Armonk Forever: Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 9/10 (AMC)
Halt and Catch Fire: Season 4 Episode 9/10 “Search; Ten Of Swords”
How exactly do you say goodbye to a series that has truly become a part of your life (and yes, I get how strange it is to say that)?
All I can think of is tipping my cap to Christopher Cantwell and Christopher Rogers for four amazing seasons and wish them well in whatever their next project is. Thank you for the gift of this beautiful, thoughtful, and powerful series and for the wonderful cast and to the entire team that it put it together.
Thanks to AMC for letting us enjoy all four seasons.
A great many people were deeply moved by what you have accomplished.
As usual, if you haven’t seen Halt and Catch Fire Season 4 Episode 5 *Spoiler Alert*
Readings By Denise: Say Nothing, She Says All
<the commercial was a spectacular way to work Gordon’s voice directly back into the finale. Kudos>
Frankly, I was not expecting a cameo from Carol Kane in the finale (well, I was not really expecting a cameo from anyone) but for some reason, she really seemed like the perfect person at the perfect time to provide a helping ‘hand’ to Joe.
Throughout the fourth season of Halt and Catch Fire, Joe ran into subtle reminder after subtle reminder of his deep desire to be the Father/Mentor he had always hoped that if he just tried hard enough his father would become.
Time after time, whenever he reached a new height or climbed another unreachable mountain he felt that his worst fears were realized, no matter how good he was at things, he was still basically the same kid whose dad never really loved him.
Accomplishments didn’t alleviate his deeply felt belief that he was, at his core, unlovable.
World-renowned psychologist James Gilligan put the ongoing question Joe faced like this (and yes, neglect is a form of abuse)::
“Why is child abuse humiliation and shame-inducing to the child? Because it is the clearest possible way of communicating to the child that the parent does not love him (or her).”
Joe was constantly inventing the future as his part in a cycle of his own abuse.
He would discover something nobody else saw, create something nobody else could create, and when no love came from the person he most wanted love from...he would just self-destruct and start the cycle again.
Gordon was what broke Joe’s cycle of self-abuse.
Gordon Clark was the first person who valued and loved him unconditionally, and not just when he did or discovered amazing things.
Gordon loved him in spite of all the self-destructive things that he had done (often at huge cost to Gordon himself).
When Joe needed to hole himself up in a basement and bury himself in post-it-note mazes, Gordon understood and supported him.
What Joe learned from the process of Gordon’s love was to question the inevitability of his own shamefulness.
Gordon taught Joe that he was not doomed to be the disappointment that his father saw or doomed to become his father.
Haley Clark taught Joe that he could be a mentor in the best possible way, that he could emotionally connect with other struggling people and be helpful to them (not just to him).
Joe was climbing mountains at odds with and despite his own best interests, it wasn’t healthy for him, and it certainly wasn’t fulfilling to him, it brought out the absolute worst in him and was always followed his climbs with self-destructive disintegration.
In a sense, I am glad that Cameron didn’t bend to Joe’s will about having kids. I was glad to be wrong about my prediction that they would eventually settle down and have kids (it wouldn’t have been right for Cameron to capitulate).
I think that I just wanted so badly for Cameron and Joe to find a happiness that I assumed that could only happen if they were together.
Joe found happiness without Cameron.
I am not saying that he doesn’t love Cameron, or that he couldn’t still eventually end up with Cameron, or that he doesn’t have regrets.
All I am saying is that standing in front of that class, teaching humanities, I saw the most genuine smile on the face of Joe MacMillan that I saw in the entire four years of Halt and Catch Fire.
Now, as a mentor to college students, Joe gets to break the cycle of his self-abuse every single day of his life.
He is loved, and more importantly, he finally feels good about himself.
You can’t smile like that unless you feel self-love (in the best possible way).
I will miss Joe, in some ways his story was my story.
My Father and I barely talked for nearly twenty years of my life (and when we did talk it wasn’t usually very pleasant). Luckily for me, I learned to understand the ways in which I was broken and the ways in which he was broken and tune my radio so that I was picking him up on the correct frequencies.
At the same time, in the fictional parallel universe that Joe lives in, I am very convinced that he has found happiness and will be okay. At the end of the day, he found the golden lining behind the ten of swords.
The kids will be alright.
If there is a central message of the fourth season, to me it is that Joanie and Haley are the really cool people that were ‘built’ by Joe, Cameron, Bos, and especially Gordon and Donna.
It doesn’t seem positive, Joanie is still acting 18 and Haley is still acting 15, but over and over again you see glimpses of the incredible people they will become.
For Haley, the journey seems particularly traumatic.
The Veruca Salt song Seether, which you hear playing in the car as Haley is getting up the nerve to finally ask her ‘crush’ out on a date (to see Natural Born Killers no less), is literally about how women aren’t socially allowed to show the rage that they often deeply feel which is exactly how Haley often feels about being closeted.
