Halt and Catch Fire (TV series)
Halt and Catch Fire is an American period drama television series created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers that aired on AMC from June 1, 2014, to October 14, 2017. Taking place over a period of ten years, the series depicts a fictionalized insider's view of the personal computer revolution of the 1980s and later the growth of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s. The show's title refers to computer machine code instruction HCF, the execution of which would cause the computer's central processing unit to stop working ("catch fire" was a humorous exaggeration).
|Halt and Catch Fire|
Christopher C. Rogers
|Theme music composer||Trentemøller|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||40 (list of episodes)|
|Production location(s)||Atlanta, Georgia|
|Running time||42–53 minutes|
|Original release||June 1, 2014– October 14, 2017|
In season one, entrepreneur Joe MacMillan (Lee Pace) joins the company Cardiff Electric and leads them into the personal computing industry with computer engineer Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and prodigy programmer Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis). Seasons two and three shift focus to an online community startup company, Mutiny, that is headed by Cameron and Gordon's wife Donna (Kerry Bishé), while Joe attempts to venture out on his own. The fourth and final season focuses on competing web search engines involving all the principal characters. Filmed in Atlanta, Georgia, the series is set in the Silicon Prairie of Dallas–Fort Worth for its first two seasons, and Silicon Valley for its latter two.
Though it experienced low viewership ratings throughout its run, Halt and Catch Fire debuted to generally favorable reviews and grew in acclaim in each subsequent season.
Conception and development historyEdit
Halt and Catch Fire was created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers. The two met while working at the Walt Disney Company. Cantwell's online movie company was acquired by Disney and he was moved into its marketing department, while Rogers was hired by Cantwell's team to manage Disney's editorial program for social media. After a year of working together, they learned that each had graduated from screenwriting programs in college—Cantwell from the University of Southern California as an undergraduate student, and Rogers from the University of California, Los Angeles as a graduate student. Rogers referred to himself and Cantwell as "dream-deferred writers". In August 2010, the two agreed to partner with each other on screenwriting, and their first script together, a pilot about the assassination of John F. Kennedy called The Knoll, landed on the Black List of popular unproduced screenplays. It also solidified the relationship with their talent agents, who urged them to work on another script that they could use as a staffing sample. Since their agents thought it was unlikely that a network would option a script from two first-time writers, the intent was to use the staffing sample to land them entry-level writing positions in the industry. Consequently, their agents advised them to write something they were personally invested in.
As Cantwell and Rogers brainstormed for their staffing sample, Cantwell recalled his childhood in Plano, Texas, where his father moved their family in 1982 to take a job as a systems software salesman. As a child, Cantwell had been unaware of Texas' role in the personal computer revolution of the 1980s, but after speaking to his father and researching the era with Rogers, they learned how the Silicon Prairie of Dallas–Fort Worth (in which Plano was located) became a secondary technology hub behind California's Silicon Valley. Companies in the Silicon Prairie included Texas Instruments, EDS, Tandy, and RadioShack, while elsewhere in Texas, Dell (in Austin) and Compaq (in Houston) also were prominent players in the PC industry. Executive producer Jonathan Lisco said, "[Texas] was viewed by a lot of people at the time, per our research, as sort of a catch basin for people who had not succeeded [in Silicon Valley]. On the other hand, there was a lot of wonderful tech going on here." Cantwell said that he and Rogers were intrigued by the lesser-known players and settings of the tech industry: "We wanted to find the place you didn't know. Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, IBM, Microsoft, all those stories and companies have been exploited dramatically to great effect." During their research, Cantwell and Rogers came across stories of computer engineers taking risks in attempting to reverse engineer the IBM PC. These stories informed their script for the Halt and Catch Fire pilot, which the two conceived in January 2011. As the duo wrote the pilot, Cantwell left Disney; Rogers remained until the future of their project was assured.
Cantwell's and Rogers' agents liked the script but were not optimistic about their chances of selling it. Nonetheless, they sent it to several television networks, leading to meetings with HBO and Showtime, none of which proved fruitful. In late 2011, the writers met with AMC; by that point, Cantwell had been out of work for five months and was quickly depleting his savings. He and Rogers were surprised to find that the AMC executives had a copy of their script on hand in the meeting. One of the executives, Ben Davis, said: "We were really interested in trying to tap into that world — into the spirit of innovation, and the tech world specifically. I loved the idea that it took place in Dallas and that I didn't hear Steve Jobs' or Bill Gates' name. It approached it from the backdoor instead of straight ahead." After holding a second meeting with Cantwell and Rogers to discuss how they would flesh out their story, AMC ordered the pilot in November 2012. The project was Cantwell's and Rogers' first jobs in the television industry; Cantwell said, "The first writers' room we walked into was our own." The network announced a series order of ten episodes in July 2013.
In February 2013, it was announced that Lee Pace had been cast for the lead role of Joe MacMillan, and that Mackenzie Davis had been cast in a co-starring role as Cameron Howe. The following month, Scoot McNairy was cast as Gordon Clark and Kerry Bishé as his character's wife, Donna Clark; the casting was a reunion for McNairy and Bishé, who had played a married couple before in the film Argo a year prior.
For season two, Aleksa Palladino joined the cast as a series regular, while James Cromwell and Mark O'Brien joined as recurring characters. For season three, Manish Dayal was cast as Ryan Ray, an Indian-American computer programmer native to San Francisco. Cantwell and Rogers created the character to match the change in demographic after the series' setting shifted to Northern California that season. Matthew Lillard and Annabeth Gish were also cast in recurring roles. For season four, Kathryn Newton and Susanna Skaggs were cast to play teenage versions of the Clarks' daughters, and Anna Chlumsky joined in a supporting role.
Prior to the fourth season, AMC addressed the gender pay gap among its four leads by giving Davis and Bishé salary raises to match what Pace and McNairy were already earning. Davis and Bishé were relatively unknown when they originally signed their deals for the series, and Davis was earning the minimum quote at the time. Their characters earned more screen time beginning with the second season, but the actresses did not feel they were being compensated equitably for their work. Before Davis and Bishé could renegotiate with AMC, the network gave them unsolicited raises.
