A lot of people think Joe has returned to “old Joe.”
Above we see the final scene of the second season of Halt and Catch Fire. For a moment you see the “old” Joe, Joe’s dark will to power, but then Joe’s features gentle–become heartbreaking for a split second–before settling into a quiet determination.
There’s something in Joe that wasn’t there before. This is brilliant and subtle acting by Lee Pace; in a few seconds he’s moved Joe through the “old" to the new Joe.
Compare the Joe we saw in Season One Episode One.
Can you spot the difference?
So so what is this new thing in Joe that wasn’t there before? Let’s get out our magnifying glass and take a closer look.
There’s a lot of symbolism going on at Stokes Capital. If you don’t remember Stokes Capital is where both Cameron and Joe went to get money for their ventures.
Both Joe and Cameron stand before these two paintings which present a choice. A wild red spiral to the left; a more sedate spiral + torus(symbol of infinity) in blue to the right.
A choice between Hell and Heaven perhaps? Incidentally Joe seems a lot more aware in this moment than Cameron.
This winding staircase? It’s visual reference to Jacob’s ladder, the ladder between the Earth and Heaven. (I don’t think the use of the name Jacob for the CEO of Westgroup was an accident.)
Finally Stokes Capital logo is an abstraction off of the Celtic Shield knot. This symbol represents a number of things. The four corners of the Earth. The four elements. It also represents the four creator gods in Mesopotamian mythology(of which Joe and Gordon represent Enlil and Enki respectively but that’s a story for another time.)
All this symbolism? Suggests Stokes Capital is the crossroads or the the gate between Heaven and Hell.
And this? This is Mr. Douchey McDoucherson. His role in the series is to be a dick to everyone who wants to get money from him. But that’s because he’s the Guardian of the gate between Heaven and Earth and his job is force anyone who wants on the stairway to Heaven(self knowledge) to face their fears and self doubt. (McDoucherson is joined by two representatives of the Mesopotamian council of the Gods. Enlil has certainly been very bad to Ninlil. Or maybe Ninlil has rushed to judgement. Who knows?)
As Mr. Douchey McDoucherson says: “I like to get to know the people I do business with.”
Sara echoed the Guardian’s role earlier.
In order to escape Limbo, the first step is to recognize it’s not Heaven. Joe was in Limbo until Cameron in her more positive manifestation as Kali the Goddess rather than Kali the demon shattered the illusion and made him realize he was still on the edge of Hell.
If Limbo is not knowing where you are, then maybe hell is not knowing who you are, allowing your unacknowledged shadow side to control you–either running from it, or running to it.
Heaven is knowing who you are, knowing all your names, including the name of your shadow.
To get past the Guardian of the Gate, you have to face your shadow self and acknowledge, integrate it, name it.
For Donna, the Guardian at the Gate showed her the fear that she would have to abandon her children to get through the Gate.
For Cameron, a woman who took on a man’s name, the Guardian made it seem like she would have to BE a man to get through the Gate.
And when Joe came to the Guardian, the Guardian presented him with his greatest fear. Being seen a psychopath. Or being one.
(McDoucherson: I’ve never seen a real life psychopath before! har har har!)
This is a fear that seems very particular to men, the fear of being seen as a monster; as some dreaded thing lurking on the outside of human warmth.
After the Guardian has thrown his shadow self in his face, a mortally wounded Joe starts to make himself ready for death. This is another element of the mono myth; facing death in the second act. In Joe’s case, he’s going to suicide.
He’s already been practicing!
And now he’s going to settle his affairs by making sure his effects are in order.
Joe is giving Gordon the PROM chip from the computer they reverse engineered together years ago. Joe kept it as a memento of his and Gordon’s partnership and the time they had together. He says it “always kept him going.”
Giving it away is a clear sign Joe has no intention of going on.
Fortunately for Joe, Gordon realizes something is wrong and comes to his rescue.
After telling Joe that he’s a good man, although Joe makes it very hard to see that–and adding that somehow Sara made it possible for Gordon to see Joe’s goodness–Gordon gives him the antidote to the Sonaris virus Gordon himself created and Joe allegedly unleashed on Westgroup: The Tabula rasa.
The blank slate that lifts a soul out of Purgatory.
Before leaving Gordon tells Joe to try and make it right with Sara.
Here we see Joe looking between his wedding ring and the Tabula rasa program. Notice the visual similarity between the ring on Joe’s finger and the centre ring of the floppy disk. There’s no real need to open the floppy, unless you specifically want to see that centre ring.
When Sara put the golden ring on Joe’s finger, it became a symbol of someone seeing Joe as human and not a monster.
After Joe gives Gordon the PROM(cute pun on the classic courting ritual, taking someone to the prom), Gordon also gives Joe a ring. And also another symbol of someone seeing him as human.
In this moment the Tabla Rasa given to Joe by Gordon is tied with the golden band* given to Joe by Sara. They are symbolically linked and both are now represented by the ring on Joe’s finger.
Sara repeated over and over again to Joe that he needed to move to California and create his own business. The ring and Sara’s final bit of wisdom are all he has left of her.
So when Gordon says “make it right with Sara.” Joe really has only one option.
Joe goes back to the VC(notice he’s still wearing the ring in this scene?) and instead of trying to sell him on a mapping program, he uses his newly fearsome reputation to scare the crap out of Mr. McDoucherson and sell him security instead.
Scary people make good bouncers!
Because Joe has realized that he doesn’t live and die by other’s opinions of him, he can finally pass the Guardian of the Gate’s challenge–If Mr. McDoucherson wants a psychopath, then give Mr. McDoucherson what he wants!
It doesn’t change who Joe is to play the part that people expect.
In the first season Joe acts like a man being dragged around by his dark side and suffering guilt and regret in the process. In the second season Joe is trying to suppress his dark side, which makes him, well, totally ineffective.
To become Sara’s equal, Joe had to realize that he does not need her to believe in him. She cannot do for him what he needs to do for himself: face his dark side, integrate it and make it work for him instead of against. In that sense she had to abandon him to force him forward.
So the “something else” you see in Joe now? It’s self-knowledge; people’s opinions don’t change who he is. Not even Sara’s.
Watch how he touches where his ring once was? The ring that symbolized his bond with both Sara and Gordon?
Joe will build his company and he’ll continue to love both Gordon and Sara even if they don’t love him back. It’s not about being loved but loving. And because he loves, he’s no monster. QED.
“Old” Joe has a name. His name is Joe.
Or possibly Charles.
 Just like the Guardian targeted Donna and Cameron with fears particular to women.
[ 2] I describe the association between Sara and yellow/gold here .
 Interestingly the original idea Joe tries to pitch–badly–was a souped up version of Gordon’s original idea for Sonaris: mapping the internet. Or IPs rather.
 If this scene merely had Joe opening his palm outward to reveal his lack of a ring, I might agree with people who think he’s turned full bastard. But it doesn’t. He’s still touching the place where the ring was. Sara and Gordon are in his heart but he doesn’t need to show to himself or the outside world that he’s loved anymore(or answer inevitable questions about his “wife”.)
 Sorry Sara haters! Even if she’s never coming back, she was still right. He needed to make his own company. And now she has a permanent place in Joe’s heart as the person who made Gordon see him as human.