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Startup Founders Fight for Control in AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’

Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 6  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMCLee Pace as Joe MacMillan - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 3, Episode 6  - Photo Credit: Tina Rowden/AMC
Lee Pace as Joe MacMillan. Photograph by Tina Rowden/AMC

Mutiny, the fictional chatroom startup in AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire television series, continues to grow, but its founders are growing apart.

As the sixth episode of the series’ new season opens, co-founders Donna Clark and Cameron Howe’s strained relationship continues. They’ll have to fix it before it’s too late. Cameron also needs to finally come clean to Donna about her rekindled relationship with Tom Rendon, her ex-boyfriend and a former employee at Mutiny who remained in Texas when the startup moved to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Joe MacMillan and his protege Ryan Ray continue to push MacMillan Utility, Joe’s new software company, forward as they ink deals with more and more customers. But Joe continues to be interested in bigger ideas, like network computing. Here are some notable moments in this latest episode:

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Donna and Cameron make up. “Whatever you have going on here, you need to deal with it,” Diane tells Donna and and Cameron before leaving a meeting with them, signaling that their building tension is now obvious to everyone around them.

Though only Donna takes up Diane on her offer to spend the weekend at her house in Sonoma, Northern California’s wine country, Cameron eventually drives up later on. As she finds a not-so-sober Donna lying on the grass (a friend of Diane’s daughter had offered her drugs), the two finally discuss their problems.

To Cameron, Donna had lied about her conversation with Diane about firing the founders of the startup they acquired, for which she apologizes. But Donna has also harbored her own resentment about her leadership and contributions being overshadowed by Cameron’s image as a genius founder. “I’m just as good at this as you are,” says Donna, quickly reassured by Cameron that she wouldn’t have been able to build Mutiny without her.

Read Fortune’s recap of the previous episode: Partnerships Erode in AMC’s ‘Halt and Catch Fire’

The price of Diane’s success. Diane Gould is a female investor in Silicon Valley and her experiences are familiar to any working mother with a high-powered job. “Everybody says it passes so fast,” she tells John “Bos” Bosworth, Mutiny’s business guy, as they discuss their children over a late night drink.

“Working as much as I do, I miss a lot,” she adds.

It’s no secret that women have been underrepresented in Silicon Valley, making Diane one of the few of her kind in the industry. Though Diane has worked her way up to her position as an investor, it’s not been without sacrifices. Along with not being around her children as much as she would have liked, her love life is also a casualty. We see Diane ditch her presumably uninteresting date to the opera to hang out with Bos, just to be later rejected when she invites him over for a drink after they have sex in his car.

Joe vs. his board of directors. Joe learns a hard lesson about having a board of directors: they may have more control than the founder and CEO. After Joe signs a deal to invest in NSFNET, a non-profit network that provided research institutions with access to supercomputers, one of his investors and board members announces to him that the board has voted to strip him of any real power he has. Should he choose the quit, his non-compete agreement would keep him from building anything similar (it should be noted that in California, these agreements are much harder to enforce, though trade secrets could certainly become a problem).

But Joe won’t let his board get away with taking control of the company. In the episode’s closing scene, he’s seen giving a deposition for the lawsuit Gordon filed against him for stealing the antivirus software he wrote. To the shock of his lawyer, Joe admits that he stole the software.

Presumably, this will create a number of complications for the company, complications that the board of directors will now have to deal with without his help. In short, it’s Joe’s revenge. But he’s also finally giving Gordon the credit he’s due.