Due to the Cantwell's and Rogers' inexperience, the network wanted experienced producers for the project and brought in Melissa Bernstein and Mark Johnson, who were producing AMC's hit television drama Breaking Bad at the time. The two guided Cantwell and Rogers through the process of creating the pilot and were, as the writers called them, their "advocates.. with the network". AMC also chose to hire someone more experienced as the series showrunner. As part of a two-year deal with AMC, Jonathan Lisco was named to the role, having just concluded three seasons as executive producer on the television drama series Southland. Lisco was impressed by the script for the Halt and Catch Fire pilot but was initially unconvinced that he was best suited for the role of showrunner. He did not view himself as a technophile and questioned if there would be "enough stakes in the bits and the bytes", saying the subject matter did not "dramatically blow your hair back". However, the network helped change his mind by telling him the series could not be exclusively about technology and the reason for their interest in him was his desire to delve deep into the characters to create stakes. After meeting with Cantwell and Rogers, Lisco felt an immediate creative connection and sensed that they had a strong vision for the series, convincing him to sign on as showrunner. Leasing office space in Studio City, Los Angeles, he helped walk Cantwell and Rogers through the process of assessing and hiring writers.
Lisco stepped down as showrunner after the second season to work on the TNT television series Animal Kingdom. AMC's president of original programming and development Joel Stillerman called his departure "completely amicable". Cantwell and Rogers took over as showrunners beginning with the third season. Rogers called Lisco the duo's mentor, saying: "He kept us creatively involved and really showed us the ropes, and we felt like it was a master class in how to run a room, both in terms of getting a great story out of people, and in terms of being a really good and decent and fair person in what can sometimes be a brutal industry." During the same offseason, all of the series' writers also departed, as they were each busy working on their own projects. As a result, Cantwell and Rogers were forced to build a new writing staff. Due to series' shift in setting from Dallas to California for the third season, Cantwell and Rogers wanted the visuals to have a sunnier look, resulting in them hiring a new director of photography, Evans Brown.
Cantwell and Rogers were hoping to use the pilot to land writing jobs on series they already liked. Consequently, they wrote it to emulate the "difficult men" dramas that inspired them to get into television, series such as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad. The protagonist Joe MacMillan was written in the pilot as a traditional antihero, with the world organized around him. After the series was picked up and the staff began writing additional episodes, Rogers said they found a "writers' groove" and changed their approach: "We figured out what was our voice, as opposed to the voice that felt like it was emulating the shows we liked." Each season, the writers strove to "use up [their] story fast", rather than save the most dramatic moments for the finale. They also aimed to advance the plot quickly enough that it would not be predictable to the audience. Rogers described their approach: "we want to put ourselves into corners and ask ourselves to write out of them."
Pre-production, filming, and production designEdit
Halt and Catch Fire was produced in-house by AMC Studios, which has infrastructure and crew in Atlanta, Georgia, due to state tax incentives that are favorable to filming. Although the series was set in Dallas and Silicon Valley, it was primarily filmed in the Atlanta area. The writing staff, however, was based in Los Angeles. Many crew members who worked on another Atlanta-based AMC series, The Walking Dead, were borrowed during its offseason to work on Halt and Catch Fire. The series was shot using Arri Alexa cameras, with dailies being delivered by FotoKem Atlanta using their nextLAB system. The series had a budget that various sources estimated between $2–$3 million per episode, which Variety said was on the lower end of cable TV dramas.
Production on the pilot began in April 2013. It was shot on location in the Atlanta area, with the exception of one set that served as Joe's condominium and a few shots that were taken in Dallas. After the series was picked up, several scenes from the pilot episode were re-shot. Lisco said that the staff wanted to make the tone "a little more jagged, a little more ambiguous" by giving the Cameron more edge and by exploring whether Joe is "a visionary or a fraud".
After the series' order, the staff decided that the production facility housing Joe's condo set was too far away from other locations at which the crew would need to shoot. As a result, the staff partnered with Mark Henderson, Daniel Minchew, and Glenn Murer, who converted a facility that previously served as a DuPont plant and a dog food factory into a sound stage. The space, named Atlanta Filmworks, comprised two adjacent 20,000-square-foot warehouses and a 17,000-square-foot production office. The soundproofed Studio A, measuring 110 feet wide by 200 feet long by 42 feet high, housed the set for Cardiff Electric's corporate offices, which occupied 9,000 square feet. Initially envisioned as a flex space for set construction, Studio B was also used for filming, housing the set for Joe's condo, among others. As a result, several enhancements were made prior to season two, such as quieter heaters and additional lighting.
Production on the remaining nine episodes of the first season began in November 2013. The weather was uncharacteristically cold and snowy for Atlanta, complicating outdoor shoots and suspending production for a few days. Location scouting was carried out by location manager Ryan Schaetzle to find settings that would not be anachronistic and would require the least amount of modifications to match the period setting. Storefronts and restaurants proved particularly difficult for achieving period accuracy, as small details such as carpeting, window frames, lighting fixtures, chair upholstery patterns, and bathroom fixtures needed to be retrofitted. Strategic framing of shots was also used to avoid anachronisms. Scenes set at a Las Vegas hotel hosting COMDEX attendees in the season's penultimate episode were filmed at the American Cancer Society Center in downtown Atlanta.
