'Halt and Catch Fire' ventures into Silicon Valley

Bill Keveney
Donna (Kerry Bishé, left) and Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) move their tech company from Texas to Silicon Valley in AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire.'

Halt and Catch Fire is expanding from Mutiny into full-out tech revolution.

The AMC drama, which charts the frustrating fits and mind-boggling starts of the 1980s computing boom, last season focused on Mutiny, a gaming start-up led by two brilliant women. Season 3 of Halt (two-hour premiere Tuesday, 9 ET/PT) ups the ante as Mutiny moves from Texas to Silicon Valley.

"It felt false that we were keeping our characters away from Silicon Valley the big leagues of the tech industry,," says Christopher C. Rogers, who created the show with Christopher Cantwell. "They have to get in the arena with the real sharks in California."

After a first season that followed the dizzying rises and falls of mesmerizing entrepreneur Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace), Halt emerged on many critics' radar with Season 2's Mutiny, the tech brainchild of idiosyncratic coding genius (and Joe's ex-lover)  Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and brilliant engineer Donna (Kerry Bishé). (Each season of Halt, which averaged 1 million viewers in Season 2, has been filmed without producers and cast knowing if it would be renewed.)

Charismatic Joe Macmillan (Lee Pace) mesmerizes a San Francisco audience in AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire.'

Bishé likes how Donna traded in corporate reserve for start-up boldness.

"From the get-go, Donna had a lot of promise. She had all this potential but she was trapped in a little world. Her arc has been very clearly about realizing that potential. She's become a brilliant free thinker and pursued those ambitions," Bishé says.

Halt's Mutiny has been celebrated for featuring women competing in male-dominated tech, but Bishé and the creators say that would have been less unusual in the 1980s than it would be today.

"There were more women per capita getting computer science and computer engineering degrees back then than now," Cantwell says. "That largely has to do with the amount of money that started to be made in computers, as men suddenly decided it was an important job to program. Marketing took off on a consumer level with the idea of video games for boys and computers being for guys."

Mutiny's collaborative environment is appealing, Bishé says. "There was so much friction, tension and manipulation in Season 1. I feel it was a team you wanted to root for" in the second season.

Conflict and tension will be unavoidable in the coming season. Joe, now a computer-security titan with Steve Jobs-like motivational skills, will intersect with Cameron, Donna and Donna's husband, Gordon (Scoot McNairy), another tech master searching for a new opportunity while pursuing a lawsuit and grudge against Joe.

John Bosworth (Toby Huss), left, and Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) are part of the Mutiny startup in AMC's 'Halt and Catch Fire.'

The women must learn to navigate Silicon Valley, from finding a big idea to securing funding from powerful venture capital firms. They meet a potential ally and role model from that world, Diane Gould (Annabeth Gish), and focus on a new concept: transactional interactions (think eBay or Amazon).

Other new characters include Ryan Ray (Manish Dayal), a talented young coder, and Ken Diebold (Matthew Lillard), a business investor.

As Halt moves into Silicon Valley in 1986, today's viewers may start to recognize the forerunners of our modern Internet-based system of communications and business enterprise.

"From the idea of reverse engineering an IBM PC (in Season 1), we made our way into Mutiny and the proto-social network and  the foothills of of what will become the Internet," Rogers says. "Season 3 is concerned with online connection and retail, things modern viewers are going to understand more as we get into start-up culture and the mythology of companies we know today."