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‘Halt and Catch Fire’ review: Season 3 a joy ride of innovation

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan  in

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan  in "Halt and Catch Fire." Photo Credit: AMC / Tina Rowden

THE SERIES “Halt and Catch Fire”

WHEN | WHERE Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

GRADE A

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The third season of “Halt and Catch Fire” — which began last week — has shifted forward two years, to March 1986, and to San Francisco where Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clark’s (Kerry Bishé) software startup, Mutiny, is looking for seed money and growth. As part of a pact to save their marriage, Donna’s husband, Gordon (Scoot McNairy), has joined Mutiny. Gordon’s former partner, Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), has beat them all to the land of milk and honey. Meanwhile, some familiar faces have joined this season, including Doug Savant as a smarmy venture capitalist; Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray, Mutiny’s headstrong code writer; Matthew Lillard as Ken Diebold, one of Joe’s consiglieres; and Annabeth Gish as Diane Gould, another venture capitalist and unlikely pal to Donna.

MY SAY Primetime has three excellent series about the digital revolution, each different and each — in subtle ways — just about the same. “Mr. Robot” is a dark gaze at tech’s erosion — or obliteration — of human identity. “Silicon Valley” is a cheerfully scatological sendup of the Valley culture that got us to that (or this) point. Then there’s “Halt,” which has located the heart of its own particular darkness in Pace’s Joe MacMillan.

Part-Svengali, part-Yoda, Joe is also a self-styled Zen master of the pithy, empty-headed quote that still manages to sound awfully deep, at least when he’s saying it: “Only by moving past fear can we move to the truth.” By the beginning of the third season, MacMillan has relocated to San Francisco and has turned Gordon’s anti-virus tool into a billion-dollar enterprise. He’s meant to distantly evoke other Pied Pipers who brokered the digital revolution, like Larry Ellison, John McAfee or even Steven Jobs. But he’s essentially just a master salesman selling fear, and fear is what people are buying. Maybe insecurity is just the flavor of the moment, or it reflects the great looming unknown circa 1986: Is this really the early stages of a “revolution” or just a good old-fashioned money grab that could implode at any moment? Joe doesn’t care, as long as he’s in the middle of it.

But what’s so good about “Halt” this season is that it doesn’t stop with MacMillan but often pushes him to the side of the screen. “Halt” really wants to understand the push and pull of innovation — the joy ride of it all — and has assigned Cam, Donna and Gordon that central role. Mutiny is essentially a family unit, with all the attendant drama, and intimacy, of any family unit. Gordon and Donna squabble, trade pillow talk, raise kids and grope toward a future that changes daily, or by the minute. Absent the pillow talk and kids, Cam and Donna do exactly the same.

And out there in the darkness is Joe, listening . . . lurking.

BOTTOM LINE With the third season now based in San Francisco — exactly where it belonged all along — “Halt” finally looks like a series going someplace important, and worth viewers going there with it.

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