After the first season, the production staff decided to dismantle all of the sets except for the Clark family house. Cantwell said that the decision was made to force the series to reinvent itself and to parallel the reinvention common within the technology industry. The season two set for the house that headquartered Mutiny, Cameron's start-up company, was designed to mimic the homes found in the Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas. Modeled after a single-story American Craftsman–style home that was popular in the 1920s, the set's design featured hardwood floors, ample trim moldings, built-in shelving painted white, and curved kitchen woodwork. Although the series' setting moved to Silicon Valley beginning with the third season, production remained in the Atlanta area, with the exception of two scenes from that season that were shot near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
For research, the production staff and cast studied Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Tracy Kidder's book The Soul of a New Machine, and Robert X. Cringely's documentary Triumph of the Nerds. The series had at least three technical advisors, among them Bill Lowden and industry veteran Carl Ledbetter, the latter of whom worked at IBM, AT&T Consumer Products, and Sun Microsystems. In addition to reviewing early scripts for authenticity, Ledbetter helped operate props on set, controlling lights on a breadboard from underneath a table or hand feeding a printout through a dot matrix printer. At the series' onset, much of the vintage computer props were obtained on eBay or from private collectors through Craigslist. One such prop was the original Apple Macintosh, which had become a collector's item and was particularly difficult to locate. Many props were also borrowed from the Rhode Island Computer Museum. From season two onwards, the series' staff collaborated with the Living Computers: Museum + Labs in Seattle to obtain vintage equipment. One prop that could not be sourced was an IBM 3033 mainframe computer, requiring a replica to be built in consultation with Living Computers using original plans from IBM's archives.
Due to the production schedule, the actors did not have formal table reads of the scripts. Instead, they organized their own, gathering at Pace's house on weekends to prepare dinner, drink wine, and discuss the scripts and their characters. Davis said of the cast dinners, "it was really nice, because you got to hear other people's point of views about your character." For the third season, Pace, Davis, and McNairy lived together in a rented house in Atlanta, with Toby Huss joining them for the fourth season. The arrangement helped foster a camaraderie among the cast members.
The opening title sequence was created by the design studio Elastic, with creative direction from Antibody. Patrick Clair served as director and Jennifer Sofio Hall as executive producer, with lead animation by Raoul Marks, art direction by Eddy Herringson, and typographic consultation by Jennifer Walsh. The title sequence depicts an electrical signal racing across a neon-red digital landscape, leaving a trail as it travels. Along the way it passes digitally distressed images of the main cast members, before it completes its journey to light up an LED indicator. Marks said the signal was depicted "allegorically to illustrate the competing forces driving young tech entrepreneurs towards a new technological dawn".
The animators were tasked with creating an "abstract and symbolic" sequence "about the computer era that was about people, not machines", which they found challenging. The sequence originated as pitch to the showrunners to depict the "birth of an idea". The artists' first inspiration was to show a lightbulb turning on, a common visual metaphor for an idea, and consequently they sought to show the journey of a signal to light up the bulb. Clair said the storyboarding process took longer than usual and went through many iterations. During this stage, Herringson toyed with geometric shapes inspired by Saul Bass art, retro video games, and sex education films; Clair said the team "bounced between digital sperm to missile command and back — all in 8-bit." After several iterations, they replaced the lightbulb with an LED indicator to better evoke the computer era. In the initial pitch, the artists depicted competing signals that ended up disintegrating or being left behind, but these elements were scaled back. The team took artistic license with the appearance of electric and digital signals in the sequence. Due to the need to show the signal in a state of constant motion from shot to shot, precise animation and cuts between shots were required. Serif fonts were used for the credits and were inspired by the mature, classical typography and conservative layout design of personal computing advertisements from the 1980s. The color scheme, inspired by high-saturation 4-bit color computer graphics, was dominated by an "iridescent red that never peaked beyond hot magenta".
To give the title sequence a human element, images of the main cast members were incorporated. Rather than show "beauty shots" of the actors, the animators heavily edited images of them in a glitch art style. Marks "de-rezzed" the character images with Adobe Photoshop by selecting rectangular sections and using the software's average color feature on each; Marks said the process gave each portrait an "interesting facial approximation". Afterwards, the images were built into 3D models, although the artists did not want a "fully immersive 3D scene" but one that still had "more depth than just a graphic". Since the series' story was about "people putting pressure on themselves, and risking self-destruction through their own ambition", the artists wanted to depict them "decaying, breaking under the pressure of velocity and self-destruction". They achieved this by streaking debris, digital artifacts, and facial details away from the portraits in horizontal lines; Marks likened the effect to a person "re-entering the atmosphere from orbit but in a digital world".
The opening theme was composed by Danish electronic musician Trentemøller. Marks described the theme as "straddl[ing] the line between contemporary electronica and more retro-analog" sounds. The theme was provided late in the process of creating the title sequence.
- Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan: A technology entrepreneur and former IBM sales executive. He joins Cardiff Electric where he provides the impetus for the IBM clone. Later in the series, he initiates projects involving time-sharing, NSFNET, antivirus software, a web browser and a search engine. He has limited technical expertise and has a difficult relationship with other characters, including a complicated romantic relationship with Cameron Howe, and he is estranged from his parents.
- Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark: A computer engineer who is selected by Joe MacMillan to build the IBM clone in the first season after Joe reads an article that Gordon wrote on open architecture. Motivated about the failure of Symphonic, a computer he created with his wife Donna, Gordon works with Joe to build the hardware for the new computer. He suffers from a degenerative brain disorder caused by toxic encephalopathy throughout the later seasons and the breakdown of his marriage.
- Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe (born Catherine Howe): A technology prodigy who is recruited from university by Joe MacMillian to write the BIOS for the IBM clone. She later forms her own gaming company Mutiny with Donna Clark and creates Space Bike, a successful video game series for Atari. Her father died in the Vietnam War and she has a difficult relationship with her mother.
- Kerry Bishé as Donna Clark (née Emerson): A computer engineer and wife of Gordon. She originally works for Texas Instruments, before joining Mutiny to support Cameron. After Mutiny, she becomes a partner in a top Silicon Valley venture capital firm. Donna is shown to put her own ambition above her relationships, particularly the one she has with Cameron.
- Toby Huss as John Bosworth: The senior VP of Cardiff Electric who hired Joe at Cardiff. At the end of the first season, he is incarcerated for illegally funding the PC project. He is shown to be a good salesman and in season 2 he works for Mutiny. He sees himself as a father figure to Cameron Howe.
- Aleksa Palladino as Sara Wheeler (season 2): A freelance journalist and Joe's girlfriend during season 2.
