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Halt and Catch Fire - Valley Of The Heart’s Delight & One Way or Another - Review: "Ready for Business"

Through last season Halt and Catch Fire surprisingly became one of my favorite shows on TV, which was an oddity: while I liked the first season, it didn’t seem like anything special for me, and then season 2 came along and it blew me away. Usually my fare is fantasy, sci-dramas (Game of Thrones and Fringe being the number 1 in each genre) and heavy handed psychological thrillers (Mr. Robot and Jessica Jones, for instance), so Halt and Catch Fire didn’t seem like it belong among my favorites, but it managed to sneak through with the high personal stakes, the multi layered characters, the pacing and the overall well constructed narrative and nuanced story it presented. So to say that after season 2 I was more than excited for season 3 is an understatement.

That’s a high bar for a show and it can easily lead to disappointment (Arrow’s fall from grace going from season 2 to 3 being the prime example, or Homeland’s issues on season 3 after a marvellous season 2, among many other examples), however, Halt and Catch Fire returned strong as I expected as everyone involved in the show steps up their game for season 3.

Everyone is ready for business: Halt’s third season premiere is all about a company’s need for growth. The groundwork was laid during season 2, and now they have a user base that currently go for their product. Mutiny is seemingly doing good, but being stable is not enough when you are a company: you either grow or die out, and as such the stakes are incredibly high for everyone involved in this show, even when no life is a stake, just the company they try to lift.

One of the things that made Halt’s second season so successful is that it felt like there were less and less B plots; everything was coming up Mutiny and even while Lee Pace’s Joe felt a bit like a fringe character sometimes doing his own things, he was still complex, interesting and relevant for the Mutiny plot. Nothing felt out of place aside from some minor detours to explore characters further, and so we got a drama that felt focused as opposed to the large, complex (and sometimes convoluted) universes we are presented constantly nowadays. To make a comparison, Halt and Catch Fire is like Stranger Things in the regards of a simple storytelling that is incredibly effective.

The storytelling groundwork for season 3 is as simple as season 2, if not even simpler: Mutiny wants to expand from video games and chat rooms to internet trading goods, a smart decision for the time they live in and what seems a pretty secure market. The drama ensues from trying to make that transition, and the only kind of “B” plot element is Joe’s antivirus company, which is bound to come to play as soon as next week. That’s incredibly simple in terms of storytelling, but it’s also what makes it so effective. The show is focused, it knows where it wants to go as opposed to season 1 where it was hard to tell and it shows its evolution, along with, of course the growth of its characters.

Nothing pleases me more than to see how Mackenzie Davis has fleshed out Cameron: during season 1 she was too whiny, during season 2 sometimes she was too chaotic, but now it feels while she is still somewhat crazy, frustrated genius the show pitched at first, she’s also more focused, smarter and a bit more mature. She has been learning from Donna, I would say, and while she’s still somewhat erratic and impatient, I like to see how she is coming along.

Multilayered characters with clear growth and significant character arcs is what made Halt and Catch Fire catch so much critical praise during last season and we see the trend continuing. Donna is no longer trying to snap Cameron to focus nor has she fallen to a mom role, she is running the business and she finally seems to be having a bit of a break of all the difficulties of her marriage, and that also goes to show Gordon’s commitment to make it work.

The Clarke family is going through a bit of rough patch with Joannie on the verge of adolescence, getting sassy, impulsive and eager to start fighting (literally). What I appreciated about this kind of story that would’ve made me roll my eyes in any other show is how Halt made it so it could tie in with Mutiny’s story, but also showcase the hardships of starting over on a new place; it’s not just hard for her, this story also mirrored how hard it has been for Gordon, who has merely just tried to adapt.

I think one of the most interesting things about Gordon is how he has put his own ego and desires aside in order to help Mutiny grow; the things is, Mutiny isn’t his venture, it’s his wife and Cameron, and Scott McNairy let that be known merely with his sad glances. He is committed, but he isn’t truly fulfilled, which is why it seemed like he was really tempted when Joe offered him to be his partner: even if he said no and he knows better, a part of him always craved for what Joe offered, the chance to stand out for himself.

