“And nothing has changed. And everything has changed.” – David Bowie, “Sunday”
At the end of “Heaven Is a Place”, the season two finale for Halt and Catch Fire, our protagonists were on the brink of great change. Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis), brusque girl genius founder of online network Mutiny, shepherded her coder monkeys out of the Silicon Prairie and towards a server in San Francisco. After a humiliating computer virus 86ed a crucial presentation, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) stole antivirus code from his former business partner Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), raised $10 million in venture capital, and—as the Mutiny employees flew off to their uncertain future—opened shop in the Bay Area.
Season 3 of Halt fades in six months later. In some ways, everything has changed. Mutiny has set up shop in a handsome exposed-brick office in the Tenderloin that in the present day is probably out of Martin
In some ways, everything has changed. Mutiny has set up shop in a handsome exposed-brick office in the Tenderloin that in the present day is probably out of Martin Shrkeli’s budget. The coder monkeys have expanded both in number and in diversity—a Kid & Play-esque Black coder, and at least two Asian coders join Yo-Yo Engbark (Cooper Andrews) in making Mutiny a more diverse office.1 One of Mutiny’s diverse new hires, Ryan Ray, has big plans for the up-and-coming company, and Cameron and her assistant Donna (Kerry Bishe) ignore his suggestions at their peril. Ryan is an anomaly for even Prestige TV—not a terrorist, an Adnan Syed-esque cautionary tale, nor a convenience store-owning source of comic relief with a singsong accent, but a three-dimensional character with ambition and skill whose morals could easily be compromised. Newcomer Manish Dayal plays the role with brio and sharp intelligence.
In other ways, however, nothing has changed. Cameron and Donna still struggle with the proverbial glass ceiling, taking meetings with venture capitalists who mansplain to them (if they don’t shut them down entirely). While a scene where a pair of investors pull the rug out from Cameron and Donna in the most casually humiliating way possible is lowkey shocking, a story arc involving a female investor shows that women are equally unlikely to support a pair of female business owners. Annabeth Gish—best known for a string of anodyne supporting roles as good girls and wives in 1990s movies—rips into Diane Gould with the carnivorous joy of a tiger eating a raw steak. However, her Virginia Slims feminism meets its match with Donna’s crafty business acumen, leading to a satisfying conclusion to the show’s two-hour premiere.
The storyline involving Mutiny investors is so strong that scenes involving Joe MacMillan almost feel like an afterthought. We’ve seen a lot of MacMillan’s current schtick before; his theatrical presentation of his antivirus software plays like a proto-Apple product reveal, and Lee Pace’s bearded, powersuited appearance and his fondness for surfing suggest eccentric software scion John McAfee. In previous seasons, Pace played the role with a cocksure confidence that masked great vulnerability, but his restraint in the season premiere reads as remote.
After a stop-and-go first season and a suspenseful, well-made second, Halt and Catch Fire has rebooted with a thoughtful, efficiently-paced Season 3 premiere. Chris Campbell and Chris Rogers are ready to bring us on another great journey.
Having a diverse cast regrettably doesn’t mean the coders have a more refined sense of humor; one employee makes an AIDS joke directed at Malcolm (August Emerson), the gay coder injured in a hate crime last season. ↩