- Morgan Hinkleman (season 1–3) and Kathryn Newton (seasons 3–4) as Joanie Clark
- Alana Cavanaugh (season 1–3) and Susanna Skaggs (season 4) as Haley Clark
- August Emerson as Malcolm "Lev" Levitan (seasons 1–3)
- Cooper Andrews as Yo-Yo Engberk (seasons 1–3)
- David Wilson Barnes as Dale Butler (seasons 1, 4)
- Graham Beckel as Nathan Cardiff (seasons 1–2)
- Annette O'Toole as Susan Emerson (seasons 1–2)
- Mike Pniewski as Barry Shields (seasons 1–2)
- Scott Michael Foster as Hunt Whitmarsh (season 1)
- John Getz as Joe MacMillan, Sr. (season 1)
- Mark O'Brien as Tom Rendon (seasons 2–4)
- James Cromwell as Jacob Wheeler (season 2)
- Annabeth Gish as Diane Gould (seasons 3–4)
- Manish Dayal as Ryan Ray (season 3)
- Matthew Lillard as Ken Diebold (season 3)
- Anna Chlumsky as Dr. Katie Herman (season 4)
- Molly Ephraim as Alexa Vonn (season 4)
Episodes and series synopsisEdit
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||10||June 1, 2014||August 3, 2014|
|2||10||May 31, 2015||August 2, 2015|
|3||10||August 21, 2016||October 11, 2016|
|4||10||August 19, 2017||October 14, 2017|
In 1983, former IBM sales executive Joe MacMillan joins Cardiff Electric, a Dallas-based mainframe software company. There, he enlists the help of computer engineer Gordon Clark to reverse engineer an IBM PC and reconstruct the assembly language code of its BIOS. Company owner Nathan Cardiff and vice president John Bosworth confront the two when the company is sued by IBM for copyright infringement. After Joe reveals that he told IBM about the project, Cardiff Electric is forced to legitimize it and enter the personal computing business. Needing a software engineer to write the BIOS for their IBM clone, Joe recruits prodigy college student Cameron Howe to join Cardiff. Joe heads the PC project, with Gordon leading the hardware team and Cameron writing the BIOS in a "clean room". Joe's goal for the PC is to be twice the speed at half the cost of IBM's PC, but much of the company does not buy into his vision or trust him. He further alienates himself from Cardiff and Bosworth by upsetting a potential investor and after IBM responds to the project by luring away two-thirds of Cardiff Electric's clients, resulting in layoffs.
Despite being suspicious of Joe, Cameron begins an on-again, off-again relationship with him. Gordon's wife, Donna, an engineer at Texas Instruments, is wary of her husband's involvement in the project after the failure of their PC, the Symphonic, years prior. Eventually she contributes to Cardiff Electric's project, first by leading a data recovery effort (for a data loss event faked by Joe) then inspiring Gordon with the idea for a double-sided printed circuit board. Gordon brokers a deal to procure discounted liquid crystal displays through his father-in-law's connection with a Japanese company. After finishing the BIOS, Cameron is promoted to head of the software engineering team and designs a user-friendly operating system (OS) intended to draw the user in. Joe's ex-lover Simon, an industrial designer, designs the case for the PC, which is named the "Cardiff Giant". Initially hesitant to the project, Bosworth comes around, only to be told by Cardiff that he will not fund it any further. With Cameron's help, Bosworth embezzles money to sustain the project but is arrested as the Cardiff Electric office is raided by the FBI. Having smuggled out the prototype of the Giant, Gordon convinces the others to proceed with their plan to present at the COMDEX trade show.
At COMDEX, the team are shocked to discover the "Slingshot", a copycat of the Giant, being presented by the Clarks' neighbor (a former Cardiff Electric employee) and Donna's former manager from TI. In order to undercut the Slingshot and make the Giant commercially viable, Gordon removes Cameron's OS and the supporting hardware. When Joe supports the decision, a heartbroken Cameron leaves him. Joe and Gordon present the downgraded Giant at COMDEX and secure their first order, but it's a hollow victory for the team. After witnessing a demonstration of the Apple Macintosh at the conference, Joe becomes disillusioned with the Giant. Cameron quits Cardiff Electric and takes most of the software engineering team with her to start an online gaming startup company called Mutiny. After Donna leaves TI, she accepts an offer from Cameron to join Mutiny. The Cardiff Electric team celebrates the completion of the Giant, but Joe sets fire to the truck containing the first shipment and disappears, leaving Gordon to run the company.
After releasing two models of the Giant to modest success, Cardiff Electric is sold to an international conglomerate in 1985. Running Mutiny out of a rented house with their developers, Donna and Cameron are frantically dealing with day-to-day crises to keep the company afloat. Gordon collects a large six-figure check as part of the Cardiff Electric sale, but Joe receives nothing. Ready to move on from his past, Joe gets engaged to his girlfriend Sara and goes to work at Westgroup Energy, an oil magnate where her father, Jacob Wheeler, is CEO. Starting off in data entry, Joe spots an opportunity to use the company's mainframe computers for time-sharing.
Cameron hires a recently paroled Bosworth, who provides managerial direction for Mutiny and serves as a father figure to her. She also hires one the company's subscribing users, Tom, a gifted game designer whom she begins dating. In his newfound free time, Gordon attempts to map Mutiny's network by writing a computer program called "Sonaris". However, it inadvertently acts as malware, infecting Mutiny's network and users. Eager to make up for his mistake, Gordon agrees to Joe's request to secretly help configure Westgroup's mainframes for time-sharing, on the condition that Mutiny be the first client at a discounted rate. With a stable network, Mutiny thrives, due in part to the service's popular new "Community" chat rooms conceived by Donna. Her dedication to work takes her attention away from her home life, and after becoming pregnant, she decides to have an abortion. Meanwhile, Gordon is diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy but decides not to tell Donna.
