Right, so it’s been awhile since this blog is updated. If you’ve been reading this blog on and off, you probably would have guessed that I’m not a professional critic or film student, I’m merely a lover of films and television. So, here’s my two cents on the third season of AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire (so far). (Note: Only four episodes have been aired since this was written. I know I’ve completely missed reviewing the second season of the show. There’s lots I would like to say about the sophomore season but perhaps another time? I would definitely need to rewatch all ten episodes in order to recap my thoughts on it.)
So, when the show was renewed for a third season sometime last year – to the surprise of fans and anyone else who watched the show – I was ecstatic. Largely because as much as I loved the first season, there was such a large shift in season two’s storyline that was both good and bad, and the drop in ratings for the show made it difficult to predict what the network would do with it.
Anyway, back to the show. The third season premiered around the end of August with a new time slot and day, nearing the fall season shows instead of its usual summer season slot. A change that so far hasn’t improved the show’s ratings.
From the two-hour premiere, it is clear that the show has rebooted itself just like its previous season, however this time without as much change as the previous season, with it focusing mainly on the change of venue in which the show takes place – Silicon Valley instead of Texas. With four episodes in, the writers seem to have a better grip on the show’s development than the previous two seasons. The pace of the story is steadier and faster without it feeling rushed. The plotline for the various core characters seem more solid and well-developed. Even the actors seem more at ease with their characters this season which makes the show easier to watch.
With the focus mainly on Mutiny and its bosses; Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishe) since the second season, the show has become less predictable and somewhat more refreshing since its first season. By delving into the female characters, the show is now able to explore the sexism faced by the characters that not only reflects on the way women were treated in the 80s but also reflecting the way women are treated today. The double standards, the expectations and assumptions and the lack of opportunities. The second episode showcases this when Donna and Cameron are looking for investors for Mutiny’s expansion.
With the addition of Diane Gould (Annabeth Gish) this season, we now have a whole other powerhouse female character who is at the top of the game, who experienced some of the hardships that Cam and Donna are facing now, and it’s fascinating to see how these three characters interact and work together, but also how Diane acts as somewhat of a mentor to Donna who slowly discovers her own capabilities as a boss in this business and her own aspirations for Mutiny and herself. By episode 3, we catch more than a glimpse of the trouble between Donna and Gordon (Scoot McNairy) since their move to San Francisco. How Gordon’s affair and Donna’s abortion weighs on both the characters, their desperation to keep their marriage afloat while ensuring their children are alright with the move, all the while respecting each other’s role in Mutiny and adapting to each other’s career growth and needs.
Speaking of Gordon whom I always have a very soft spot for since the very first season, this time around he is seen to be finding his place in Mutiny while figuring out is this all he would ever be, has he peaked in his career, and with his health issues taking a backseat compared to last season but still lingering in the shadows as the show progresses. I’m very curious to see what the writers have installed for his character with his storyline being very much in the air. I would love to see more of Gordon this season, but I definitely appreciate that the writers didn’t leave him on his own like they did with him in the second season. On another note, I am super excited to see more scenes between Gordon and Cam. After the first season, episode eight (I think), I always thought the chemistry between these two characters is very fascinating and definitely worth exploring, so to see this happening more and more as this season progresses is a great thing. With their similarities and differences, it would be nice to see whether they could learn from each other’s mistakes and brilliance, as well as respect one another’s views. It would also be fascinating whether they would join forces and come up with something incredible for Mutiny, perhaps even surpassing Joe’s (Lee Pace) ideas or having to cooperate with Joe once again despite all that has happened, and achieving their full potential that Joe has always seen in them.
