Discontinued antiretroviral therapy (ART) results in uncontrolled HIV replication in most cases. How the virus population that persists during ART escapes immune control remains unknown. In this issue of the JCI, Mitchell and authors investigated plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) from the blood of individuals living with HIV. After ART was discontinued and as the virus began to spread, an apparently functional pDC response emerged. Notably, these pDCs were initially capable of producing high levels of type I IFN, but rapidly lost this capacity, even before the virus became readily detectable in blood. This study suggests that dysfunctional pDCs are a key initial mechanism associated with poor HIV control. These innate immune responses might be targeted in the emerging efforts to cure HIV disease.