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Halt and Catch Fire: Manish Dayal on Ryan's shocking decision

‘He wants people to know that a dangerous future is coming,’ the actor says

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Tina Rowden/AMC

Spoiler warning: Don’t read on if you haven’t watched the Oct. 4 episode of Halt and Catch Fire!

Never underestimate the influence of Joe MacMillan.

AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire ended its penultimate season 3 episode with a bombshell shocker for the ‘80s-set tech-boom drama: a suicide, marking the first major character death in the show’s three seasons.

The victim? Ryan Ray, the naïve but brilliant programmer whom Joe poached from Mutiny, only to send him down a path of false successes and revoked promises of hope (a.k.a., the Joe MacMillan Special) with their NSFNET project. Once the cops started to close in on Ryan after he brazenly leaked the source code for Citadel, Ryan decided to take his life in a blaze of glory with a last-ditch suicide note that will no doubt make waves throughout the technology — and the Halt and Catch Fire — community.

EW caught up with the man behind the victim, Manish Dayal, for an exit interview about Ryan’s shocking final sign-off.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, spoiler alert: Ryan jumped.

MANISH DAYAL: I don’t believe there’s any room for [interpretation] in what happened. He’s a jumper.

What did you think about the show’s choice to not depict the suicide itself?

I think that was the right thing to do. The show is so smart, and it does such a good job of peeling the layers. The show’s about understanding people’s complexities, and I think not showing Ryan jumping off the building is totally in line with the tone of what the show would do.

When did you find out this was in the cards for Ryan?

I knew it was a limited arc, but I didn’t ever know how it was going to end. I think that Ryan is a guy who’s so devoted to his work, so devoted to his ambition that this was his only option. It might seem peculiar for a lot of other people, but I think Ryan really believed in what he was doing and what technology meant for the world, and when it was taken from him, this was his only option.

How did you react when you found out he would take his own life?

I knew that Ryan was a very internal, withdrawn, but also very brilliant young man. When I first joined the show, I knew that he had these wide ideas, these ways of revolutionizing Mutiny and taking it to the next level, and I could tell from the dialogue that he was a young man of passion. So at the end of the season, I got a call from [Halt creators Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers] telling me how he was going to leave the show, and at first I thought, “There’s got to be another option for this guy.” Why doesn’t he just go to jail? Or why doesn’t he take Joe’s advice and run away? But those are not things that somebody like Ryan would even consider. It’s hard for him to think like everybody else, to think rationally when he’s in this grave danger, when the cops are after him, when his lifeblood is being taken from him.

It seems like his suicide wasn’t necessarily about him, but about sending a shockwave through the community with the statement in his suicide note?

Absolutely. I think that final monologue [is] not so much a letter of admission or anything, but it’s more like Ryan’s prophecy. He wants people to know that a dangerous future is coming in the world of technology, and he’s essentially saying that the barriers between all of us won’t exist anymore. He wants to make a statement and reveal that real truth to people.

This is the first big character death we’ve seen on Halt and Catch Fire. What are the repercussions for not only Joe, but all the main characters — the cops and robbers and false prophets whom Ryan essentially calls out?

I think the monologue speaks to so many themes that Halt presents in the season; I think ultimately it’s about safety, loyalty, commitment, relationships, and love. These are all relationships that are getting torn apart; ambitions and goals are being skewed, and people are left to their own devices, and I think that’s what the monologue’s speaking towards, beyond just the idea of safety and technology. I think the Mutiny folks and Joe all know that Ryan was a complicated guy, and they know that he was great at what he did. I think there’s definitely going to be a residue of his suicide. With Joe, there might be a little bit of guilt or maybe even remorse, although on the other hand, Joe did give him other options. I always believed that Ryan never thought those options were sincere, in his state of panic.

What do you think was the beginning of Ryan’s downfall? Was it the very meeting of Joe, or somewhere further down the line?

I think it was when he realized that his technical skills, his brilliance, and his abilities weren’t enough, as somebody who was trying to create this very revolutionary technology. This is a world of business and sales, and toward episode 6 or 7, he realizes he doesn’t have the gift of communication and the gift of selling. I think that’s when he realizes, “I don’t have everything it’s going to take.”

Do you feel like you were just cracking the character?

I was just understanding the guy! It’s funny because he’s somebody who was so involved in season 3. He starts so complicated and people don’t understand him and he doesn’t really relate and he has trouble communicating and he can’t really articulate his ideas, and then he meets Joe, and this is a guy who can do everything that Ryan can’t. And Ryan knows that. I think he’s smart enough to know where he needs help, and I think that’s ultimately what led to his demise.

What will you miss most about the set?

I really enjoyed talking about the character — that’s something about this show that was unique, in that everyone was really invested in fleshing out their characters and understanding them beyond the surface level. Really talking about the relationships between the characters, what the characters would do in scenarios, and really figuring out the people who they were playing in this world. That was something I really enjoyed on this set, and I will miss that.

The two-part season finale of Halt and Catch Fire airs Oct. 11 on AMC.