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'Halt and Catch Fire' clip: Cameron, Donna reboot their lives

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James Minchin III/AMC

When AMC’s Texas-set computer company drama Halt and Catch Fire returns on Sunday, May 31, fans should brace themselves for a wild ride into the high-tech year of… 1985. “It’s about 14 months after the end of season 1,” says executive producer Jonathan Lisco. “I think the price of a stamp was skyrocketing to 22 cents and everybody was watching Moonlighting—it’s that era.”

In the first season of Halt and Catch Fire, the show’s main characters moved heaven, earth, and a whole lot of computer chips to create a PC called the Giant. The season finale found Scoot McNairy’s much-harassed systems builder Gordon Clark presiding over the launch of the computer, Lee Pace’s besuited, bisexual visionary Joe MacMillan embarking on a vision quest after torching a vanload of said computer, and Mackenzie Davis’ coder Cameron Howe recruiting Clark’s wife Donna (Kerry Bishé) to help run her start-up, Mutiny. What does season 2—and 1985—have in store for the quartet? “Season 2 is going to revolve around Mutiny,” says Lisco. “Cameron’s vision for that company was for it to be a subscription service for people to play games on a privately-hosted network. When we parachute into season 2, that has become a reality. On the character level, this will be a wonderfully female-dominated storyline. They’re going to be in this partnership that we just don’t see very often and they’re also going to be at the beginning of the proto-Internet.”

Unsuprisingly, the season will also see the return of Pace’s MacMillan—or someone who looks like him, anyway. “Joe is a rather changed man,” says the executive producer. “He was a bit Machiavellian in season 1 and that didn’t work for him. So now he’s going to come back, sloughing off that persona. We can ask during the course of the season whether or not he’s wearing a mask, whether or not he knows that he’s actually deluding himself, whether or not he is deluding himself. But he’s definitely going to be a new Joe.” MacMillan will be involved in a new relationship with a character played by Aleksa Palladino, whose father is portrayed by L.A. Confidential actor James Cromwell. “He’s the CEO of a Texas oil conglomerate,” says Lisco. “So, we’ll definitely be in a new milieu.”

As for McNairy’s character, Lisco reveals Gordon Clark will be discovering all that glitters is not gold—particularly when it’s an IBM PC clone. “You’ve got a bunch of people striving for paradigm-shifting greatness and it’s their drive for a meaningful legacy which is in many ways the core of the show,” says the EP. “Scoot’s character put everything on the line, thinking that he would wind up with something great. At the end of the day, I think it’s safe to say [it was] a rather hollow victory. It didn’t give him the success he wanted. That is going to set him on a new path, to find the next big idea. Gordon and Joe’s storylines this season will find them making sympathetically odd bedfellows, whose storylines then cross-pollinate with the Mutiny storyline.”

Halt and Catch Fire attracted positive reviews when it premiered last June but failed to catch fire ratings-wise—something Lisco admits he and the rest of the show’s behind-the-scenes team took on board when plotting the new season. “We realized that the show may have started off a little slow,” he says. “We’ve definitely looked to improve the pacing [compared to] the first seaon. It’s going to feel messy, it’s going to feel brash, it’s going to feel more dynamic. But this is also not a show that has meth dealers, and explosions, and shooting. So, by definition, it’s going to be, at least for some people, a slower burn. We’ve got to find that balance—we want people to be drawn in, but we also want to reward the loyal viewer. We’re not going to step back from creating rich complex characters and putting them in new and surprising situations because I think that’s what our passionate core audience is expecting from us.” 

So much for the small stuff. This is what we really want to know: Has Cameron changed her Mary Stuart Masterson-in-Some Kind of Wonderful haircut? “The answer is, ‘Yes,'” laughs Lisco. “You’re going to see both a little bit of season 1 in her haircut but also she’s definitely heading in a looser direction, if I might put it that way. But it all comes from character! She was under the thumb of Joe. Now, she’s the CEO if you will—albeit the reluctant CEO—of her new venture, Mutiny. She gets to just be herself for perhaps the first time ever.”

Watch an exclusive clip from the new season of Halt and Catch Fire below.