end of the episode Gordon is now alone at the top of Cardiff and is worried about what the company is going to do next. Joe is trying to find an observatory in the Texas hill country and Cameron seems happy with Mutiny and Donna coming to work for her. The three of them are now split up.
And their fracture begs the question of what the purpose of Halt and Catch Fire’s first season really is all about. The show has done its best to make nearly every character unlikeable, which means that seeing what happens in the future to these characters isn’t exactly a desired thing. And while they did invent a laptop, as stated before, it was not nearly as innovative as they had hoped so it isn’t as though the Giant will be remembered. So what was the whole point of bringing these three main characters together?
Their recent schism also makes you wonder if Halt and Catch Fire wouldn’t be better off as a one season miniseries. Its constant melodrama would be tolerable and its unlikeable characters would be acceptable if it were just a one-season miniseries. Halt and Catch Fire would then become an interesting glimpse into the world of computer development in the wild west that was the 1980s in computer production. It would throw the focus of the show much less on the characters and their incongruences and more so on the world in which they are a part. And with AMC not yet announcing whether Halt and Catch Fire will be coming back for a second season, it seems like a distinct possibility that the show could end after one season anyway.