Four episodes were provided for reviewing purposes prior to broadcast.
Firmly entrenched in a post-Breaking Bad and Mad Men era, AMC last year cleverly gave a greenlight to a second season of its then-freshman eighties computer drama series Halt and Catch Fire. Season 1, it should be noted, was rocky. It had one of the worst pilots in recent memory, full of confusing character set-ups, awkwardly explained relationships and a few infuriating female characters or two (exactly two, actually). A testament to the show’s creative resurgence is the fact that, one year later, I’m about to write nine hundred words around the honest truth that I’d greedily watch a spinoff centered around those two same women, thanks to a sophomore season that not only reshuffles the deck in terms of character displacement and pairings, but presents an entirely new shift in focus on a business that its two male leads have (initially) no part of.
A time jump propels the series past any immediate concerns of redundancy (worry not, season 2 is not just another we-have-to-build-a-computer year) and firmly roots it in the budding era of online and social gaming. Joe (Lee Pace) is living in Austin and dating a mysterious woman, done with the computer industry after burning out over the Giant. Gordon (Scoot McNairy) and Donna (Kerry Bishé) are still at home, taking care of their girls, but Gordon is rudderless after cashing out of Cardiff Electric along with every other member of the company’s board. $800,000 and nowhere to go but fitz around in his basement with old computers and a few baggies of a certain era-relevant white powder.
If the guys this season are passively accepting their destiny in the opening hours, Donna and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) are the ones smashing through the walls to move forward. The two are still hard at work making sure their fledgling gaming company, Mutiny, isn’t ruined by any various five-alarm fires that must be put out within the premiere’s opening five minutes alone. It’s a somewhat thrilling second-or-so opening scene that swoops through the incubator, Donna calling out commands over raging Nerf-gun battles and blaring rock music, Cameron taking customer support calls and coders hunched over desks topped with as many monitors as pizza boxes. Cameron’s one rule regarding the lack of a proper boss is still firmly in effect and is causing the more straight-laced mom of the group – Donna – to question the future of the company.
It’s a fascinating pivot, a show which – in the second season’s opening four hours, anyway – fuels its storyline more with characters brought in from the periphery last season to contribute to the main plot. The two just spark well together, especially after rarely getting to appear onscreen at the same time for most of season 1. And even though Cameron’s continued fight to create something new and original with little regard to monetary repercussions constantly puts Donna in the finger-wagging role, neither grate.
Donna’s early-season-1 mauling of Gordon’s dreams always felt selfish and cruel, with no proper context. Now that we know more, since we’ve seen her work on the Giant, her character actions feel less perfunctory and more justified. “So, we’re above water?” Cameron asks Donna after a particularly nasty series of hacks and network breaches threaten the company early on. “No,” Donna responds bluntly. “We’re just not drowning as fast.” She wants Mutiny to work as much as Cameron – the two just have different ways of achieving that goal.