Jacob supports Joe's time-sharing pitch but asks him to lock in a more lucrative rate for Westgroup. Cameron objects to increased charges, but Donna and Joe negotiate a compromised rate based on Mutiny meeting certain benchmarks. One of those is porting their software to the AT&T Unix PC, which the Mutiny team unsuccessfully fakes during a demo for Joe. Despite the ruse, he is impressed by their innovation to transmit data over coaxial cable. Seeing the potential for broadband network connections, Joe convinces Jacob that Westgroup should acquire Mutiny. Cameron vacillates on whether to accept their offer but is dissuaded by Joe after he realizes Jacob would corrupt the startup's vision. Joe decides to quit Westgroup and after marrying Sara, plans to move with her to California.
Gordon finally tells Donna about his medical diagnosis, but refuses to let it distract her from Mutiny. However, his condition begins to worsen, as he exudes paranoia, breaks into a friend's garage, and later suffers an injury looking for his car in a parking garage, resulting in him requiring stress therapy. Tom and Cameron write a first-person shooter game, but on the night of its planned launch, they discover Westgroup has replaced Mutiny's service on their network with a copycat version called "WestNet". Joe tries to explain to the Mutiny staff that he is not responsible, but they don't believe him. Cameron and Donna are forced to sell the game to sustain the company. Dismayed that he was not involved in the decision, Tom breaks up with Cameron and leaves the company. Cameron visits Joe at Westgroup and emotionally manipulates him, allowing her to run the "Sonaris" malware on a Westgroup computer, crippling the company's network during Joe's presentation of WestNet at a shareholders meeting.
Losing her trust in Joe, Sara divorces him. Jacob is scapegoated for the WestNet fiasco and is fired. After Gordon admits to having an affair, Donna gives him an ultimatum to save their marriage: he must purchase and renovate a mainframe computer located in California for Mutiny, move their family there with the company, and take a job with them; he agrees. Gordon writes Joe an antivirus program in hopes it will help Westgroup, but Joe uses it instead to pitch a venture capitalist. He invites Gordon to join him in the venture but is refused. Gordon is furious to learn later that Joe has received $10 million in funding for a new company in the San Francisco Bay Area, MacMillan Utility. Having transitioned from games to an online community, Mutiny departs for California.
In 1986, Mutiny reaches 100,000 users and celebrates the launch of its mainframe computer. Cameron is living with the Clarks, whose marital tensions flare up in the office, and Gordon is in the middle of a copyright infringement lawsuit against Joe. After noticing that Mutiny's chat feature is facilitating user-to-user transactions, Donna and Cameron are inspired to build an online trading feature and begin pitching venture capitalists. One of them, Diane Gould, helps them acquire a budding competitor, Swap Meet. Meanwhile, a Mutiny programmer, Ryan Ray, uncovers a security vulnerability in the chat rooms, but Donna and Cameron pay little attention. Ryan feels underappreciated at Mutiny, and after being inspired by Joe's presentation of MacMillan Utility's no-cost consumer antivirus software, Citadel, he convinces Joe to hire him.
The merger between Swap Meet and Mutiny causes friction in the office, as Cameron is resistant to adapting her code to be compatible with Swap Meet's. Although she eventually agrees to do so, she expresses a desire to fire the Swap Meet founders, Doug and Craig; Donna lies to Cameron about Diane's willingness to support such a decision. At MacMillan Utility, when Ryan learns that the company plans to charge users for Citadel, he views it as a betrayal of Joe's principles. Joe tells him that if they are to keep Citadel free of charge, they will need another revenue stream. Beginning a special project in Joe's apartment, Ryan maps the ARPANET, an early predecessor to the Internet. Studying the map, they see potential in NSFNET, a backbone network not yet approved for commercial use. The two build their own regional network at MacMillan Utility, but after spending millions of the company's money and making a handshake deal with the NSFNET in defiance of the company's board of directors, Joe is stripped of his executive powers. As a result, he declares in a deposition that Citadel was stolen from Gordon.
Cameron's and Donna's relationship continues to deteriorate; Cameron unilaterally fires Doug and Craig, and the women clash on a solution for implementing credit card transactions, as well as whether to undertake an initial public offering (IPO) after Mutiny receives a $20 million acquisition offer from CompuServe. She and Donna eventually agree to pursue the IPO, but Cameron wants to delay it 1–2 years to continue developing Mutiny, while Donna sees a window of opportunity of just three months. Cameron is outvoted by Donna, Diane, Bosworth, and Gordon on the IPO; feeling betrayed, she leaves the company, and decides to move to Japan with Tom, whom she recently married. The Mutiny IPO dramatically underperforms expectations to everyone's shock.
Gordon and Joe preserve the NSFNET deal with Gordon heading MacMillan Utility, but the company is thrown into disarray after Ryan releases Citadel's source code and becomes a fugitive from the FBI. Due to his association with Ryan, Joe removes himself from the project to keep it alive. Months later, Ryan shows up at Joe's apartment and is dismayed to learn his legal options. The next morning, Joe discovers that Ryan has committed suicide by jumping from the apartment balcony; Ryan's suicide note warns about the ways in which people will use the connectedness of computer networks to hurt each other.
Four years later in 1990, Mutiny has folded. The Clarks are amicably divorced. Donna is named partner at Diane's VC firm, while Gordon is running the regional network. Joe is working out of his apartment, still mourning Ryan. Bosworth is retired and living with Diane. Cameron is a successful video game developer for Atari. While promoting her game Space Bike IV at COMDEX, she reconnects with Joe and sleeps with him. Shortly after, Donna, Joe, Gordon, Cameron, and Tom meet at the former Mutiny office over several days to discuss a memo about the fledgling World Wide Web that Donna sent them. Joe proposes building a web browser, and everyone but Tom is receptive; he and Joe have a physical altercation, halting the meetings. Still hurt by the dissolution of their friendship, Cameron tells Donna she cannot work with her; Donna begrudgingly tells her to take the project and leaves. Huddled around a computer, Gordon, Joe, and Cameron prepare to start their new venture.
