Halt and Catch Fire Q&A -- Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers (Creators, Executive Producers)
Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, co-creators and executive producers of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, discuss new faces, where all our characters begin the final season, and creating a "satisfying" last chapter of the story.
Q: Knowing this was the final season, was it any more or less difficult to crack the story of this last chapter?
Chris Cantwell: It was daunting to face the end of the story. We’ve never been in a writers' room where you had to write the conclusion of something. We wanted it to be as good, if not better, than everything that’s come before. We wanted it to pan out well and leave the audience satisfied. So, we were staring down the barrel of that, but once we got the writers in the room and began, it did flow naturally. From time to time, we kind of lost track that it was the last season and I would be riding home on the train and remember, “Oh yeah. This is the last ride for these people.”
Chris Rogers: In approaching a last season, you have a lot of thoughts about the very last scene or where you want to end up and the challenge becomes making sure the journey to get there feels worthy and stands on its own -- that even if it wasn’t the last season, this is the adventure you’d want to go on. At the same time, you can do anything and all cards are on the table. That’s a dramatic license that most shows don’t have every season, and we felt empowered by that.
Q: Have you always had a sense of where you thought this story ended or has it changed over time?
CC: The short answer is no. We didn’t know we would end up here. When you pitch a series, you have to present a large overview of where you think things could go. We definitely did that at the beginning of the process, but it evolved so organically overtime. I think the best asset was listening to where the show wanted to go as it unfolded. We followed what was interesting, what was working on-screen and what was exciting to talk about in the writers' room. I had no idea how we would end the show. Chris and I talked about things we’d want to happen to the characters, but it was still just wide open. We trusted the process. We let the story tell itself.
Q: Even more than previous seasons, this season is set, technologically, in a time still very familiar to the world we know today. What advantages does that give you to communicate to your audience?
CR: Getting to the technology we all recognize is an advantage and is something we wanted to do for a long time because it’s always going to help you with the audience and people’s comprehension of the story you’re telling. I think it also presented some challenges because people think they know that story. We want to be telling the audience something new and showing them a moment in history or an angle on what happened that is bigger or different than their understanding. We felt lucky to be able to do that with search, a technology that is so ubiquitous and such a part of our daily lives. ... In a way, it was a boon to get to the internet but when we started this series, I think in a lot of ways we thought the internet was the finish line. We never thought we’d go past that. It was a happy thing, but now you’re telling the story of something everybody feels like they own a piece of, and you have to do that a whole lot differently.
Q: Last season ended with a breakup of our core team with Donna being cast aside. How has Donna reacted to that as the new season begins?
CC: Donna is very much off on her own. She’s a partner at AGGE, and we’ve seen her become even more shrewd and more powerful in Silicon Valley. She’s started a browser project of her own that she’s been running with for a few years, and she’s looking for the next big internet play. She’s also been holding a lot of personal relationships at arm’s length. I don’t think she’s tremendously close with anyone at work. She still has a mentor figure in Diane, but gone are the days of being sewn at the hip to your partner. She’s suspicious of new people that come into her field of view. Donna is someone who is looking to gain ground and also keep control of her ground. She’s always assessing perceived threat on the horizon.
CR: This year, I think we see a Donna who is fully activated and living out the potential she always had. From the beginning, Donna was an engineer in her own right and was sidelined by her family and the barriers that existed to women in the tech field. This is the Donna who is soaring. Because she’s been blindsided by things like Cameron casting her out of the company last year, she’s rightly wounded and paranoid. Some of her hostility and what could be perceived as an aggressive attitude is earned by the fact that she’s been wronged, and it’s wise to keep her guard up. In a lot of ways, this is Donna becoming who was always inside of her.
Q: As the professional team fell apart, there seemed to be a reuniting of Cameron and Joe on the personal side. How do they factor into each other's lives in this final season?
CC: There’s definitely more Joe-Cameron story to be told. I think we do it in ways that are unexpected, and there’s some time to cover between Seasons 3 and 4. We’ll be answering some questions about what’s been going on between them in the first episode of Season 4. Once we’re past that, I think we’ll definitely see them in each other’s orbit and as always, the relationship will be a complex one. We’ll see some sides of them that we haven’t gotten to see yet on the series.
