Saturday, October 7, 2017

REVIEW: 'Halt and Catch Fire' - A Tragedy Forces Everyone to Connect Once More in 'Goodwill'

AMC's Halt and Catch Fire - Episode 4.08 "Goodwill"

Cameron helps Donna pack up. Bos makes his famous chili. Joe helps Haley recover a memorable keepsake. Gordon and Donna fight.

Gordon's death was so absolutely heart-wrenching at the end of last week's episode. It was a devastating and personal blow for this final season. It was such a well-executed sequence. There was all the foreshadowing that it was going to happen. And yet, there was still the surprise of the actual moment and the devastation that it leaves in its wake. It's an action that destroys everyone on the show. They all had a solid relationship with him. This was such a good season for Gordon. He was finally happy with where he was in his life. He was actually proud to be working at Comet. He wasn't miserable there like he was at Cardiff and Mutiny. It was his company that he was happy to run alongside Joe. He was passionate about what the company could become in the future. And now, there is so much uncertainty over whether the company will actually have a future without him. That's devastating. Joe seems lost without him and unsure if he is capable of running it without Gordon at his side. Gordon had solid relationships with everyone in his family as well. He was a rock for Donna as she was spiraling out of control as she pushed everyone else away. He learned that Haley was probably gay and wanted to take the appropriate actions to make her know that that was perfectly okay with him. And yet, he died before being able to tell her that. Now, Haley continues to feel like she is suppose to be the perfect child of Donna and Gordon but can't because of this crucial difference that seems very alienating. It was such a horrible time for Gordon to die. That's why it is so heart-wrenching on the characters and the audience. The emotions and the tears start flowing in the first minute of "Goodwill" and they don't let up until the very end.

It's fascinating to see this episode open and start with a glimpse into a part of Gordon and Donna's past that has never been seen before. It confirms that the audience has only been privy to one decade of these characters' lives. They've grown and changed a lot over that time. But there's still parts of their lives that the audience still doesn't fully understand. We know that Gordon and Donna are going to take her parents up on their offer to buy them a house in Dallas. We know that both of them are going to return to work and not find any success or happiness in working on a project together. Gordon is going to get diagnosed with his disease. They are going to slowly fall apart but stay together because neither of them wants to actually address their problems. They would only be able to come together once more in divorce. Only then would they appreciate one another. All of that is known by the audience. These sequences that start and close the episode show them at a time when they are incredibly hopeful about the future. They are young parents who are still chasing their own dreams and haven't been crushed by the reality of their lives. It's so absolutely destructive to see the pain that comes as soon as they start fighting. It's a rational and sensible fight for the two of them to have. Their lives have become dictated by these major events that can force them to feel like they no longer have any control. Donna is defined solely by her newborn baby while Gordon is now a family man who doesn't know what he's doing. The show depicting this time in their lives right now shows how silly it is while also showing the beauty and understanding that comes from knowing that Gordon lived a very full life.

Plus, the final glimpses of Gordon are pretty powerful as well. Again, the audience knows that he is going to return to his family and make this decision that will lead him to Texas and his place at the start of the series. But seeing how he gets to that moment is very freeing. It's just a very brief moment at the end of the episode. It comes as the rest of the characters are finding clarity and understanding following his death. This is a very mournful and sorrow episode of the show. It has to be in order to properly handle this monumental death. But it's also so invigorating to see Gordon pull up to that cliff, remove his clothes and jump off into the lake below. It's a freeing experience. It's him making an active decision in his life. He was complaining that he had no choices. This was something he needed to do in order to return to his family and be happy with them once more. He didn't want to feel this way. He didn't want to lose control of his own life. This is a powerful reminder that it was such a great and unexpected life. He couldn't imagine the future that would come for him. He knew he and Donna would be successful in this industry somehow. He just couldn't foresee how and what their relationship would become. He truly believed he could uphold that promise to never leave her again. It's youthful optimism in that moment. But it's part of the tragedy for the audience because we have the understanding that it is so much more than that. Their lives were complicated. They were forever tangled together. His death was just as unexpected as his life.

But the heart of this episode is everyone else trying to figure out how they can move on following the loss of their family member and friend. These characters have been torn apart so many different ways across the run of the show. They've always had divisions amongst themselves. They were never happy together. And now, Gordon's death has brought them together in a very moving and emotional way. They are all going through this pain together. They all loved Gordon in their own specific way. It's different for all of them. But they are all affected by this loss. None of them know the proper way to react to all of it. None of them know how to keep on moving forward with their lives. If they think too much about themselves and their futures, then they worry that they are being selfish and betraying what Gordon would have wanted from them. It's a complex time for all of them. They are just going through the motions of grief in the early going. All they can do is say how beautiful the service was and ask each other how they are doing. There are still the divides between them as well. It keeps them from being all that truthful. None of them can properly express how they are feeling. They don't want to dig deep into those complex emotions. They need to. They need each other. But they are still struggling to find the way to connect given everything that has happened across the last decade.

