Christopher C. Rogers and Christopher Cantwell, the co-creators and executive producers of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, discuss the pressure of crafting a perfect series finale, where all the characters end up, and how they hope the show will be remembered.
Q: What was your main goal when it came to crafting this finale?
Christopher Cantwell: We wanted to do it right. We wanted to honor the story we told over the last four years. I think more than any other season, we didn’t know how this one would end for quite some time. We had an idea, but we really didn’t know what those final images would be. We just let them come to us in the writers’ room organically and found them as we wrote. By the time we were breaking Episodes 9 and 10, we had a good sense of what we wanted to do. It was tough to write because you’re coming to a full stop. You want to stick the landing. We felt a little bit like Kerri Strug in the ’96 Olympics. We had to do the backflip and stick the landing perfectly. We felt we owed that not just to ourselves, but to the characters and to everyone who worked on the show. I felt a lot of pressure when it came to actually typing the words “fade out.”
Q: In Episode 7, Gordon dies suddenly. When did you know that his illness would get the better of him? How did you decide on how that arc ultimately played out?
Christopher C. Rogers: We gave Gordon this diagnosis pretty early in the series and it’s hung over his storyline. There was a need to confront it and answer it in some way in the final season, but it was important to us that it feel unique and not just like a cause and effect: Gordon’s sick, so Gordon dies. We didn’t want it to be a dirge either. We liked Gordon most when he’s this vibrant character with a lot of different dimensions. He’s been a husband, father, partner, a single guy dating. We wanted to continue to show all those colors of the character. We happened on this idea of a life interrupted because that’s how death often comes. It’s not something on the calendar. It’s not something we wanted to do in the penultimate episode. The aftermath of his death is something I think we handled with a beauty I could have only dreamed of. He is so much the reason for this show. It’s his discontent when Joe MacMillan pulls him out of oblivion. We wanted to give that guy the sendoff he deserved.
CC: Sometimes we refer to Gordon as the secret glue. He does have relationships with all the characters. He’s got a great friendship with Cameron, a complex friendship and an off-and-on partnership with Joe, a similar partnership with Donna and was also married to her. He’s profoundly connected to all the characters. We do spend time exploring how the characters can lose touch and come back into each other’s lives in a new way. We thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if we pulled Gordon out of the equation permanently and if these characters would fall to the winds or find a new way of co-existing. I think we ultimately showed that they’re so profoundly connected that it took one of them being gone forever that allowed them to really stay connected. It’s Gordon’s departure that allows them to do things like the dinner scene where Cameron can reaffirm her connection to Donna and Bosworth and Joe can really hold onto his lasting humanity once and for all.
Q: Joe ends the series in the same place he began it — in a classroom — but under very different circumstances. Why was it important to circle back/echo the pilot? How much has he changed over the show?
Rogers: Joe’s ending was in many ways the hardest to write. He came into this series as this shark who was going to bend everyone to his will to a guy who is ready to teach, of all things, the humanities and what it is to be human. It was quite a journey. I think the fourth season for all of them was about how time wears on us and how success, failure, loss and love changes over the years. Joe has learned the hard way through the loss of Ryan, the loss of Cameron even after they tried to do it right and the loss of Gordon, but he gained along the way. He had this beautiful friendship with Haley this year and finally put down the struggle with Donna. We’re never going to see Joe MacMillan again, but when you think to yourself, “Where is Joe now?” there was something nice about seeing him in that classroom and bringing what he’s learned to a new generation. That’ll feel good for me in the years after the show.
Q: After giving it one last shot, Joe and Cameron couldn’t quite make their relationship work. How did you decide that they wouldn’t live happily ever after?
CC: We definitely considered having them last because they went into it with such good intentions this time, but ultimately, we didn’t think a happily ever after story for those two characters felt genuine or earned by the end. Gordon’s death is such a curveball for all of their lives and affects them all in such different ways. I don’t know what would have happened between Cameron and Joe had that not happened, but that’s the reality they live in. I think the two of them are big searchers in the show, and they’re always searching for something very abstract. As much as they want to make their feelings for each other indelible, we ultimately have two dynamic characters who are always wanting more and, at their cores, can feel lonely even when they’re with another person. Even though they do part ways, they do it in the right way. They get to live a full relationship with each other and end as friends. When you see the picture of her in Joe’s office, I can’t imagine those two will lose contact forever. The connection is more complex than just simple romance.
Q: On the flip side, Donna and Cameron seemed to make peace. Was it important to you that they repair their relationship? What does that reunion mean for both of those characters?
CR: In splitting them apart last season, which was an incredibly painful thing for us to do, we knew we were setting up a task this season in exploring if they could ever forgive each other. We were open to seeing different answers and we found that it was a thing that happened in stages. There was personal forgiveness that was wanted between them and was crystalized by Gordon’s death where they come together on a personal level, but the business wound we thought was a different animal and it had to deal with stuff that was so foundational [and] personal to each of them. For Donna, this idea that Cameron was the genius and she was just along for the ride, and for Cameron, she had to try other partners and try being a solo genius and experience failure. We spend some of the finale envisioning Phoenix, the company that might have been and which is the two of them making amends, but we leave on this hopeful note of Donna coming up with an original idea. So, it’s unwritten for them but I think there’s a good chance they will pursue something together and do it the right way.