CR: I think it’s interesting that at the top of Season 4, they’re kind of in similar places. They have always been about betting the future and figuring out what’s next, but what happens when that future isn’t what you thought it would be or doesn’t arrive on time?… It’s very much a season that finds the two of them wrong-footed by the fact that the future didn’t develop as they thought.
Q: Gordon's marriage ended last season. How has this changed his views on life and business?
CC: We’re finding Gordon very much in a place that he wanted to be in. He’s got a major internet company and a major network on the West coast. He’s connected to Joe, but he’s got a complete life, and he’s got some perspective on everything he’s been through. Looking forward, just like the other characters, I think the future isn’t exactly what Gordon was expecting, and I think he’s assessing that. There will be some more curveballs thrown his way, but he has a strong foundation. I think it will be nice for the audience to see the character that way.
Q: Tell us about Anna Chlumsky's new character. How did her casting come about?
CR: Anna Chlumsky's character, Katie Herman, is somebody that will be instrumental in the rise of the search project. Search, in the early days, really relied on the human touch for essentially categorizing things and putting things in the right buckets. Katie is somebody who is a professional at that. She has a doctorate in library science and is what was known at the time as an ontologist in the online world. That means she’s very detailed-oriented. On the personal side, I think she brings this really warm and energetic new charge to Halt and Catch Fire. She’s a special actress who obviously has incredible acting and comedic chops and we felt lucky to get her for this role. You feel every single minute that she’s on screen. What she contributes to our story this year, and especially to the story of Gordon, is something we think the fans will be delighted with.
Q: We also get two "new" characters in the form of the older Clark daughters. How do they impact the story this season?
CC: The Clark daughters are extremely important to both the personal and professional stories this year. They’re really at the forefront of what’s going on in Gordon and Donna’s lives, but then you also see Haley and Joanie be involved with and interact with the other characters as well. Haley will be in larger plots that are happening this season, and we’re going to see her have a relationship with Joe and have scenes with Cameron. The same is true for Joanie. We’re going to see how these girls are growing up in the world that they’ve existed in since Season 1 and what kind of people they’re growing into.
Q: What has the experience of doing this show meant for both of you personally?
CR: It was life-changing and transformative. Getting to do this show pulled us both through the looking glass and introduced us to this incredible crew, cast, all of these writers and the hundreds of people that have gone into making 40 hours of Halt and Catch Fire. We have to be incredibly grateful that we just got plunged into this huge pool of talent. You set out with a pilot and ideas for where a story might go, and then you try to create the conditions that allow it to bloom into something special that you respond to and feel something for. I think at the end of this, we really feel something for these characters. After five or six years of having stress dreams about them, they feel like people we know and people it’s hard to say goodbye to. It’s this incredible first show experience that I don’t know how we’re ever going to top.
CC: It’s funny that the show takes place over four seasons but covers 10 years of story time. I feel like that’s how my life has felt. I started writing in January of 2011 when I wasn’t married yet, and my wife had our first son three weeks before the writers' room opened on the series and then my second son was born while we were shooting the series finale. It’s an incredible journey that parallels the one we’ve been on professionally. It makes my head spin. [Laughs] I think it’s going to take some quiet time, sitting in a chair to be like, “Whoa. What just happened?”
Q: What are you most excited for fans to see in the final season?
CR: One of the best things about the final season is that we have the opportunity to look back at the series so far and ask ourselves, “What has this been about? What has the journey of these people been?” You have all that time getting to know them to contextualize the story you’re trying to tell. I think we really try to answer the question of whether or not these professional pursuits of betting the future and putting themselves in the things they create are ever going to make these people whole. I think we took that head-on and it ends up being a story about these people. I’d like to think we reached a conclusion – I don’t know if you want to call it a happy ending or not – that is satisfying for the people who have loved these characters like we have.
CC: I'm just excited to see Bos's beard. [Laughs] We've played beard musical chairs on this show really well, and it's finally landed on Bos. It's a good one to go out on.
Read a Q&A with Anna Chlumsky, who joins the cast as Dr. Katie Herman.
Halt and Catch Fire‘s final season kicks off with a two-hour premiere on Saturday, August 19 at 9/8c. Watch the latest teaser and check out more first-look photos from the new season. To stay up-to-date with all the latest Halt and Catch Fire news, sign up for the Members Only Club.