Halt and Catch Fire Post Mortem: Manish Dayal on Ryan Ray's Tragic Season 3 Journey

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Now we know the entirety of Ryan Ray's journey.

It was one of ambition, partnership, enlightenment and disappointment. We only traveled with Ryan for eight episodes, but through him Halt and Catch Fire Season 3 moved in yet another new direction, further exposing characters' strengths and weaknesses and ultimately bringing Joe and Gordon back together again through his tremendous talent.

Only one man got to dig into the character of Ryan Ray and breathe life into young man with an all-encompassing love for technology, whose fear about what the greatness of his passion could mean to the outside world drove him to take extraordinary measures.

Manish Dayal always knew his stay on Halt and Catch Fire was going to be brief. "I knew that it was a limited arc, but I didn't know how I was leaving the show," Dayal shared when we chatted by phone about the events that brought him and his character to this point. "I knew I was leaving in Episode 8 and that it would be something big. My character started with these huge dreams and ambitions, and I knew it had to go somewhere." 

Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray - Halt and Catch Fire Season 3 Episode 6

From very early on, it is obvious that Ryan searching for something more, something that he believes he can be found working with a legend like Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace). Dayal explains, "I think Ryan knows in order to, sort of, achieve his ambitions – which are extraordinary – he needs more than somebody like Gordon (Scoot McNairy), [someone] who understands him and understands his ideas and understands his tech speak."

"Ryan understands the future of technology and really wants to implement this product that he has, and he knows that in order to get it, he needs somebody that's going to be able to sell, somebody to communicate, who can bring in the money, the dollars. He needs somebody like Joe, who understands how the business works, because Ryan is really just the designer of it all. So his move from Mutiny to MacMillan Utility is not only to broaden his skill set and to learn, but is also strategic."

But not everything Ryan wanted was as easy to achieve as he believed it would be, and when Joe opened the entirety of his business world to Ryan, it appeared to take Ryan aback. "For Ryan, he has this idea that this software should be free. That is his objective. At the end of the day, he's trying to share his technology with the world, make it free so the world can access it and this is something Joe promises, so it all makes sense for him," Dayal said.

Meeting With the Board - Halt and Catch Fire

"Then, when he's in the boardroom, he's met with a completely new edict in a completely new environment where those false promises are gone. Now we're talking about things like money, and we're talking about how we're going to make our board members happy and these were things that were never really a part of the conversation for Ryan, so when he's there, and he sees there's pressure, he succumbs to it at first."

"It's his first experience with suits who are really forcing using this technology to turn a profit. That's shocking for him, because he never knew that's what was going to happen behind the curtains."

"I think he was definitely still trying to impress Joe, to show him he has what it takes to make it in this business and to share this technology with the world," Dayal shared when asked if during Ryan's journey, he ever stopped trying to impress the man who had taken him under his wing.

"But when he sees that Joe is about to break his promise and not keep this software free, I think he's very disappointed. That's ultimately why he went from Mutiny to MacMillan Utility. He sees the stakes with a company like MacMillan Utility, what's involved, who they have to take care of, and those are the things that kind of disappoint him."

Ryan's needs may not have been fully met while he was working with Joe at MacMillan Utility, but Dayal believes there was more on the table for Ryan to learn and, for a while, at least, he came to understand the bigger picture. "NSFNET was ultimately the golden egg, and I think he found it in that they discovered the technology together, and that was hugely satisfying for Ryan."

"But ultimately, another part of this partnership that was satisfying for Ryan was that he was able to get out of his shell and discover who he is. He was able to wheel and deal and make deals happen, and those are qualities that he'd never experienced before. Working alongside Joe really opened his eyes to the world."

Desperate Measures - Halt and Catch Fire Season 3 Episode 8

So how did Ryan fall so quickly and completely? How did everything go so terribly wrong? Dayal definitely has his thoughts. "At first, [Ryan] feels betrayed when Gordon comes into the picture, but he clears the air when he and Joe talk on the phone. And then he thinks, 'okay, well then if that's true, then I'm gonna do this, not only for me, but for you and for the public.' That was the goal they set at the beginning of this whole journey."

