'Halt and Catch Fire' Boss Breaks Down Donna's Discovery: "It's a Tangle of Secrets"

Halt and Catch Fire Kerry Bishe's Donna Clark - H 2015
Courtesy of AMC

Halt and Catch Fire Kerry Bishe's Donna Clark - H 2015

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of Halt and Catch Fire, "Play With Friends."]

Sunday's Halt and Catch Fire dropped a bomb on its viewers. In the last few minutes of the episode, Donna (Kerry Bishe) discovered she’s pregnant and did not appear to be thrilled about this news. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Jonathan Lisco to discuss Donna’s choices, the “unintended pregnancy” television trope, and the tangle of secrets Donna and Gordon’s marriage is built upon.

Lots of television series dedicate storylines to surprise pregnancies. What made you decide to explore this TV trope?

While in some contexts, it may be a trope to make one of our characters pregnant, when someone is for the first time feeling her creative genius sparking, a problem like a pregnancy, or a blessing, is something that could complicate matters for her. So it’s not like we’re trying to exploit a trope of TV narrative, but rather find problems that are uniquely moral challenges Donna might face. It’s a tangle of secrets. Donna is not telling Gordon about this immediately. Gordon, coming up, will have some secrets of his own that he won’t be sharing with Donna. So it’s not just about a pregnancy. It’s also not just about secrets to serve your self-interest.

Frankly, it’s about our ability as people to self-rationalize when it comes to hard decisions in our lives. To convince and delude ourselves into believing that despite the moral qualms of walking down a particular path, despite this little voice in your head that’s saying what’s right and wrong, that the benefits of ignoring that internal voice might temporarily outweigh the harms and might bring us closer to what we truly want. It’s like her heart is being tugged at by two creative loves: the nurturing of a baby or the nurturing of her creative soul. Maybe she wants both, but in reality, can she have both? And these are some of the modern questions that Donna will be facing.

Are you more interested in reflecting your current perspective on feminism or reflecting what it was to be a woman in 1985? Or is there a difference?

We have to be vigilant. I don’t believe we should impose our current view of feminism on this storyline. We’re attempting, to the best of our ability, to see it through the prism of 1985 feminism, as championed by Donna. If it resonates with our audience today, it’s because there are clear analogies between what’s happening today and what happened 30 years ago. We want our viewers asking multiple questions: is Donna not sure about what she’s going to do about this? Or is there something preventing her from telling Gordon because ultimately something is broken in their relationship?

We also want to look closely at the idea of sacrifice and what people are willing to give up in pursuit of their dreams. And equally, stir up our audience and test their assumptions about what sacrifices are acceptable to them and what sacrifices aren’t. For example: neglecting grown kids on the altar of one’s job. Is that socially okay? How about deciding not to subject an unborn child to that same neglect? Is that okay? And how does it differ across gender? So, there’s a type of moral challenge here, which, we feel is uniquely in this case the woman’s problem. And we want to examine that carefully and thoughtfully without telling the audience what to think about Donna, depending on what she does.

With the Donna storyline, we wanted to study the following: how founders or visionaries bake their struggles into whatever it is they’re building. Whatever is going on with them on a psychological or emotional level, how that all finds its way into their creations. So, if you think about it in this way, society becomes the unwitting recipient of all of their baggage. It literally seeps its way into the device or technology that is created. We wanted to play with this idea that what Donna is going through is going to find its way into their machines, into their games, chat rooms, and the way in which they’re designed.

Is abortion a possibility?

It’s got to be organic and it’s got to come out of character, but yes, anything is on the table at this point.

Will Cameron’s perspective of children come into play with this storyline or will it mostly be kept between Gordon and Donna?

Cameron’s idea of children will not become a huge part of the story but Cameron’s relationship to Donna and the way in which their relationship has flowered, despite its complications, will be a big part of the story.  

It’s one of those things that, as Donna goes on this journey and decides how to handle it, how to express it to other people, when to tell Gordon, and how to tell Gordon. It will become a real source of bonding between Cameron and Donna. And what’s also interesting is that Cameron is a kid compared to what Donna’s going through. So the idea that Cameron could be a real support for Donna is something that we’re going to experiment with through the course of the season.

Halt and Catch Fire airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on AMC.