Saturday, September 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - Gordon and Joe Come Up with a New Strategy for Comet in 'Who Needs a Guy'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 4.07 "Who Needs a Guy"

Joe and Gordon discuss Comet's future. Donna takes a vacation. A new collaborator challenges Cameron. Bos and Diane make a life-altering choice.

No one in the audience should be particularly surprised by the tragic twist that happens at the end of "Who Needs a Guy." Gordon has been walking around with a death sentence since the second season. Earlier this year, it was mentioned that he doesn't talk about his disease much anymore. And later on, he actually burnt his journals that were detailing his problems. And yet, Gordon's death is such a well executed twist here. It comes at a time when he is incredibly happy. Along with Joe, he's created a successful business. They have come up with a way to pivot Comet so that it's still an essential service for people on the internet even if it's not the fastest search engine. He's been the rock for Donna as she has spiraled out of control. He's very happy with his new relationship. Katie has been the first person he's seriously dated since his divorce. Things are a little tense between him and Haley because he fired her so she could focus on schoolwork. But she also knows that he genuinely cares about her and wants her back at the company. That's what adds to the tragedy of the situation. Everything is going well for Gordon and that's when it's completely unexpected for him to die. Again, it's not all that surprising. This is the final season after all. This twist will serve as a pretty engaging hook for the remainder of the season. The show started with three strangers coming together to start a company. The series has followed their paths as they hated each, competed against each other and worked together. And now, that story has come to an end. Death has taken one of them. They'll need to find a new way forward while dealing with this tremendous loss. It's going to hit all of them just as much as it hits the audience in this episode.

The show does signal that something tragic is about to happen with Gordon. It was all setup in that earlier episode with him burning his journals. But it's never clear that this is going to be the episode he dies in until he has that fantasy of his life with Donna and raising their girls when they were little. Before then, it was just an average day on the job for him, Joe and Katie. He's worried about what Haley has done with her hair and if her grades have improved enough for her to return to Comet. He has a meaningful conversation with Donna regarding Haley and how he could potentially re-design Comet to ensure its success in the future. It's an honest conversation where the two of them are allowed to be caring and compassionate about one another. At work, he gets to solve a big problem as well. It's the incredibly simple thing of fixing the air conditioning. It proves that even in the end he was always the engineer. He succeeded when he had his hands on some hardware. Sure, he made the problem worse at first. He cut off the entire power while trying to fix it. All of the other employees had to go home. But he was still successful in the end. His time management skills were accurate despite Joe's concerns. And more importantly, he and Joe have that conversation about how to keep Comet relevant. They figure out a way to remain a search engine where people actually want to spend a significant amount of time on because of the original content they create. It seems like a simple solution. But it's one that will be life-changing to this business. It'll create a destination instead of just a service. That's meaningful.

And then, Gordon is getting ready for his date with Katie and Donna walks through the doorway. He's not expecting her. He's just expecting a quiet night at home with his girlfriend. But it's clear immediately that something isn't right. Donna isn't responding to his questions of concern at all. He has no idea why she's here or what's going on. It comes immediately after Donna's own encounter with Joe. It could be reasonable that she runs to Gordon after all of that happened. But instead, it's completely a fantasy. She is still able to give the news to Joe before he drives away from the house. That's the timeline for all of this. Joe and Donna are having their conversation while Gordon is hallucinating his final moments with Donna before his death. It's tragic. Even though he's been happy away from her, she has still been a constant part of her life. They don't love each other in that way anymore. Their marriage was always one of friction and selfishly putting one's needs above their partner's. And yet, this sequence proves that he was at his happiest when he was with Donna when their children were still young. It's a sequence that turns back time. He's remembering the moments of pure joy and happiness that he experienced with them. Again, things are perfectly content right now as well. This fantasy could just be his disease crushing his mind before swiftly killing him. But to the audience, it's displayed as a true desire of his mind. This is the reality he loves and cherishes. This is the reality he wants to see before his death. He doesn't know that that's what's happening. Nor does the audience see what Katie finds when she walks through the front door. It's just important that these are his final moments and everyone else has a stunned reaction to them. They are absolutely devastating.

