Warning: Major spoilers ahead for the Oct. 1 episode of Halt and Catch Fire.
Rest in peace, Gordon Clark.
The Halt and Catch Fire computer wiz who reverse-engineered the IBM PC, built a successful local internet network, and then built another successful web search directory passed away at the end of this week’s episode, likely from a stroke.
Gordon, played by Scoot McNairy, had been struggling with toxic encephalopathy (caused by exposure to lead solder) for a decade. In this fourth and final season, he seemed to have reached peak contentment — he and Joe (Lee Pace) had a great partnership at Comet; he was on good terms with daughters Haley (Susanna Skaggs) and Joanie (Kathryn Newton); and he had a budding romance with Comet’s chief ontologist, Katie Herman (Anna Chlumsky).
He’d even thrown away the notebooks in which he painstakingly detailed his condition. Gordon was living life to the fullest. And then he wasn’t living at all, in a shocking, yet not, turn of events.
His death occurred off-screen, with Katie presumably finding his body and telling his ex-wife Donna (Kerry Bishe). She then told Joe, who called Cameron (Mackenzie Davis), who called Bos (Toby Huss). This dysfunctional family built on the ashes of Cardiff Electric and Mutiny is going to be grieving for a while.
McNairy talked to Yahoo Entertainment about Gordon’s goodbye, leaving the show, and what he takes away from the series.
How did you find out that Gordon was dying? Did creators Chris Cantwell and Chris Rogers call you up?
From the first time the illness was introduced in Season 2, I thought about it — like, “Should we kill off this character?” I mentioned it to them then, and they were like, “No, absolutely, no. We’re not planning on killing off the character.”
It wasn’t until we got the announcement for our fourth and final season that I brought it up to them again. Should we take this illness and bring it to a head? And they thought about it and they said, “No, we don’t think so.” It was two months before we started Season 4 when they were thinking about having the illness take Gordon, and I won’t say I was elated, but I was excited that was the closure to his character.
First season, second season, third season, we never knew if [the show was] coming back, so we always left it really open-ended. When they brought it up to me, I thought it was a great idea and I loved the realism in it. He’s obviously had health issues with the toxic encephalopathy, it would only make sense that it would eventually take him.
You may be the first actor to advocate for killing off his character!
Well, not necessarily “killed off.” The health issues and the way they exposed and showed them, it only made sense that this guy was not doing well. It gave closure to the character and it brought a sense of realism to the character and the show, because it was a health issue he had for a long time.
It’s interesting that Gordon died now, because in Season 4, he was at his best both professionally and personally.
Absolutely. I think that was part of it with what the Chrises wanted to do, which is really build him up this season, with the other characters leaning more on him to connect with each other.
We wanted to put him at his all-time best. He struggled through the first, second, and third seasons. Now, he’s content. His relationship with his kids is great. His company is going good. And he’s happy. For the first time, you see Gordon content.
To me, it was the thing that “man builds house, man dies.” When you finally finish all your work, finally finish everything and get to that place, life is over. I thought it was really well done and thoughtful by the creators.
Gordon has this vision while he’s dying, or maybe it’s a kind of afterlife, but it prominently features Donna. Was that surprising to you?
Donna has played a huge role in Gordon’s character arc and his kids and his family were an important part of his life. That’s what Gordon fought for the most — his family.
It’s ideally what flashes before your eyes before you die, some of the most important moments of your life. That was an important decision Gordon made, a life-changing decision, when he had this baby and he wanted to make computers and go off on his own. He had to make that decision: Do I want to be a father? What’s more important — building computers and creating?
The simulation they visually showed, for me, was a guy who’s having a stroke and he’s slowly going out and those are the memories that are most predominant in his life.
Was that the last thing you filmed? What was that like?
For me, it was just another day at work. I guess you don’t really think about it until you’re not at work anymore, and that’s when it really feels like the character is dead.
The day that we shot it, it was funny — the crew slowly started to dress up as Gordon throughout the years with his glasses and his different wardrobe. I slowly started to notice, “Oh, the prop master is dressed a little different, the hair and makeup department is dressed a little different.” And then by 10 o’clock in the morning, I realized, “Oh I get it. Everybody’s dressing up as Gordon because this is his last day.”
But that sequence, we shot that over the course of a week randomly based on scheduling. So we didn’t shoot the whole sequence in one day.
How did your castmates feel about Gordon’s death?
I don’t know! That would be a question you’d have to ask them. We get together a lot, we talk about the show. I think they were a little upset that we didn’t get to finish the show as a group.
I think there was a bit of melancholy, but also that goes to the end of the show itself. We spent four years together, and this was the last three weeks of shooting and we weren’t all going to finish together, and I think that was something that wasn’t really talked about but you felt it a bit.
Looking back, was there a moment or a scene that really stands out to you?
Not necessarily in the show. Some of my favorite moments are things that happened when we weren’t shooting. Just horsing around on set, messing with the producers and playing practical jokes and lighting firecrackers off and just having a good time with everybody.
I really miss that group of people down to the Teamsters and the makeup department and the directors and the cast. We had so much fun working on that show together.
What’s next for you?
I have a Netflix Western called Godless that comes out in November, written and directed by Scott Frank, that I’m really excited about. And then a couple of things on the horizon that I’m unable to talk about.
Halt and Catch Fire air Saturdays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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