A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
When Mrs. Landingham died in The West Wing, I was devastated. I don’t know why I was as devastated as I was, but it was weird and a little bit funny and I’m sure it says something about me I should probably explore. Something another column might explore. Something this column might explore.
The assault of the rapid-fire aging and demise of each of the main characters in the finale of Six Feet Under slayed me too. I cried my eyes out from the moment Nate showed up in the rear view mirror, chasing Claire’s car as she drove from the funeral home into the future, then all through the rest of the emotional WMD of those last six-plus minutes, set to Sia’s “Breathe Me.” I still can’t really listen to that song without going back there again, without standing on the Fishers’ porch or in the middle of their street.
And of course there’s Up, a movie that moved me, among millions, from zero to sobbing in just its four opening minutes.
Fast forward to last week, when, after some serious binge-watching, I came across another fake death I’ll never forget.
I’ve heard some people bailed on the show, but the final season of Halt and Catch Fire makes watching the whole thing from the start worth it. It’s one of the best seasons of TV I’ve ever seen and I could go on and on about that, but I don’t want to because I want to talk about Gordon Clark.
We all know he’s going to die. Even during periods of relative health, his chronic toxic encephalopathy lingers on the fringes, sometimes out of frame but always there, so his stroke is not exactly a surprise, even though somehow you don’t feel prepared for it when it happens. Which is part of what makes it so great. Which is part of what makes it so awful.
And then there’s this: Gordon sees a light and stumbles through his house. It takes all of 152 seconds on the show, but you see his ex-wife Donna when they were young and in love and snippets of time as they raise their two girls, Joanie and Haley, over two decades; Gordon Clark walks back through his life and you see with him the moments to cherish. You see what matters.
And then, it’s over.
There are more episodes left in the season and they’re fantastic and they say and do so much. But for a time the show is stunned, in a state of shock. Gordon’s death helps bring some characters – Donna and Cameron – back together, as others – Cameron and Joe – are breaking apart.
But back to those 152 seconds. It’s comforting to think a person’s final moments on earth might be spent reliving what’s important, what’s so fleeting. As a sentimental sap, I eat it up, but I also hate it. Because maybe we didn’t know those were the big moments while they were happening. Maybe we had a headache that day or our anxiety was flaring up or we were just kids and had no idea, or we knew and just couldn’t love it enough or hold onto it long enough or give it a big enough hug.
I just realized, as I tap this out on my phone, that “Breathe Me” is playing on repeat. I turned it on a few paragraphs ago and it’s the only Sia song I have and so it shuffles back and forth with itself. I don’t turn it off, I just keep writing.
I used to believe I was immune to regret. I wore it like a tacky t-shirt. Now I know I have a virtually endless string of regret. Not bad choices, necessarily. Just so much taken for granted.
I think maybe Gordon Clark thought the same thing. Perhaps he had the wherewithal to let it sink in. Maybe he even enjoyed the second chance. More likely, though, he was too disoriented to really think about anything much at all, as he traveled back in time down the hallway, through the living room, across the kitchen, into the bedroom, and, after at first being nothing more than a ghost floating through his own past, looked Donna straight in her eyes as she held their baby daughter in the nursery, and they seemed to see each other, finally. Though, in the haze of death, it slipped away all the more quickly.
We don’t get to know which time hiding under a blanket with someone will be the last time. We don’t know, when it happens, that we’ll never catch snow on our tongues again or tell our parents we love them or live another moment unburdened from all the baggage. For 152 seconds in Episode 7 of Season 4 of Halt and Catch Fire, we’re reminded that we just don’t get to know if this day, this hour, this minute, is the best we’ll ever have.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.