"Assuming Joe was being truthful about not throwing Ryan under the bus, Ryan wasn't trying to screw anyone. He was not really trying to outsmart anyone, he is making the source code available to the public because he's ultimately fulfilling the promise that MacMillan Utility was making. That's all that matters to Ryan. He's not concerned about the money or the profit or any of those things. He's really trying to fulfill this promise to the public. When he releases the code, that's what he's trying to do."

But when the FBI appears during Halt and Catch Fire Season 3 Episode 8 and Joe reaches out, trying to give options to Ryan to come in, Ryan doesn't take his hand. He didn't have faith in their friendship or their partnership. "If he really believed him, I think he would have stopped his running a lot sooner. It took [Cameron] (Mackenzie Davis) to come get him out of hiding to talk to Joe and clear the air. That's why he [put a wrench into the NSFNET contract]."

"And then he feels really bad about it, you see. Ryan's a guy who is all over the place. He's super paranoid, the cops are after him, and I think he's in a super desperate place by that point."

An Understanding - Halt and Catch Fire Season 3 Episode 8

One of the most devastating scenes from "You Are Not Safe" is when Ryan and Joe finally meet in person, in his penthouse, and Ryan is holding out hope that he can still work with Joe again. Dayal agrees and shares his insight from Ryan's point of view. "He is. Right. Can we fix this? Can we go back to how it was and work on this technology again?"

"But that goes to show that Ryan just isn't thinking straight. He's still in this state where he just isn't understanding what's happening around him yet. I think at that point where Joe says, 'No, that's not going to happen, here are your options...,' I think that's where reality set in, that his whole purpose as a man, as a kid who's trying to create this technology – this is what his life is devoted to and it gets taken from him – that's when he ultimately decides...when he wonders, how am I going to communicate with the world that we are in grave danger, that we are going to be vulnerable, susceptible to all kinds of terrible things in the future?

"I think that part of that monologue, and what happens to Ryan at the end of Episode 8 is that he's making a statement, a prophecy. This is how he's going to do it, this is how he will communicate that. Not only to Joe and Mutiny and the board and everybody, but the world."

Ryan's manifesto as it was read at the end of the hour was accomplished by Dayal in one take. He received serious props from me for his ability to pull forth such emotion from the written word (and tears from me), and Dayal shared his thoughts on the takeaway from that missive.

"I think it speaks to a lot of the things Halt presents in Season 3. I thought it was about safety and what does safety mean, not just the internet, but safety when it comes to your ambition and your relationships. It also speaks to loyalty and commitment and faith. It sort of punctuates everything Ryan wants to say. I believe it's a statement like, 'Nobody listened to me. Nobody understood what I was trying to do. Nobody understood what I was trying to say. But now you will.'"

"Ryan's final words were 'I saw a very dangerous future, and you'll see soon enough that I told you so,' Dayal said.

But didn't Ryan pull back a little bit at the end, and express some hope even through his despair? Dayal agreed, "Right. He's saying don't be like me. This is his love, technology. It's the language he speaks. It's all he has. It's all he knows."

From both an actor's perspective and that of his character, Dayal was impressed with his time on Halt and Catch Fire. "I've never played a character like this before, withdrawn and with his own thoughts. That made my character, amongst this cast, very unique," Dayal said of Ryan Ray.

"I really liked working on Halt because everyone was very committed to their characters, how they would relate to each other – beyond what was happening in the script. We talked about what they would do in certain scenarios and in different situations."

"I think that really helps you develop your character, understand what your character would do and how they would react to certain things. That really always helps actors when they're working on their own characters, but talking with the other cast is super fulfilling."

"I loved working on it because it takes risks. These are showrunners who are really invested in their characters, and they listen to the actors and it's very collaborative."

Now that his work on Halt and Catch Fire is done, you can find him in an upcoming movie called Viceroy House, about a noted and devastating time in India's history and a TV show he's not allowed to talk about. Intriguing!

We'll be keeping our eyes out for him!

If you have missed this or any episode of the series, and thus the nuances of Dayal's performance as Ryan Ray, you can watch Halt and Catch Fire online to catch up.

Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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