It all comes as "Who Needs a Guy" gets off to a rather joyous start as well. Bos and Diane are finally getting married. It's just a simple courthouse ceremony. Diane invites her daughter and Bos invites Cameron. That's the extent of the ceremony. Cameron didn't even know it was happening until she arrived. It's a happy occasion. Things are still rough between Bos and Diane. They are mostly saying they did this because it would be better for tax reasons or if another medical emergency came up. The love is there. It's just not as strong as it used to be because of some secrets that have been exposed lately. It's still a cause worth celebrating though. Bos and Diane want this opportunity to embrace the love and joy they feel. Diane is ready to step down as managing partner and hand the reins off to Donna if she still wants it. This is a crucial time for Donna as well. She just wants some time to relax and find herself again. She's been so cruel and icy this season. She's been spiraling out and it has had a dangerous effect on her life. Now, she's trying to be better. But she's not taking her alcohol addiction all that seriously. She's just choosing to cut back. Everyone is worried about her. Gordon knows the extent of her troubles while Joe and Cameron can only see that she wasn't doing well. But everything is still business as usual. Donna and Diane have this chat and then Joe comes over to discuss things with Donna.

That sequence between Joe and Donna is so well executed as well. They are two characters who haven't had many one-on-one interactions. They have been present in each other's lives for a long time. But their connection with Gordon runs deeper than the one they have with each other. This season has also positioned them as competition. Donna wouldn't say that she got the idea for Rover because of what she heard Gordon talking about with Comet. But that's basically what happened. It's been a war between the two companies regarding who was more successful. They've gone back-and-forth. And now, Rover has pulled ahead just as Donna has been removed from the project. Joe doesn't know that. He just sees Donna as a sneaky, manipulative person who is trying to crush his company. He and Gordon have a brilliant idea based on something that Donna said. He needs to know if her motives were pure or devious. He doesn't want to believe she could genuinely do something good for their company. He confronts her. It's this big and explosive thing that really doesn't do anything to change their dynamic. And then, Donna slams the door on Joe's hand. That forces them to cool down and have an open and honest conversation with each other. Their words aren't being used as weapons to hurt each other. They can convey their sympathies and desires to one another. Donna wouldn't want to do anything to harm Comet because of her family's connection to it. It doesn't matter if Haley is working there or not. She's not trying to destroy it. Joe understands and accepts that. He leaves feeling better about everything. And then, Donna comes out of the house with the news that Gordon has died. That's the true crushing blow to the company. He decided to spend this night having a simple date with Katie instead of working on how to flesh out the idea to re-launch. And now, he'll never be able to have that conversation with Joe. Now, Joe will just be staring at the board wondering about all the possibilities that could have been realized with Gordon by his side that will never come true. The company is his now. But that's such a devastating blow that could really destroy him moving forward. He got close and loved Gordon. And now, it has ended in unexpected tragedy.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Who Needs a Guy" was written by Lisa Albert and directed by Tricia Brock.
  • This season has brought Joe and Cameron together once more. But now, it's speculating as to whether they have the same ideas about the future. She's focusing on her new game while he is imagining the house they could build on her land. They seem distant and apart. And yet, Cameron later proves that she was listening to him and has thought about building a house out there as well.
  • Alexa believes that Cameron is thinking too small with her ideas as well. That's something that Cameron hasn't heard in a long time and will present as a new challenge for her to deal with. Alexa is also wise and forward-thinking in knowing that the code that can be used to create these games will soon branch out into other endeavors that could dramatically change the human life.
  • Joe and Gordon have a very significant and moving conversation about Haley and her sexuality as well. They never talk about it in those words. Gordon just understands what Joe meant last week and how he may not know his daughter as well as he thought he did. And Joe has the great advice of making sure that Haley doesn't feel alone in her life right now. It's then tragic that Gordon can't actually do that.
  • Donna was taking a stay-at-home vacation. She needed the break from work in order to figure things out once more. But she was still very busy dealing with Gordon and her family. She's still presented with the offer to be managing partner. But again, Gordon's shocking death has the potential to change all of those plans. Will it be something she'll continue to want?
  • Scoot McNairy was so great on this show. The entire cast has been terrific for four seasons now. But considering this was Gordon's sendoff, it's appropriate to talk about McNairy here. This disease the character was diagnosed with could present itself in weird ways. It was never abundantly clear how much time he had left. But McNairy made sure to make it seem like Gordon was going to survive no matter what because the character kept on living for a long time and experiencing new things.