'Halt and Catch Fire' Finale: Boss on Joe Losing His "Moral Compass," Season 3's "Tentpole" Plans

Showrunner Jonathan Lisco tells THR how Joe getting betrayed will change him and whether the season two finale could be a satisfying series ender.
AMC
Lee Pace on 'Halt and Catch Fire'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's season finale of AMC's Halt and Catch Fire.]

Joe's (Lee Pace) dramatic transformation continues on Halt and Catch Fire.

In Sunday's season-two finale, Mutiny was very much alive, and Cam (Mackenzie Davis) and her employees, including Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Bosworth (Toby Huss), were winging their way to California, where Joe's reign over the San Francisco Bay had already begun to take shape. 

The AMC drama has had a critically praised sophomore season, featuring a strong business partnership between two women at its center, while its character arcs have been human and nuanced. Unfortunately, critics are nearly the only people watching. Will low viewership sink the ship that is Halt and Catch Fire

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with showrunner Jonathan Lisco to discuss its ratings challenges, Joe's desperation in the finale and the plan for season three, if the series is indeed renewed.

What news do you have about season three? AMC seems generous about their renewals, renewing Turn for another season.

The only inkling we have that there’s going to be season three is that consistently across the board, AMC has been pleased and extremely supportive of the show. That bodes well in my opinion. The critical reviews are going to help. But honestly, we don’t have any concrete sense of what they're going to do.

Critics seemed to love this season, but not many people are watching — why do you think that is?

I think it’s primarily a function of the crowded TV landscape. It’s become a little bit of a trope to say that TV, especially in America, is getting its Renaissance, but I do think there’s some truth to that. Even I, who’s super plugged in — and I want to watch everything — can't do it. So you can imagine your average viewer has at least 15-20 shows that pull them in.  I don’t see where they find the time in the day. It’s a competitive market issue on the one hand.

On the other hand, people may have misperceived that the show is for eggheads, when in fact it's anything but that. There's all this fantastic conflict that's universal in people's lives. Our characters are vulnerable, they're striving, they’re aspirational, they're not completely redemptive, they make mistakes I think people can relate to. So if people just knew that, I think they would tune in. But how do you put that on a billboard?

Do you have a plan for season three, and have you pitched it?

[Co-creators] Chris [Rogers], Chris [Cantwell] and I have bounced around ideas around for season three a couple of major times. We have some pretty cool tentpole ideas for where we'd go in season three. We have not formally pitched it to the network, largely because they haven't asked, and if we're given more time to hone it, we'll take it. We're definitely not staring at each other wondering what's going to happen next.

Joe MacMillan has bounced around from being unredeemable to sympathetic. How do you see Joe?

We wanted to play fair with the audience, and yet believe the audience might not believe us. We started to arc out a Joe based on his past sins and how he had seen himself and realized that didn’t work, which made him walk into the woods in search of his better self. So then he comes back in season two, and I think most of the audience was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even though he was acting like a more evolved person, most of the audience was saying, "Oh come on, this is just a mask he’s wearing, people can't change." So they were actually holding Joe responsible for his past sins and not allowing him to evolve as a person.

In episode nine, we wanted for a moment for everyone to think we were lazy writers. That the whole thing was just to get Cameron and Joe back together in that room outside of the mainframe. We joked that we would hear the audible groan from the audience when they kissed. In fact, the irony becomes that Cam's move against Westgroup has turned her into someone like Joe from season one, who's done his best to act honorably. He’s tried his best to be a good person in the definition that he’s made for himself.

The director of this episode was Phil Abraham [who was a cinematographer and director on Mad Men]. There was a Mad Men-like looking-at-the-empire moment. Can you discuss the choices you made with him?

When [Joe's] standing at those windows at the end of episode 10, there is a little Phil Abraham-esque, “I’m surveying my kingdom.” But for us, there’s also a sense of, "Holy cow — look out." Joe 1.0, who was a Machiavellian schemester, did not achieve his ends. So he decided to be a good person in season two. Well, guess what? That made things worse. What is a Joe in season three who has no moral compass and has now been betrayed by both of the women he loved going to look like?

How did highlighting the women help the show find its footing?

Season one had lots of machismo, testosterone and chestiness when it came to the fighting. We took some hits for that in season one. Two formidable women running a company in 1985 — what does that look like? When they disagree, what does that look like [rather] than the way Joe and Gordon disagree in season one?

The audience doesn’t see a relationship depicted like this too often on American TV. We have to break the mirror on the Bechdel test because it almost never happens. They were talking about business, running strategies, code. We’re really proud of having shone a light on a sophisticated female friendship that was volatile, but also affectionate, loving, and mutually supportive.

Was the season two finale written as if it had to be a series finale?

We did not write it as a series finale per se. But as I did with the last episode ever of Southland, which I did write, I wanted to make sure that if the show ends, viewers who were loyal to the series would have a satisfying arc and journey. If fate turns against us, and the show is canceled, I guess you could perceive it as an episode that concludes the two seasons. But we have so much more in store, so I hope it’s not the case, especially for Joe, Donna (Kerry Bishe), Gordon and Cameron.

What did you think of the finale? Share your thoughts below and hope for renewal!

@TVTherapy

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