Under all its business backstabbing drama and techy innovation sheen, AMC’s Halt And Catch Fire was ultimately a show about cycles. Its characters—especially Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan—were constantly fucking up, repenting, backsliding, and making the same mistakes over and over again. (It was kind of like BoJack Horseman in that way, albeit with fewer funny sign gags and more references to RAM.)
The show’s excellent final episode flirted with those same patterns—Donna and Cameron on the verge of yet another potentially doomed partnership, Joe returning to the teaching he was doing after flaming out at IBM before the show’s series premiere—but managed to inject a note of grace into the proceedings, suggesting that this time, maybe, enough pain had happened, and enough lessons learned, to stop the same damn disasters from happening again. It’s sentimental, and a little corny—much like its accompanying soundtrack choice, Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill”—but it works.
It almost didn’t, though, per a version of the original ending script posted on Twitter today by series co-creator Christopher Cantwell. In it, Joe fulfills a different kind of cycle instead, returning to the cold, blue-suited embrace of the corporate machine at IBM, which promptly devours whatever spark of mad genius he had left. It’s essentially the ending of 1984, but for Silicon Valley types, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger bummer for the show than if Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers had gone with it as their ending instead. Fucked up as they were, Halt And Catch Fire’s characters were individualists, driving (or failing to, more often than not) major technological shifts through perseverance and sheer cussedness, and watching a big corporation subsume those innovations for itself would have been too grim by far. Or to put it another way: Being trapped in an inescapable hell made out of our own personal failings and ambitions is one thing; having to do it in wingtips is another entirely.