According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Season 3 of Halt and Catch Fire has shown that this law applies to prestige TV as much as to physics. Two women build a computer network in the decade before the internet; its popularity leads to an IPO, but it also causes a rift to grow in the women’s relationship. An idea man with a background in technology founds a software company that protects networks from computer viruses; when it breaks sales records, he’s anointed a genius and is served a lawsuit. After an episode in which Mutiny and MacMillan Utilities catch their breath and contemplate their decisions, “The Threshold” plunges our protagonists into the negative repercussions for their actions.
The episode begins with a tentative note of reconciliation between Cameron and Donna. When Donna learns that Cameron got married, she reaches out to her partner and plans some celebrations for Cameron’s nuptials. The IPO offer is still on the table, but Cameron believes that the system needs an overhaul before they can move forward with it. The changes she wants to implement will take longer they expected. Donna does not receive well the plans Cameron has made, describing the scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad as “a manifesto” as she gives them to Diane. After a meeting with Diane and Bos, Donna tells Gordon of her plan to get the board to vote against Cameron’s plans and to move forward with the IPO.
At a surprise party Donna throws for Cameron and Tom, Gordon pulls Cameron aside to tell her of Donna’s plot. Learning that her business partner wanted to overthrow her, Cameron calls a meeting of the partners while the party is still going on. This doesn’t go well for her; not only does she get the opposite of what she wants, but she and Donna have a fight that could mean the end of their friendship. Donna and Cameron say some pretty horrible things to one another, and it’s hard to imagine the pair would be able to have a healthy, successful working relationship after this fight. Viewers may have sympathy for both sides: Donna is so frequently the adult in the room, but her contributions to Mutiny have gone unrecognized and her employees treat her less like a respected partner than as a scold. On the other hand, Cameron’s anxiety and depression play a strong role in how she’s conducted herself in her relationship with Donna. While her anxiety hasn’t been as explicitly foregrounded as it was in Seasons 1 and 2, her impulsivity and all-or-nothing attitude are common symptoms of depression. As frustrating as some of Cam’s behavior can be, I understand how she became who she is, and I wish the writers had done a better job of depicting her mental conditions instead of allowing all of them to come out in this episode.
Joe and Ryan are in a parallel position to Cam. At the end of last episode, Joe acknowledged under oath that he stole the code from Gordon, and is subsequently ousted from the company that bears his name. He turns the keys over to his former partner, offering him the keys to a company worth millions of dollars. Gordon’s response to this is magnanimous on the surface, but after the fractious relationship in the first two seasons of the show, Gordon’s offer is fraught with history and seems like a bad idea.
After several episodes of being an audience surrogate, Ryan finally developed a point of view at this episode’s close. When Joe comes to Ryan’s home prepared to offer him a job working on ARPANet, Ryan tells him that he went public with all of MacMillan Utility’s code and the circumstances under which Joe left the company. This impetuous decision, which Ryan can only see as a positive, costs him a potentially pioneering position with Joe. We see in Ryan the ambition and bravery that Joe and Cameron had in the first two seasons, but we’re more aware of the fallout of his decision.
Karyn Kusama, who directed two of the show’s strongest episodes, returned for this Edward Albee-in-Silicon Valley hour. Her visual touch is light but deft, with excellent use of doorways and characters framed separately in the frame. Tonight we learn of the fallout from all this conflict on “You Are Not Safe”, the penultimate episode of Season 3.