Over three years, Gordon and Joe form a successful internet service provider (ISP) called CalNect, though Joe focuses on logging new website URLs on Post-It Notes. Meanwhile, Cameron is working in Japan on a web browser for the team, but fails to complete it before Mosaic beats them to market. When CalNect's backbone provider MCI declines to offer them more bandwidth, Gordon and Joe realize MCI is forming its own ISP, leading them to sell the business. Meanwhile, Cameron's latest game, a cerebral role-playing game called Pilgrim is performing poorly in focus groups and after a critical review is published, Atari puts the title on hold. During a visit to California, she tells Joe that Tom is divorcing her; she and Joe rekindle a romance. At the VC firm AGGEK, Donna sets up an incubator for a medical database indexing company called Rover to pivot them into web indexing. Needing to dig himself out of debt, Bosworth comes out of retirement to oversee the project.
After Gordon's teenage daughter Haley builds a website from Joe's directory of URLs, they form a new startup called Comet to develop it into a human-curated web directory. The team hires a chief ontologist, Katie, who Gordon begins dating. Donna is surprised to learn her daughter is working on a search engine competing with her own. As Comet grows, Rover's algorithm proves substandard. Desperate for the project to succeed, Bosworth approaches Cameron to ask for help improving the algorithm, which she obliges. Rover's sudden improvement results in Series A funding but Donna is suspicious. When she gets into an argument with Bosworth about the subject, he suffers a heart attack. At the hospital, Donna realizes Cameron was behind the algorithm and tells her to stay out of her life. Cameron admits to Joe her role in helping his competition.
Facing an intellectual property ownership conflict, Donna fires Rover's head programmer. When Diane asks her to purchase the rights to the algorithm, Cameron, Donna refuses due her estrangement from Cameron. Diane subsequently removes her from the project and orders her to acquire the algorithm; Cameron signs it away to Rover without accepting compensation. After meeting with a financier, Alexa, Cameron is given funding to work independently and begins developing virtual worlds. At Comet, Joe encourages Haley when he begins to notice her queer tendencies. When Haley's school grades begin slipping, Gordon tells her she must take time off from Comet, leading to her storming out. Bosworth admits to Diane that he is in debt; the two marry. Although Rover is generating more web traffic than Comet, Donna tells Gordon she thinks retaining visitors longer will be the key to success. As a result, he is inspired with an idea to relaunch Comet as a web portal, which Joe excitedly agrees to. However, before they can begin, Gordon dies from a stroke. His friends and family gather to grieve and clean out his house; Cameron and Donna reconcile, while Katie departs for Seattle.
Months later, Comet is ready for its relaunch, for which Cameron led the development. Joe wants to optimize the site for the yet-to-be released browser Netscape Navigator. After Alexa sends Cameron a beta copy of it, she and Joe discover that Yahoo! has received prominent placement on the browser's toolbar as its default search provider. They realize that Comet has already lost, and after one final night together, they break up. Joe sells Comet, while AGGEK agrees to sell Rover's algorithm to index medical records once again. Diane retires and is succeeded at the firm by Donna, who renames it "Symphonic Ventures" and fosters a relaxed, inclusive work culture. After unsuccessful business trips together, Cameron ends her professional relationship with Alexa. Preparing to leave California, Cameron stops at Donna's house to say goodbye but stays to help Donna try to recover Haley's school project from her crashed hard drive. Donna and Cameron discuss the prospect of working together again. Later that evening, Donna hosts a gala for women in tech before visiting the former Mutiny offices with Cameron. The following morning, as they leave a diner, Donna has an epiphany and tells Cameron, "I have an idea". Joe returns home to New York to become a humanities teacher. Addressing his students with the same words he spoke to Cameron's college class in the series pilot, he says, "Let me start by asking a question."
The pilot was screened at the South by Southwest festival on March 8, 2014. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak moderated a panel discussion with Cantwell and Rogers at the festival. He called the pilot "very realistic". Beginning on May 19, 2014, the premiere episode was made available through video on demand and TV Everywhere services, as well as online for streaming on AMC.com and the network's Tumblr page, making it the first TV series to premiere on Tumblr. The pilot was also screened for employees of several technology companies, such as Apple, Twitter, Google, and Dropbox. Halt and Catch Fire premiered on June 1, 2014. The pilot episode was the only one distributed to critics for review, an uncommon practice for new series, which usually make multiple episodes available upon premiering.
Season one was released on Netflix and AMC.com for home streaming on April 8, 2015, for a limited time. It is also available on Amazon Video in the UK and Germany. In December 2017, the entire series became available for streaming on Netflix.
|1||78% (40 reviews)||69/100 (31 reviews)|
|2||90% (20 reviews)||73/100 (8 reviews)|
|3||96% (23 reviews)||83/100 (12 reviews)|
|4||100% (24 reviews)||92/100 (8 reviews)|
The first season received favorable reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the first season received an average score of 69, based on 31 reviews. According to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the first season holds a 78% approval rating with an average score of 7.27 out of 10, based on 40 reviews; the site's consensus said, "A refreshingly well-acted period drama, Halt and Catch Fire convincingly portrays the not-too-distant past." Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe said the series premiere showed promise, writing: "it's easy to see why the network chose it. Set in Dallas in 1983, it has a distinctive visual style... it digs into material that has not already been done to death elsewhere on TV. And with a pair of unfamiliar and interesting lead actors, the show might be able to delve beneath the surface of its milieu." Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter called the opening episode a "triumphant pilot with excellent writing, impressive acting and a noteworthy cinematic visual style". Although cautious about how the show would evolve beyond its premiere, Goodman said, "It's a premise with possibilities and could be AMC's best offering of the post-classics (Breaking Bad, Mad Men) era." Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times said that although the pilot "doesn't hit the gloriously high bar set by the opening episode of Mad Men, it is provocative and promising nonetheless." Reviewing several episodes, Chris Cabin of Slant Magazine said "the show's creators choose to tailor the series to focus on the enigmatic MacMillan, which might explain why Halt and Catch Fire comes off as overtly coy and more than a little aimless". The review concluded by calling the show "a hungry anticipation for what machines can and will do, but it only has a cursory interest in the complex humans that built them." Alan Sepinwall of HitFix believed the series was derivative of others and made an analogy to its plotline of reverse engineering the IBM PC, calling Halt and Catch Fire "a series that has not only been reverse-engineered from past cable drama hits, but that seems acutely aware of that fact." Todd VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club echoed these sentiments, writing that the pilot "feels like the network trying to reverse engineer... its success with Mad Men". VanDerWerff, though, said that "the pilot moves with a kind of confidence that's hard to fake" and that it has "some intriguing direction from Juan José Campanella that turns both the human face and circuit boards into things to be broken down into component parts and understood."
