Well, it all made sense. The fates of Joe (Lee Pace), Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Kerry Bishé) in the Season 2 finale of “Halt and Catch Fire” were, for the most part, the next logical place for each character to end up, but it did not make for a particularly compelling hour of television. With episode 10, titled “Heaven is a Place,” figuring to be the series’ last episode, barring a surprise Season 3 renewal from AMC, fans will be a left a bit dissatisfied by the lack of any closure in Season 2’s end.
Joe’s subtly tedious quest to become a genuine person was one of the major catalysts of the show’s drastic improvement. The would-be visionary’s inability to find redemption or trust thanks to Cameron, Donna and Sara’s (Aleksa Palladino) boy-who-cried-wolf reactions to his attempts at authenticity made for ironically gripping drama. However, that worked so well precisely because the show incrementally laid the groundwork for that tension over the whole season, instead of turning the character on a dime the way it often did so often in Season 1.
So, while it may be perfectly understandable that Joe would have a pseudo-relapse back to a more robotic version of himself, his implied shift to super villain felt abrupt and unearned. While his return to isolation makes sense, the fact that he has all of two minutes of screen time with the show’s principal cast – and only Gordon at that – in what may be the show’s final episode was quite a letdown.
Meanwhile, Cameron, who in a breath of fresh air for women on television became the main character on the AMC drama this season, was reduced to a plot device in this episode. Sure, her decision to move Mutiny to California had major implications for almost every character on the show, but it came as a result of a bill from Mutiny’s new network partner, not from any character arc in the episode.
Cameron was given almost no scene of any emotional weight in the finale and her pitch to get Tom (Mark O’Brien) to come to San Francisco at the end of the episode felt rushed and clumsy. This was not for lack of any opportunity. How about Cameron discussing her California move with Bosworth (Toby Huss) in the place of Bosworth’s stale executive lunch scene at his vague, unexplained “business” job? How about an actual confrontation between Cameron and Tom instead of a clichéd plane gag?
The strength of the episode was certainly Gordon and Donna and in this arc, if no other, the finale delivered. The couple’s long-time-coming blowup was as beautifully written as it was acted. The fight was even jumpstarted by a discussion about Joe and if he deserved Cameron’s episode 9 Westnet sabotage. Frankly, Gordon and Donna fighting over Joe was more a more interesting and insighful exploration of Joe's character that Joe's actual scenes in the episode.
Everything about the couple’s struggle to survive was perfect, from their children’s rebellious behavior in the face of a season’s worth of emotional neglect, to the pair’s playhouse-framed scheme to find their marriage again in California. Plus, the show aptly set the couple up for more drama should the show continue with Donna’s moving breakdown in a plane bathroom over her abortion and Gordon’s discovery of Joe’s antivirus company stoking the ambition he has promised to check in favor of his family and collaboration at Mutiny with his wife.
“Halt and Catch Fire” has a history of sidelining one or more of its major characters to highlight key moments for others. After Joe and Cameron’s big relationship curtain call in episode 9, they seemed to be on the bench in this episode as Gordon and Donna stepped up to the plate. This would have been fine mid-season, but in a finale that will likely double as the series finale, it was a disappointment. That it also came in an episode so crammed with spare scenes that it was forced to revert to some poor Season 1 habits made “Heaven is a Place” the weakest episode of the season.
However, perhaps it is unfair to ask the show to have penned a true series finale here. The writers clearly approached the finale with the belief that a third season would be forthcoming and the episode’s flaws do not change the fact that “Halt and Catch Fire” deserves another shot. Finale aside, “Halt and Catch Fire” has been the best drama of the summer – certainly stronger than the sophomore run of “True Detective” – and maybe even the year. Hopefully, AMC has one more gamble left in them.