Can't fight the seether
Can't fight the seether
Can't fight the seether
I can't see her till I'm foaming at the mouth
Sure, she is still closeted. Sure, her parents were often idiots.
But after I see Haley sitting down clearing her mind using the exact same tape Gordon used to calm himself down (and get past the challenges of his progressive disease) I have no doubt at all that she will be okay.
Her mom doesn’t care about what sexual orientation she is, and that is a HUGE victory.
Some of you might be surprised at how tough coming to grips with her orientation has been (we mostly live in a more LGBTQ tolerant world today than we did then).
Remember that the show’s timeline takes place in the early 90’s and that was only a few years after this video, showing the realities LGBTQ often faced, was still considered radical:
It was only in 2008 that I was standing out in front of voting locations encouraging people to vote against laws that ensured marriage was only between a man and a woman.
And let’s not forget that it was just last week that a certain POTUS stripped Federal discrimination protections from Trans people.
I think Haley is not just going to be fine.
I think she is going to thrive (and it doesn’t hurt that she will be able to afford whatever college she wants to go to). She is going to meet a great woman who appreciates and challenges her and she will likely create something truly amazing (in the parallel universe in which she is real).
I think Joanie is going to be fine too, she seems to be able to really appreciate the important things in life. I do want to take one second to mention one particular Joanie moment. I know not many people read my recap last week (sigh) but I said:
“For any of you who have been with me from the beginning of this recap, you know that I have always said that Halt and Catch Fire is a show about a five-person non-nuclear family. When I saw the scenes with Joe, Cameron, Bos, and Donna sitting around the table eating Bos’s chili it made me so happy. Gordon was in those scenes too. Those characters are who they are because of their singular and collective relationships with Gordon Clark. His presence lived in every scene and in every character. Gordon Clark was the ghost in the “Goodwill” machine.”
I likened it to the notion, in African Animist religions, that people only die physically but they live forever in the memories and lives of the people that they touch.
This week, Joanie said that she went to a temple and put her head to the ground, she said that she:
“...touched the roots, not worshipping the Buddha, it was more the tree, it was more the stones. it started to rain, and when I put my forehead to the mud, I thought about Dad, he's still with me but in a different way.”
I was happy that Bos finally realizes how much Dianne loves him. I was happy to see him get a bill of clean health, clean out the garage, and get ready to live the rest of his life.
Bos is one of my favorite characters, I know a bunch of people like him, and I loved his goodbye to Cameron.
But let's get to the main event.
This show has always been about Cameron and Donna in a different way than it has been about the rest of the cast.
“Donna and Cameron were our hope for a better future, they were successful women as we wish could have existed in the 80’s and 90’s and their story, to almost to a Tarantino Esque degree, speaks to who we could still be and who we should have already been as a society.”
During my recap of the premiere of season four, I talked about how much I hoped Donna made it back from villain to the great person that she was back at the beginning of this long journey.
How did she do?
Not only did Donna, after taking over the firm as managing partner, change the entire model to one that was more accepting and supportive but she also became a true role model to other women (much like Joe).
During her brilliant speech to a group of women in tech at a party at her house, Donna said things like:
“I hope women don't have to have meetings like this to remind themselves that they exist <referring to women in technology>.”
“You will know that I am rooting for you. A partner by trade and a mother and a sister by design. And I am so proud to be on this journey with you.”
She won and won on her own terms, she became the hero after being the villain, and she is the hope and a promise of a better future because what we can imagine can become true.
Somewhere, during a week dominated by stories of an ogrish male abuser, some girl watched (or will watch) the story of Cameron and Donna and was inspired.
I deeply believe this will be the lasting legacy of Halt and Catch Fire.
Let's face it, while it might be counterfactual, Halt and Catch Fire told the story of two women who were wildly successful despite everything and everyone that conspired against them.
These two women were wildly successful on their own terms and ended up largely happy.
And, the best thing to come out of four years of taking this journey with Cameron and Donna ended up largely happy together.
It was beautiful writing to tease us with them both bemoaning the collaboration that would never happen, have them both walk away, and then come back together when Donna, in a moment of spontaneous genius, had a wonderful idea.
Maybe we were all dreaming of Joe and Cameron, but what we got was Donna and Cameron forever!
Does anyone doubt that they will succeed?
Bon Voyage Phoenix!
I won’t lie, this show profoundly touched my life. I am having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that this might be the last thing I ever write about Halt and Catch Fire.
I still believe that my recaps of Season 3 were the best collective work that I have ever done as a writer and I am very proud of the writing that I have done about HACF in total.
I hope that you have enjoyed taking this long journey with me, the first thing that I ever wrote about television was because Joe and Sara visited the Starck Club in Dallas Texas (a club that I used to regularly visit at the exact same time).
Thanks to Scoot McNairy!