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Halt and Catch Fire - Season 4 - Advance Preview: "The final season."

Like Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), one of its four central characters, Halt and Catch Fire is always ready to evolve. In the third episode of its upcoming fourth and final season, one character says of Joe that "he just becomes whatever circumstance needs him to be", and it's one of the many meta moments show creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers sprinkle into the first few episodes of their terrific drama's final season.

Don't let the show's non-existent ratings fool you: Halt and Catch Fire is one of TV's very best shows, and perhaps the only true successor to the dramas of TV's Golden Age. In today's era of Peak TV, Halt and Catch Fire is one of the few shows that has the same DNA as the likes of Mad Men, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad, yet it also feels like something entirely fresh and new. But while its status as a great drama is no longer in doubt, its road to getting there was a tough one.

Starting out as a well-acted but shallow attempt to ape the success of the shows it now can safely be considered an equal to, to say Halt and Catch Fire went through some growing pains would be an understatement. But it responded to the criticism it received and adjusted course accordingly, reinventing itself as a show about a scrappy tech start-up run by its two female protagonists Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishé). By putting those characters in the forefront and sidelining male protagonists Joe and Gordon (Scoot McNairy), the show struck a creative goldmine. But unwilling to sit still and stagnate, the show shifted focus yet again for its third season, moving away from its dull Texas setting and relocating to Silicon Valley. And the show has not stopped adapting since.

But the show's adaptation doesn't just relate to its subject matter (which is, aside from being tech-related, constantly changing) or its setting. Constantly evolving are also the interpersonal relationships between the show's four lead characters. The dynamic between the four has never been constant for more than a few episodes, and yet the show has always managed to keep the ever-changing drama from feeling soapy. Instead, every place the characters go, both physically and emotionally, feel like natural extensions of their respective arcs.

And it's by grounding everything in strong character development that Halt and Catch Fire's final season works so well. I've seen three episodes of the ten (two of which premiere tonight on AMC), and with each one I've marveled at the ease with which the writers make every character decision make sense, every interaction insightful, all the while maintaining a healthy narrative momentum.

I hesitate to reveal too much about this season's plot. Halt and Catch Fire has always been relatively plot-heavy in comparison with some other "prestige dramas", and each episode is best watched knowing as little as possible going in. I will say that this season is set firmly in the 90s, as the characters find themselves in the ISP market and see the potential in search engines that "index the web". Given the time jump, this season also provides Joanie (Kathryn Newton) and Haley Clark (Susanna Skaggs) with a greater narrative purpose, the teenage daughters of the now divorced Gordon and Donna morphing into well-defined characters in their own right.

To reveal much more would be to ruin some of the magic of watching the show, but just know that the show remains as well written and acted as ever, the performances of the four leads as well as Toby Huss (who, in the role of John Bosworth, has always been a sort of fifth lead) still ranking among the very best on television. The show has also grown more episodically ambitious as it has aged, resulting in a huge chunk of this season's second episode being taken up by a phone call between two characters who not long before absolutely despised each other. It's easily one of the series' dramatic high points.

Like every other season of this show, something is about to go terribly wrong for all these characters, and the first few episodes are full of warning signs. It should be agonizing - and sometimes is - but these characters, no matter what they're doing, are so easy to watch, that the show never stops being an entertaining viewing experience. Given how little time we have left with these people, we should savor that experience while we still can.

Grade: A

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