Q: Will they be able to live up to the promise of their “Phoenix” partnership they imagined?
CC: I think we’ll let people answer that for themselves!
CR: I think we can leave Cameron and Donna in that parking lot with the promise and anxiety around a new venture together. That’s a beautiful thing and one we didn’t want to answer.
Q: Donna makes a great speech at her party. After a season of real struggle, do you think she’s finally comfortable with who she is?
CC: I think she is. We put Donna through the wringer this season and challenged a lot of what she built for herself because it was built on a foundation that was shaky because of everything she’d been through with Cameron. By the time we get to the finale, what we wanted was to really put Donna in a good place because she earned it and built things we could root for like turning the venture capital firm into Symphonic Ventures, giving that speech and holding that party. To us, that answered Donna’s personal journey throughout the season and sets her up for when Cameron comes to her. We see the good place Donna is in and then we could explore the struggle of Donna wrestling with that option for the rest of the episode.
Q: Bosworth and Diane get their happy ending. What do you think they offer each other that makes that partnership work?
CR: Hell yeah for a happy ending for Bos! [Laughs] It felt good to write a man dancing to the radio in the garage with his wife after all these years. I think Bos’s journey was about getting past the last of his insecurities and the idea that Diane couldn’t accept him for his flaws. I think it’s a story of forgiveness and people realizing what’s important. It wasn’t a given that that was where they were going to end up, but it delighted us. The two of them got to step away from the wheel of business, which was hard for Diane because of Donna, and enjoy a third act. Bos has survived every season to become something more. His last words to Cameron are, “Don’t let me get old” and I think that’s what could have been waiting for him at the end of every season. His love with Diane was a rare bright spot in our sometimes dark and harsh world of Halt and Catch Fire. [Laughs]
Q: Has Cameron healed the wounds keeping her from having a relationship with her mother?
CC: I think Cameron is finally looking back and reexamining the various schisms she’s had in her life with Donna and with her mother, and finally taking a look and seeing where some of the failures were her responsibility. Whether or not she talks to her mother anytime soon after the finale, I think it’s good for the character and shows growth that she’s at least looking at it and considering it. That’s a huge leap forward. We’ve talked about Cameron’s journey of her finally growing up. It’s great to see her in the end looking to reconnect and solidify the connections with her closest friends and family. I like to believe she will make that phone call and get out to Florida at some point.
Q: How do you guys feel, personally, now that the show is over? How do you hope this show will be remembered?
CR: I think it’s a process and a thing that arises by degrees. There is a feeling, as we return to normal life, of knowing that we’ve put in the last visual effect and every little piece closes the door a little more. We’re proud of how we ended up. That feels good. On some level, it’s so impossible to believe we’re not returning to Atlanta and these relationships with these people. We’re in the process of becoming ourselves again after sharing ourselves with these people for so long. We’re incredibly grateful and proud and, now, it belongs to everybody.
CC: It feels weird. It’s a journey that began over six years ago and we were completely different people then. Children have been born and aged in the time this show has been created and completed. [Laughs] It’s nice to lo look back and reflect with a partner because you can turn to somebody and say, “What the hell just happened?” It’s been good to process that jointly instead of off on our own doing ayahuasca in the desert.
Q: What’s the most important thing you will take with you from this experience?
CR: Donna says something in her speech like “The project gets us to the people.” On a personal level, we got to make this show with so any incredible people. I like to think that was the lesson Joe and everybody learned. It was about the people and the journey they went on. We used to say this show is not a stepping stone to anything for us. With the next project, it will be hard to fall in love for the first time again. I think the legacy of the show is about how people put themselves into the things they make and about characters and not about guns. It was a show about people who love and lose. The complexity was very human.
CC: One thing I’m certainly proud of and will carry with me is that we created an atmosphere where it was fun to come to work. There were tough days, long days and slow days, but there were great days. It was a good vibe. Hollywood has this reputation of being a bunch of people who are out for themselves and what we experienced from start to finish couldn’t be farther from that – from our producers to the cast to the people we worked with in post, our composers, our music supervisors, everyone in Atlanta, the crew, the PAs, the craft guys… everybody was just great. It was a real family. We surrounded ourselves with good people. We didn’t scream at anybody. We didn’t make anybody’s lives miserable trying to make this piece of art. That’s something Chris and I can carry with us. Even if my sons watch the show one day and don’t get it, they at least know Dad wasn’t a sh—tty boss. [Laughs] We also got a Neil Young song in for the finale! That was super cool. We said “Something like Neil Young’s Harvest Moon” and then we got Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. The music this season is amazing.
Read a Q&A with Susanna Skaggs, who plays Haley Clark.
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