Halt and Catch Fire did something kind of incredible in its second season. After starting out as a run-of-the-mill, prestige-y period drama about a mysterious and difficult guy being mysterious and difficult (basically a B-, 1980s version of Mad Men), it hung a hard left between seasons and turned itself into a riveting series focused primarily on two women running an online video game company in the very early days of both online and video games. That… that was really something. Abrupt changes are easy. (“Quick, everybody do something else!”) Successful abrupt changes are much harder. (“Quick, everybody do something else… better!”) As the show makes its way into season three, it has another round of small changes up its sleeve, and with these changes in place, it solidifies its place in the upper echelon of TV dramas.
But first, the show, in brief: Season one focused on the relationship between business partners Joe Macmillan (Lee Pace) and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) as they attempted to break into the computer business. It was all very Jobs-Wozniak, but in a way that made Steve Jobs also Don Draper. That is, really, all you need to know about the first season, and I know that because that was all I knew before bailing on the first season midstream and deciding to pick up season two fresh, and I was fine. The second season shifted the focus to Gordon’s wife Donna (Kerry Bishé) and her coding genius business partner and former Joe disciple/lover Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) as they attempted to get a video game slash chat forum called Mutiny off the ground in Texas. Joe and Gordon were still around, but less so, and the show was better for it.
This brings us to season three and wheeeeee we are in California now and it is 1986. Specifically, we are in Silicon Valley, with Mutiny now trying to secure venture capital funding and pivot its business model yet again, and Joe riding high on the success of the anti-virus software he (allegedly!) stole from Gordon last season after Gordon a) was diagnosed with brain damage, b) almost ruined his wife’s company with faulty code, and c) almost ruined their marriage by cheating on her with an old flame. (It was a rough season for Gordon.) Also, Joe has gone full Steve Jobs now, as evidenced by both a dramatic presentation he gives in the season premiere and every single thing happening in this picture.