‘Halt and Catch Fire’ heats up for second season

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan, left, and Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark in a Season 2 episode.
Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan, left, and Scoot McNairy as Gordon Clark in a Season 2 episode. AMC

Lee Pace remembers his first computer with great fondness.

It was the mid-1980s and the actor was a boy playing games on a machine that was ridiculously primitive by today’s standards.

“We had a Nintendo,” says Pace, who grew up in Spring, north of Houston. “I would spend hours and hours sitting on the floor of our garage playing video games.”

Little did he know at the time that he was doing hands-on research for Halt and Catch Fire, the period drama about the 1980s personal computer revolution.

The AMC series, set in the North Texas “Silicon Prairie,” begins its second season at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Pace — who plays Joe MacMillan, Machiavellian computer company executive — marvels at how far and how fast technology has advanced since the era depicted in the show.

“Thirty years is not that much time,” he notes. “But the way we live today is so different from the way we lived before this technology became so integrated into our lives.”

The world of Halt and Catch Fire was a different century, a different millennia.

“One of the things I find interesting about the show, as a fan of the story myself, is that it gives us perspective,” Pace says.

The first season, which took place in 1983, focused on the birth of personal computers. The theme of Season 2, which jumps to 1985, is connectivity.

“Now everyone has got computers,” Pace says, “or at least enough people have computers that the question becomes, ‘What’s next?’ And what happens is that these computer users start communicating with each other.”

Which brings us to Mutiny, the start-up company run by Cameron (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna (Kerry Bishe). Mutiny is a subscription service for people to play games on a hosted network — and as more subscribers use it to chat online, Donna champions the networking aspects of the service.

“What we’re seeing here, in its primordial form, is the birth of the Internet,” Pace says. “We’re witnessing the first shaky steps toward the modern social networking age.”

In Season 1, Joe, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy) and Cameron put it all on the line bringing their Cardiff Giant PC to the marketplace, but the partnership self-destructed, in large part because of Joe’s sketchy ethics and reckless management style.

Season 2 opens with Joe trying to re-invent himself, to be a better man, with a new commitment to honesty and decency, while toiling away as an unimportant cog in a large Dallas oil firm.

But the hunger to innovate, the desire to create something that matters, brings him back into the lives of the people he hurt at Cardiff. Can he convince them to trust him again?

“What fascinates me about this character,” Pace says, “is that the Joe MacMillan of Season 2 is so different from the Joe MacMillan we knew in Season 1, yet he’s very much the same man.

“It’s like if you had a friend who was out of control and then went away and got sober and now he has come back into your life, trying to do it right this time. That’s the best way that I can describe what Joe MacMillan is going through right now.

“He is looking for his second chance. And he is bringing the same ferocity that went into building that computer to rewiring himself. I’m really proud of the Joe MacMillan of this season. I think he’s doing something that’s hard to do, by fixing something that went wrong in himself.”

Perhaps that’s the most interesting thing about Halt and Catch Fire. On the surface, it’s a show about computers and technology. At its core, it’s a show about people. 

Halt and Catch Fire

▪ 9 p.m. Sunday