The second season received strong reviews, with many critics noting the series' improvement over its first season. At Metacritic, the season received an average review score of 73 out of 100, based on 8 reviews. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the second season holds 90% approval rating with an average score of 8.32 out of 10, based on 20 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire version 2.0 has received some upgrades and improvements, including a welcome focus on its female leads." Sepinwall praised the acting, writing, and directing of season two, and noted that one of his frustrations with the first season, the downplaying of Donna and Cameron, was resolved: "Now it's essentially Halt and Catch Fire 2.0, with all the bugs worked out so that it can function exactly as it first promised." Sepinwall summed up the season's changes by saying, "Those who stayed patient with Halt season 1, or those who come to the show now that the quality has gone up significantly, will be rewarded." Andy Greenwald of Grantland called season two a "hard reboot" that was exponentially better. He praised the emphasis placed on the female leads, particularly Davis' performance, and how it reframed the male leads, while noting that the focus on Mutiny "inject[ed] the show with the jittery, caffeinated energy of a start-up". Greenwald liked most how the season "casts its characters, male and female, not as fundamentally unhappy but as deeply dissatisfied" and how it motivated them to innovate. Willa Paskin of Slate said that the series was able to successfully pivot by shifting focus to a startup setting and to Cameron and Donna, the latter of whom Paskin said "has blossomed into a character with ambitions all her own". Commenting on the season's exploration of issues facing working women, Paskin wrote, "what is so satisfying about its treatment of sexism... is not the extent to which the sexism conforms to our expectations, but that the women involved do not." Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker called season two "such a startling upgrade of the first that it begs for technological metaphors". She said that the chemistry between Donna and Cameron "is looser, releasing the show from the burdens of its gloomy forerunners", and that the marriage between Gordon and Donna felt nuanced. Nussbaum said the series was best at being "a platform for a fascinating, buried period of history" that provided "oddly profound meditations on the nature of originality in the digital age, nested within relationship talk". James Poniewozik of Time said the show "remade and refocused itself in its second season" by focusing on the Cameron–Donna partnership and that "it now has a compelling subject". Poniewozik said, "true to Moore's Law, it has become magnitudes better."
Several publications ranked the second season among the best television series of 2015 on their end-of-year lists. The Atlantic and James Poniewozik of The New York Times shortlisted it, while it was ranked: first by Slate; fifth-best by RogerEbert.com; and eighth-best by Vox Media.
The third season received critical acclaim. At Metacritic, the season has an average review score of 83 out of 100, based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim". According to Rotten Tomatoes, the third season holds a 96% approval rating with an average score of 8.62 out of 10, based on 23 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire finds its footing in an optimistic third season that builds on the fascinating relationship between a pair of emerging protagonists." David Sims of The Atlantic said Halt and Catch Fire was "one of TV's most elegantly crafted shows", "the best drama on television", and the most underrated. Sims praised the series for creating emotional investment in the characters' ideas, for its depiction of teamwork and the act of creation, and for using "[Joe] MacMillan to satirize the Jobsian cult of personality that defines so much of the tech world". Todd VanDerWerff of Vox Media said, "This is the rare recent TV drama that's both as good as it is and as optimistic as it is." He praised Cantwell and Rogers for continued character development and highlighted the series for leading the movement of what he called "empathy dramas". Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter called out the Donna–Cameron partnership as the highlight of the show, writing, "There's nothing like it on TV." He praised the lead actors' performances, the nuanced characters, and the directing, calling Halt and Catch Fire "one of TV's best-directed shows". Maureen Ryan of Variety called the series "both a retro pleasure and a forward-looking gem" that was bolstered by its performances, soundtrack, and individual episode story arcs. Ryan said the irony of the characters striving to connect through their work but instead fracturing their relationships was effective because of "its compassionate approach to its core characters". Jen Chaney of Vulture wrote that the third season "covers familiar thematic ground while remaining a very good period piece that traces the rise of digital technology and simultaneously uses it as a metaphor to explore its characters' frailties". Chaney said the series earned its "should-watch status" through its cast, use of restraint, and, with the benefit of hindsight, the irony of depicting characters close to technological breakthroughs who do not realize it. Poniewozik, writing for The New York Times, said the season "makes its past future feel dewy and new" and that despite some initial slow pacing, "The character dynamics are solid... and the '80s details continue to be spot on." Hank Stuever of The Washington Post said, "The show's bugs and glitches also persist, but, if nothing else, Halt and Catch Fire has become an above-average specimen of 'slow television,' should you want such a thing in your life." The review said that the show "survives — and arguably thrives — in Season 3" on the Donna–Cameron storyline, but that it still struggled with Joe's character.
Many publications ranked the third season among the best television series of 2016 on their end-of-year lists. The Atlantic shortlisted it, while it was ranked: first by Vox Media; third-best by Willa Paskin and June Thomas of Slate; fourth-best by Consequence of Sound and Sonia Saraiya of Variety; sixth-best by RogerEbert.com and The A.V. Club;  seventh-best by The Ringer; ninth-best by Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter; and tenth-best by Paste.
