Skip to Content

Partnerships Erode in AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’

Kerry Bishe as Donna Clark, Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 5  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMCKerry Bishe as Donna Clark, Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 5  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC
Kerry Bishe as Donna Clark, Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe.Photograph by Tina Rowden/AMC

Mutiny, the fictional online chatroom startup in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire television series, is trying to continue forward after it acquired a competitor, Swap Meet.

But of course, things are bumpy. In this week’s episode, co-founders Donna Clark and Cameron Howe are clashing over whether to use Swap Meet’s feature for processing credit card transactions. To Cameron, it’s a subpar solution that relies on the credit card companies’ code instead of being built entirely in-house. To Donna, it’s a solution that works well, is ready to go, and can be improved later when the company has the time and resources to rebuild it. As any startup knows, time is of the essence if Mutiny wants to continue growing fast.

Meanwhile, Joe McMillan is still working long hours with engineer Ryan Ray to figure out how his company will make money after promising Ryan he won’t change customers for the antivirus software. Here are some notable moments in this latest episode:

Get Data Sheet, Fortune’s technology newsletter.

San Francisco as a symbol for the tech industry. “This city: I can’t decide if it’s beautiful or horrifying,” Joe tells Ryan as they take a break on Joe’s home balcony.

“Nothing lasts in this place. The whole city burned down seven times in the first couple of years of its existence. Even its name has been reinvented,” he tells Ryan of San Francisco’s cyclical nature.

Though the Santa Clara Valley, south of the city, was the originally hailed as the center of technological innovation, the tech industry eventually spread up to San Francisco. Still today, many talk about the transient nature of the city as people come in and out looking for startup success. And like San Francisco’s ebb and flow, the tech industry goes through booms and busts, and companies die as quickly as they were born seemingly every day, as we’ve seen on the show.

Though the main characters embarked on one entrepreneurial journey in the first season—building Cardiff Electric—by the second one, Donna and Cameron had moved on to Mutiny, Cardiff was dead, and Donna’s husband, Gordon, was working on his own short-lived project.

Ryan and Joe’s comments could be taken as a hint that things are about to significantly change for MacMillan Utility, or it could just be a simple reminder of the world in which they operate.

For Fortune’s recap of the previous episode, read: Startup Tensions Swirl in AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’

Joe’s health scare. It didn’t take long this season for the resemblance to Steve Jobs, Apple’s co-founder, to emerge. From his glasses and facial hair, to the unconventional employee requests, the pattern was clear. In this latest episode, Joe gets a health scare. Toward the end, he gets a call from a clinic with the results of his HIV test. The results themselves are unclear, but shortly after the call, Joe is seen smiling as he leans on his balcony. It could be because Joe is clear, but then again, it could be a sign that he’s making his peace with being HIV-positive.

In 2011, Steve Jobs died of respiratory arrest due to cancer, of which he was first diagnosed in 2003. If Joe is indeed HIV-positive, we’ll likely see how he balances his health and running his budding company, making difficult decisions along the way.

Donna and Cameron’s partnership unravels. In the previous episode, Cameron hints that she feels she’s losing her grip on Mutiny, her startup. This feeling only continues to grow after she disappears to Texas for a full week, leaving Donna to make decisions without her, something that visibly concerns her when she finally returns.

Things only get worse from there. After airing out their complaints with each other—Cameron doesn’t want to be left out of decisions, while Donna argues she couldn’t get in contact with Cameron and was therefore left with no other choice—the two seem to make up, vowing to always have each other’s back.

But Donna’s words may have been deceiving. That evening, when Cameron calls their main investor, Diane Gould, she finds out that, contrary to her assumption, Donna didn’t back up her wish to fire Swap Meet’s co-founders during a dinner Cameron missed. The realization sets in that not only is control over her company slipping away from her, but she may not be able to trust her co-founder anymore.

Unfortunately, stories of mistrust, backstabbing, and bad breakups between startup co-founders are nothing new in Silicon Valley.