“Halt and Catch Fire“, the AMC series that examines the computer revolution and industry during the 1980’s, is an example of a show beating the odds. The show survived it’s uneven but promising first season, found a new and stronger voice in the second and is back, ratings be damned, for a third.
With the current state of television, it’s hard for a series to establish itself via a slow build, especially if its first season was, frankly, rather shaky. For a show like that to get three seasons on the air is, well, incredibly rare but a testament to the promise it has.
The official debut of season 3 of “Halt and Catch Fire” takes place tonight, August 23rd at AMC, with a two part episode. The network did, however, sneak a preview of part 1 of the premiere this past Sunday. I caught that episode and I enjoyed where season 3 is going to take things for the main characters on this show.
Season 3 picks up in 1986 and shortly after the events of last season, which saw Donna (Kerry Bishé) and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) deciding to take Mutiny, their proto-internet dial-up service, out of their home base in Texas and relocate to the heart of Silicon Valley in the San Francisco area.
By moving to Silicon Valley, Donna and Cameron have to deal with the business culture and widespread sexism present in the tech community. One of the main plot points of season 3 involves the two trying to find funding to help launch a commerce based transaction side to Mutiny and dealing with the opposition to those efforts and the tension created from it. The two also have to deal with personal tension because Cameron is living with Donna and her family.
Issues that remain at the forefront of technology here in 2016 also pop up for the two heads of Mutiny. The first episode of the new season involves discussions about online privacy in regards to the chat rooms that have made Mutiny into something bigger than Cameron first realized.
Along for the ride came Donna’s husband, Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Joe (Lee Pace). Where as Gordon and Joe were the focal points of season 1, the series correctly changed things in season 2 by making them supporting characters to the much stronger and interesting Donna and Cameron.
Gordon and Joe, even as supporting characters, still have important places in this series. Joe is now channeling Steve Jobs in his efforts to sell the world on his PC security software. It’s the same software he stole from Gordon at the end of season 2, which was just one of the many setbacks Gordon suffered. Gordon’s dealing with that betrayal, the betrayal of his body due to his medical condition, and long simmering tensions in his marriage, which he helped create with his own betrayal through a brief affair.
As seen at the end of season 2, Bosworth, the quintessential Texas businessman, (Toby Huss) also left to join Donna and Cameron in California. Bosworth has always been a delight on this show, and that’s a credit to the acting job Huss does. His interactions with Cameron, specifically as a father figure and mentor, have always been a high point of the show.
AMC, thankfully, decided to let “Halt and Catch Fire” survive and find itself. In a glut of great Sunday night television, The premise of a show examining the PC revolution of the 1980’s was fascinating, even if the execution stumbled a bit out of the gate.
Even with all the flaws of the first season, specifically trying to make Joe a Don Draper anti-hero, season 2 was able to pull things together and refocus on Donna, Cameron, and the establishment of Mutiny as a precursor to the internet and the revolution it brought. The show found a much better voice with that angle and made for a highly entertaining and well crafted season of television.
Donna as the wife and mother, who had to give up her promising career in tech, and Cameron as the punk but brilliant coder, who had a revolutionary idea, were also always much more interesting characters than Joe and Gordon. Joe and Gordon serve a purpose, but they are much better as antagonists than protagonists.
There’s also the fine mid 1980’s aesthetic that made the series show promise right from the start. The way the series is shot, the color palate that is used, and, specifically, the soundtrack all help to establish the mood of the era without hitting you over the head with things.
The soundtrack is a high point of this show and helped make even some of the real low points of season 1 stand out more than they needed to.
The move from Sunday night early in the summer to Tuesday nights later in the summer and the beginning of the fall will, hopefully, help this show find a bigger audience. If you haven’t caught the show before or are unaware of the new time slot, be sure to check out AMC at 8:00 P.M. central tonight. Part 1 of the season premiere will air then and part 2 will air at 9:00 P.M., which will then become the new normal time slot.