The fourth season received critical acclaim, and the strongest reviews of any season of the series. At Metacritic, the season has an average review score of 92 out of 100, based on 8 reviews According to Rotten Tomatoes, the fourth season holds a 100% approval rating with an average score 9.53 out of 10, based on 24 reviews; the site's critical consensus said, "Halt and Catch Fire's character-driven drama culminates in an optimistic ode to the early internet age that's bound to stand the test of time." Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound called the fourth season "a victory lap for everyone who championed the show from the very beginning". He said the series' refusal to offer reassurances that the characters will prevail "doesn't just make for great television, but great characters, and those characters are partly why Halt has staved off its own demise." Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly said that the extended conversation between Joe and Cameron in the season's second episode mirrored the show's ability to overcome "a sputtering start to become a luminous drama". He praised Cantwell and Rogers for progressing "from aping the antihero playbook to refining it" and for making the characters "incredibly compelling and unique". He concluded his review by calling the series "an urgent story of rehumanization for a cold, wired culture". Eric Thurm of The Verge called the show "the best depiction of technological innovation on television, because it focuses on collaboration rather than constraint, problem-solving over vision, and people instead of potential Academy Award trophies". The review lauded the "truly formidable" cast and the show's visual style for "charg[ing] meetings, coding sessions, or a group of people standing in front of a whiteboard with creative potential". VanDerWerff commended the series' ability to create nostalgia for the early days of the Web "by creating nostalgia for that moment in anybody's life when they've been waiting and waiting and waiting for someone or something to come through". He called it one of the few dramas that did not need to overhaul its cast to "stay nimble and sharp, because it finds endless new iterations of the characters it already has, simply by throwing them into new groupings with each new season." In his end-of-year rankings of the best series, VanDerWerff said the season's final four episodes "were as emotionally overwhelming as anything [he's] ever seen on television". J.M. Suarez of Popmatters said the season "never sacrifices nuance and thoughtfulness for twists or attempts to outdo itself," calling the show "confident enough to let its characters succeed and fail without having to spell out who's right and wrong". Sims said the fourth season "succeeds by making its tech narrative not a dry history lesson, but rather a battle of wills between four very flawed, compelling characters, each possessed of the kinds of manic ambition and tendency toward self-destruction that make for the best television drama". Alex Cranz of Gizmodo called the fourth season "easily one of the best seasons of a television show ever produced", while Brian Grubb of Uproxx similarly called it "one of the best seasons of television [he's] ever seen".
Many publications ranked the fourth season among the best television series of 2017 on their end-of-year lists. The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vox Media, and Philly.com shortlisted it, and two critics at Variety ranked it in their top fives. The series was ranked: second-best by Consequence of Sound and Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter; third-best by Uproxx; fifth-best by The A.V. Club, Forbes, Slate, and Jen Chaney of Vulture; sixth-best by The Oregonian; seventh-best by IndieWire and The Ringer; ninth-best by Paste; 13th-best by Rolling Stone; and 39th-best by The Guardian. According to Metacritic, Halt and Catch Fire's fourth season was tied for the 41st-highest-rated TV season of all time, and, based on critics' end-of-year lists, the 17th-highest-ranked series of 2017.
The premiere episode drew 1.2 million viewers according to Nielsen data, 433,000 of them in the 18–49 age demographic; it was the only episode of the series to surpass one million viewers during its initial broadcast. The first season drew modest overall viewership, averaging 760,000 viewers per episode, and a 0.3 rating in the 18–49 age demographic for live plus same-day viewings. When accounting for time shifting via digital video recorders (DVRs), the season averaged 1.3 million viewers per episode in live plus 7-day viewings; 606,000 of them were ages 18–49, making Halt and Catch Fire among the "most upscale dramas on ad-supported television" behind Mad Men and The Good Wife, according to AMC. Despite the low overall ratings, AMC renewed the show in August 2014 for a second season of ten episodes. The network's president Charlie Collier said, "We have a history of demonstrating patience through the early seasons of new shows, betting on talent and building audience over time."
Season two premiered on May 31, 2015, and concluded on August 2, 2015. Despite the critical acclaim that season two garnered, viewership declined. The season averaged 520,000 viewers per episode and a 0.2 rating in the 18–49 age demographic in live plus same-day viewings. Still, AMC renewed the series in October 2015 for a ten-episode third season. Stillerman said, "The critical momentum was a big part of the decision."
The first episode of season three aired on August 21, 2016, ahead of the two-hour season premiere on August 23, 2016. AMC renewed Halt and Catch Fire for a fourth and final season of ten episodes on October 10, 2016. The final season began with a two-hour premiere on August 19, 2017, and concluded with a two-hour series finale on October 14, 2017.
|Season||Ep. 1||Ep. 2||Ep. 3||Ep. 4||Ep. 5||Ep. 6||Ep. 7||Ep. 8||Ep. 9||Ep. 10||Average|
|2014||Satellite Awards||Best Television Series – Drama||Halt and Catch Fire||Nominated|||
|Best Actor – Television Series Drama||Lee Pace||Nominated|
|Critics' Choice Television Awards||Most Exciting New Series||Halt and Catch Fire||Won|||
|2015||Casting Society of America's Artios Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Television Pilot – Drama||Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, Lisa Mae Fincannon (location casting), Craig Fincannon (location casting), Allison Bader (associate), and Jen Ingulli (associate)||Nominated|||
|Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Main Title Design||Patrick Clair (creative director), Raoul Marks (animator), Eddy Herringson (designer), Paul Sangwoo Kim (typographer), and AMC||Nominated|||
|SXSW Film Design Awards||Excellence in Title Design||Patrick Clair||Nominated|||
|Hollywood Post Alliance Awards||Outstanding Sound – Television||Susan Cahill (supervising sound editor), Keith Rogers (re-recording mixer), Scott Weber (re-recording mixer), Jane Boegel (dialogue editor), Mark Cleary (sound effects editor), Kevin McCullough (sound effects editor), and NBC Universal Studio Post
for episode: "SETI"
|2017||Guild of Music Supervisors Awards||Best Music Supervision in a Television Drama||Thomas Golubic and Yvette Metoyer
for season 3
|2018||Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards||Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Dialogue and ADR for Episodic Short Form Broadcast Media||Susan Cahill (supervising sound editor), Sara Bencivenga (supervising ADR editor), and Jane Boegel (dialogue editor)
for episode: "So It Goes"
|Peabody Awards||Entertainment honoree||AMC Studios and Gran Via Productions
for Halt and Catch Fire
|Women's Image Network Awards||Actress Drama Series||Kerry Bishé||Nominated|||
|Drama Series||Halt and Catch Fire
for episode: "NeXT"
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