Post Mortems

Halt and Catch Fire Series Finale: EP Breaks Down Joe's Journey Towards Humanity, Cameron and Donna 2.0

The following contains spoilers from the series finale of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire.

Joe MacMillan once said, “Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.” Because for him, it was never about the technology. It was about making connections, and becoming a more fulfilled human being.

In the series finale of Halt and Catch Fire, our onetime antihero managed to find solace in heartbreak, and walked away a better man. In the wake of Gordon’s death, Comet’s demise and the end of his relationship to Cameron, Joe left California behind and began the next chapter of his life as a high school educator in upstate New York. And the series closed as it began, with Joe addressing a class full of hopeful young minds, beginning with the line, “Let me start by asking a question….”

Emerging from the dust of her failed partnership with Alexa and breakup with Joe, Cameron reconnected with Donna. As Halt drew to its finish, Mutiny’s former ringleaders were on the verge of reviving their once-great working relationship, with the seeds planted for a potential new business venture. Elsewhere in the two-hour sendoff: Donna succeeded Diane as managing partner of AGGE Symphonic Ventures; Bosworth received a clean bill of health; Joanie set off to see the world; and Haley enrolled in a college-level C++ course, on track to one day take Silicon Valley by storm.

Here, co-creator Christopher Cantwell delves into the fates of Joe, Cameron, Donna and Bos, and the unbreakable bonds built over the last four seasons.

TVLINE | Was a “happily ever after” ever in the cards for Joe and Cameron?
It’s something we played with for a lot of the season. We wanted them to have a real legitimate go at a relationship, but the fate of it was something that was up in the air from one episode to the next. I think we wanted to play the story of that relationship organically and see where it went. As Cameron says, it did work for a while, and they both acknowledge that. They will be connected forever. But we wanted it to conclude in a healthy way, and not be as pyrotechnic as things between them have been in the past. It shows that these characters are growing and changing.

TVLINE | As much as it hurt to see them go their separate ways, I was amazed at how long they lasted, considering all of the obstacles thrown their way.
They’re both excited about going off in different directions. After Gordon’s death, Cameron comes in to help Joe with Comet, but it feels like almost a walking zombie of a project in a way. Joe is in it for a warped reason at that point, which is to keep Gordon alive. Then there’s this issue of Joe wanting kids, while Cameron does not. I think all of those difficulties made them realize there was a shelf life on their relationship.

TVLINE | Talk me through the sequence of events Joe goes through after closing the doors to Comet. The trip to the fortune teller, the return of Dale Butler, the near-car accident harkening back to Joe’s entrance in the pilot… there’s a lot going on there.
Yeah, there’s a lot of ghosts of Joe’s past coming back in that scene… and so we had these different symbols pop up that spoke to different paths he had been down. He’s with a fortune teller [played by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s Carol Kane] because we saw a guy who was so convinced he knew the future in the pilot [and] we thought it would be great to see him really grasping at straws by the very end. Joe killed an armadillo in the pilot and really didn’t give a s–t, and in the series finale, he’s almost the armadillo. With Dale, what we liked was we could show that time tempers all people, and no one really stays the same. Dale is no longer this flinty a–hole that we met in the pilot, and neither is Joe. I think it was also good to have IBM creep up and have Joe feel like he’s being boxed in by fate to retread.

TVLINE | Of course, Joe doesn’t retread, but instead becomes a humanities teacher. Was this to signify that he’s not only reached a point where he’s capable of making real human connections, but that it’s a skill he can now pass on to others?
I think so. Joe starts off as a guy who almost feels reptilian going into technology. He gets into the business to build a computer and what he winds up doing is becoming a human being. He’s endured the pain of becoming human and all of the loss that entails, and is OK with that now. He was once comfortable with disposing his humanity to reach his goals in order to make it easier. Now, he realizes the truth is messier, harder and more hurtful, but one he is ultimately choosing to live and shepherd young people through, much like I think he did with Haley this season.

TVLINE | We get a glimpse of Joe’s office, and there are pictures of Gordon, Cameron and Haley on his desk. Safe to say his makeshift family is still going to remain a part of his life?
I don’t know how often they’ll see each other, but they’ll see each other. More importantly with those photos, though, is that it shows that Joe is finally taking his life with him. This was important to us as he changed careers yet again. He’s not shedding his identity and building something new from scratch, which he’s done over and over again. He’s got the culmination of who he has been in that office. He’s got a Cardiff Electric Giant, something he burned in Season 1, displayed proudly. He’s got pictures of his family-like friends. He’s got the sandstone Buddha from his office at MacMillan Utility. He’s carrying with him who he was, and I think that’s a pretty cool thing for the character to finally do.

TVLINE | Halt and Catch Fire became this wonderfully feminist show the more it became about Cameron and Donna, and eventually Haley and Joanie. Was Donna’s speech in the final hour a reflection on that development?
We tried to bring a soft, feminist touch to the women-in-tech story. I think we had earned a moment by end of the series that Donna could get up at one of these events that she’s putting on for women in tech and give a speech about where she’s come as a professional woman. I think the primary purpose of that moment is to look back reflectively at what she’s built, and to do so in front of Cameron. I think that moment of vulnerability is a big graduated step for Donna.

TVLINE | What was the significance of Donna and Cameron envisioning the rise and fall of hypothetical company Phoenix? Was that them realizing that they’ll never be able to recreate exactly what they had with Mutiny?
No, I think the Phoenix scene for us was them realizing that they both have a pattern of behavior: Strive for a new idea, latch onto something and have the euphoria about it, then have it harden around them, strain relationships and ultimately be something that’s hard to hold on to. … I think for those two, by acknowledging how [things] could go, they have a new foundation to stand on, as opposed to where they were before that. That to us was important to the evolution of Donna and Cameron’s relationship.

TVLINE | In the end, Donna approaches Cameron with a new idea. It’s never revealed to the audience, but will presumably find them working together again in some capacity. Did you consider revealing what Donna had in mind?
For us, the idea wasn’t important, and Cameron says as much in the finale. The important part was the connection that the two of them had. There are hints scattered throughout that diner, a lot of analog items and objects that Donna sees, but it was just enough to get her going. And I think what is really sparking in Donna at that moment is the desire to not let her friend go, and to realize that she has this profound connection with this person, and maybe they’re better together.

TVLINE | Not only did Bosworth get a clean bill of health, but he was told he’s going to live well into the 21st Century. Who woulda thought?!
Here’s a guy who thinks he’s in the twilight of his life at the beginning of the season, which caused him to make some bad decisions which led to his heart attack. But then he’s able to shed all of that and put that anxiety to rest, and we thought, if there’s one character who is going to live well beyond his years and relevance, it’s going to be John Bosworth! It was awesome to say to our audience that Bos is going to live into the 2000s. I think that’s a really great note for him at the end.

TVLINE | When breaking this final run, did you ever entertain the idea of seeing where these characters wound up in present day?
We did. We didn’t really go too far down that road, because then you get into the logistical concerns of the aging makeup and this and that. I also feel like an important part of our story is these characters… not knowing what’s coming around the corner. So I think it would have been disingenuous to find [out] where they were. But, you know, we did talk about finding 70-year-old Donna in an Apple Store, waiting for iCloud to back up her contacts. [Laughs]

What did you think of the Halt and Catch Fire series finale? Grade it via the following poll, then back up your thoughts in the comments.