Joe has always worried that he was one tragic step away from returning to his life as a selfish and destructive person. He was a bully and temperamental when he first met Gordon, Cameron, Bos and Donna. He was very demanding and didn't care what anyone else thought. He has grown into a genuine and full human being because he had Gordon and Cameron in his life. He came to appreciate that this season. He and Cameron seem like they've figured things out and can be a good couple again. He and Gordon believed they could finally succeed as business partners. And yet, the situation hasn't rewarded this growth. Gordon is still dead and Joe is at a loss for how to move forward without him. He had purpose in his life because of Comet. The company revealed a new chapter for him. Joe never thought about having kids before this season. But now, he has formed a genuine connection with Haley. He understands her in a genuine way and cares about what happens to her. He will continue to be a part of her life even though Gordon is now gone. He wants to continue being there for her. But he feels like he has failed when he has given away the sweater she wanted and can't get it back. He puts in the effort to give her a memorable day but he still doesn't feel it's enough. He feels empty inside right now. He's in pain because he had this great love and respect for Gordon. And now, he has no idea how he can feel as fulfilled as he was when he was working at Comet with him. Does the company still have a future? Or will it fold because Joe doesn't want it to continue as a way to honor Gordon?

Meanwhile, Joe and Cameron's future as a couple has been falling apart across this season. It's not for the same reason as all of the previous times they've gotten together and broken up. In the past, their breakups were these destructive actions of betrayal. They did something for the betterment of themselves that they knew would hurt the other. It's been a very hot and cold relationship. And now, they believed it would be better because of the maturity they've picked up over the years. But that has only introduced a new hurdle that seems impossible for them to overcome. Cameron has been adrift this season. She's struggled to find a place to land and a future that she can get passionate about. She possibly has that in her dynamic with Alexa who is pushing her for greatness. But it could come at the expense of her relationship with Joe. She sees the writing on the wall. She knows that his connection with Haley and Joni is leading him to want kids. He knows that she doesn't want that. She tried to make a family work with Tom and it was so disastrous. That was a huge and destructive breakup as well. And yet, Joe is still forming these feelings of wanting children. Cameron isn't changing in that regard though. She has never wanted kids and feels so bad that she can't provide that for Joe. She knows that this will be the end of their relationship for good. Gordon's death has just brought these issues to the forefront again. They just don't know how to actually talk with one another anymore.

All of this is bringing Cameron and Donna back together though. Their relationship was one of the best qualities of the show for a long time. It gave the series an emotional and genuine hook to it that was compelling to watch. Their destruction was such a brutal moment last season. And now, it has taken an even bigger tragedy to occur for the two of them to even get in the same room and not be angry towards one another. It's a grudge that they've carried on for too long. They blamed each other for what ultimately happened at Mutiny. And now, Gordon's death has made them realize just how silly all of that was because time is so precious. They both had all of these wonderful years with Gordon. But it ultimately wasn't enough. They knew about his condition but it was always in the back of their minds that it would kill him sooner rather than later. They saw him as the friend they could rely upon. He was there for them when they really needed it this season. And now, that bond is gone. They've lost a friend. Cameron and Donna are kindred spirits in that they recognize just how massive that loss really is. They don't have many people in their lives that they actually care about. Most of them are just in this house right now. They need each other right now. They are able to bare their souls a little bit throughout this episode. They have the fear that they are about to experience even more loss by having these connections slowly slip away as well. That's why it's empowering to hear that they are supportive of each other and what they are feeling. It's important that Donna and Cameron bond over Pilgrim and have that conversation about kids. Their lives have turned out incredibly different than they imagined. And yet, that's still okay. They are still here for each other as long as they need it. They can be selfish. They can be in mourning. They can connect. They just need to remain present and caring. That's what they seem to do by the end of this day.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Goodwill" was written by Zack Whedon and directed by Christopher Cantwell.
  • Katie spent the least amount of time with Gordon than everyone else affected by his death. And yet, her reaction and grief is just as valid as theirs. Most of her relationship with Gordon happened offscreen. However, she was profoundly touched by his life. She thought she finally found a place to land and build her life. She was happy with him and at Comet. His death hits her hard and she just needs to move on. It's tragic because this family would be here for her but she leaves nevertheless.
  • Right now, Joni is being a jerk. She's lashing out at the world because that's her way of dealing with this tragedy. And yet, she was a jerk before Gordon died. She made the decision not to apply for college before all of this happened. It's just now becoming a huge fight. She spends the day in her room isolated from everyone else and not really packing. But it's so special to see Haley come in and the two of them being so close and necessary for each other.
  • It takes awhile for Bos to actually show up. That's a little surprising. And yet, he has a very important role to fill as well. He brings the food to ensure that everyone is still taking care of themselves. Chili may seem like an odd choice for this moment. But everyone is able to come around the table and enjoy it as well. It's a heartwarming moment for all of them.
  • Cameron's big speech about never feeling the need to have kids is so important and timely right now. That's still a type of character not frequently seen in the media. Donna's reaction to it is so perfect and empowering as well. She's not judging her for these feelings. She knows how difficult it can be even when you really want it. She respects Cameron's feelings and makes sure that she's content with them as well despite what it means for her relationship with Joe.
  • I honestly have no idea what's going to happen in the final two episodes of the series. This moment right now feels like it could be a satisfying conclusion. Sure, it leaves a couple of things up in the air regarding the future of their respective companies and relationships. And yet, the personal connections have always been more important. This moment of comfort is so strong that I'm intrigued to see what the actual ending will be.