Now onto Joe Macmillan, the lead of the show on season one and eventually taking a somewhat backseat on season two much to the dismay of Pace’s fans. However, this season, the writers seem to have quite a good balance between his storyline with that of Mutiny’s. With both parties’ stories running concurrently with a sprinkle of meetings between Joe and one of the Mutineers throughout each episode so far to keep the connection between both plotlines and a reminder that Joe is still very much aware of the ins and outs of Mutiny despite what happened on season two. Personally, I love what they did with the character, he is a chameleon after all, always adapting to his environment wherever he goes, so to have a complete revamp of the character’s appearance as well as his supposed outlook on life is no surprise. Hints of the ruthlessness seen in Joe v1.0 still lingers in Joe v3.0. There’s definitely more sass in him this season, especially with his sudden outbursts or comebacks to a character whenever he feels indignant or whenever he plays coy with Ryan (Manish Dayal). I also love the fact that Joe’s sexuality is not and has not been a main focus of the character’s storyline but remains as a sort of touch and go point for the writers to raise an issue on discrimination or the 80s setting, and to play up on Joe’s mysteriousness. However, on episode 4, it seems that Joe is more comfortable with himself, with his own identity as he stands up against an investor who spews out derogatory statements about homosexuals. Does this mean that Joe is slowly discovering and accepting himself, who he really is and who he would like to be? Definitely something fascinating to explore as long as the show doesn’t get carried away and create a predictable character.
Onto Ryan Ray, a new addition to the show this season, a gifted coder who seemed to be a mashup between Cam and Gordon’s intelligence and social awkwardness and Joe’s hunger to be a part of the next big technological discovery. This new character who is seen as this wide-eyed, somewhat naive person is simply endearing, especially the interaction between him and Joe. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with Ryan as the season unfolds, whether he’ll simply be another pawn in Joe’s quest for greatness and if so, will he return to Mutiny with his tail between his legs? Or will Ryan thrive as he works with Joe?
Lastly, Bos (Toby Huss), how can I forget Bos? As I said ages ago, prior to season two, it would be great to see more of Bos’ character and the writers did do that on the second season. However, I felt that his storyline fell a little short among the other characters’. This season, on the other hand, the development of Bos’ character feels more at ease, less forced as compared to the sophomore season. The slow revelation of Bos’ troubles with each episode so far has been interesting. The character feels more comfortable with his position in Mutiny this time around, but as episode four reveals did Bos finally his footing once again after Cardiff Electric? Or is he simply playing a role to fit in with the jungle that is Mutiny and Silicon Valley? Furthermore, the chemistry between him and Diane is wonderful to watch. With two characters that are so experienced in the business aspect of the industry and so hardened from their own life experiences, it’ll be intriguing to see where these two would go in future episodes.
Overall, as I mentioned earlier, the cast (both core and supporting) not only seem to be more at ease with their characters this season, but the acting chops from this group is nothing short of amazing. Each week they deliver their lines effortlessly and because of the way the scripts have been written, each character always has these little moments of silences where all the viewers see is the characters’ reactions. I’ve always been a sucker for these silences on films and television, so to see that happening more this season has been a delight. Also a shout out to the supporting cast (both old and new) who portray the Coder Monkeys who have more screentime this season than previous ones. It’s always fun to watch these guys (and girls) as they coexist in the craziness of Mutiny, mostly providing comedic relief to the show (that laser tag scene on episode 4 is gold) that otherwise would have been weighed down by the dreariness and intensity of the story.
Another really great thing about this season is the cinematography. I’ve fell in love with the show’s cinematography since season one (thank you Nelson Cragg). Season two (helmed by Jeff Jur) was great too, playing mostly with colors. And this season so far, is nothing short of visually stunning as well (thanks to Evans Brown), which I feel experiments more with camera angles than previous seasons, constantly challenging the rule of thirds, and using these wide apertures to create an almost dreamlike effect on some of the scenes, especially with the closeups.
Moreover, music has always played a big part on this show, and so far the SuperMusicVision team has done a great job with this season, grounding the show further in the 80s era, as the song choices interweave with Paul Haslinger’s synthesized score for the show. As someone who didn’t experience the 80s firsthand, it is definitely fascinating whenever I watch this show, thanks to the incredible set design and costume department. It seems like there’s a rising trend now within Hollywood to create these shows and films set in the 80s.
Most importantly, what I really love about this show is watching this somewhat fictionalised account of how the technology we all now can’t live without come about. How the personal computer went from these gigantic, heavy boxes that requires coding to operate most of the functions to a simple tap on the screen these days. How gaming evolved. How the internet become what it is today. It is fascinating that the show is focusing on the idea of privacy and security online, a topic that is more prevalent today than the 80s I assume.
So, all in all, well done Halt and Catch Fire team for rebooting the show once again, improving and growing with each season. Mostly, congrats for finally finding your footing, thus creating a show that feels more effortless than the previous two seasons. Thank you AMC for giving these guys another chance. Fingers crossed that more people will discover it before it’s too late.