Now, while Cameron and Donna have found their share of success with Mutiny, it doesn’t mean everything is well and settled, they go through their own struggle: it’s the 80s, and even now we live in a sexist world, so it’s no surprise that most of the time they find the doors shut merely because they are women or, even worse, they get offers exactly because of it, as we see on episode 2 of this double premiere, one of the guys thinks they are “ready to play”. I really appreciate that kind of subtlety, which is not outright saying it but it is blatantly honest about what’s going on.

The double episode premiere is all about our favorite characters figuring out the next step: they made it to a somewhat stable position, but they are not favored by the press, they have a hard time finding investors and Joe MacMillan stands out as a possible threat, but we are not sure if he really is (in classic Joe fashion).

And I love everything going on with Bos. From his singing, to his micro managing of everyone, to his honestly with Cameron and Donna, and that incredible robot butler. Oh! And the Star Wars references. Everything about Bos is either cool or downright amazing, and it’s also nice to see him dealing with the separation from his son. Moving to the Sillicon Valley also meant leaving something extremely meaningful behind and it builds on his redemption arc from season 2.

We also have all our favorite community workers plus Ryan. Ryan is just there trying to be validated, which becomes obvious in his interview with Joe. He wants to stand out, but most of all, he wants to be heard, be a part of something and he doesn’t feel that way in Mutiny. I don’t have much sympathy for him, however, as he never looks to put much of an effort to get along the people beside him, but rather claims to know everything and think he is right all the time, We’ll see what happen between him and Joe.

There is a lot of things to love about the premiere: from it’s attention to details, to the growth and development of the characters, to all the issues that are arising. New players like Ryan and Diane arise and show signs of conflict and progress; Diane is an interesting case as she seems to be both on board and opposition to Mutiny. I really can’t tell if she will be helping out or bringing them down, but so far it seems she’s ready for business, so we’ll see.

The setup is brilliant, there’s a lot of heartfelt humor, anxiety, optimism and fear, which is something that represents our daily lives pretty well. It also showcases the reality of surging companies: if you halt you catch fire (pun intended). And it’s part of Halt and Catch Fire’s strengths.

This is a show that I love and wish more people gave it a chance, at least on the US: I know it’s doing good on digital and it has a solid international audience, but AMC can only profit so much from those sources, and 300K viewers is bad, to say the least, and it’s not like Mr. Robot or Crazy Ex Girlfriend, which have awards to back them up.

AMC has been kind enough to let the show find its footing and run for as long as it has, but I think that Halt shouldn’t live merely by the network’s kindness, it should be able to gather a strong following due to their heartfelt attempt to make a great TV show and as such gather, if not blockbuster, at least decent ratings. I don’t know if that can be reverted this season, but I’ll continue to vouch for this little, bold show that offers a much needed variety in the era of reboots, remakes and oversaturation.

Grade: A-

Stray Observations:

-Due to the lack of feedback last season I decided that this season I would do only 2 reviews for the show, one for the season premiere and another for the season finale with a brief season 3 analysis. However, if you want to, I can also do special reviews for standout episodes or episodes that have game changer twists or such (like last season’s “Kali” for one).

-Loving all the Star Wars reference: death star, drones, keep bringing them! And just like last season when they watched Terminator, keep watching 80s movies every now and then please.

-The Music is still its own character on the show.

-Love how when Ryan is seeing the "Are you Safe?" ad, it seems like it said "Are you Sad?". I don't know if it was intentional, but it works wonder.

-How long before Ryan is burnt by Joe? I give it 4 episodes.

-Please, if you are in the US, watch this show live. It is worth it and I think it's perfect for Tuesdays nights.

About the Author - Pablo
I'm currently studying Psychology while also writing fantasy books (one already published in my home country, Chile, you can check it out on the facebook icon). I watch many different types of shows, including my favorites Game of Thrones, Mr. Robot, Jessica Jones, and about 23 more. Currently writing occasional reviews for Halt and Catch Fire and regular reviews for The Flash season 3
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