The comedic precision of this week’s episode of Silicon Valley has made it my favorite currently airing comedy TV show. Episode two, “Two in the Box,” brings huge laugh-out-loud moments at a fast clip. The show’s brutal satirization of tech industry money is so refreshing and fun that that alone could propel it to the top of my list. Silicon Valley is as hysterical as it is necessary.
Now operating under new CEO Jack Barker, Pied Piper has progressed to startup legitimacy. Offices have been rented and decorated, food is catered, and coconut water flows like normal water. Pied Piper suddenly looks like Twitter and Richard Hendricks has become even more threatened. His rift with Jack is on track to drive this season’s arc, and serves as a welcome change from the first two seasons when the main struggle was between Richard and failure. The new CEO’s unceasing march to profitability plus his incredibly cheery and relatable personality make it impossible to nail down what type of person he actually is, resulting in a bizarre and compelling character.
At some point I’m sure we’ll see Richard and Jack clash in a massive way, and only then will we know if Jack is ruthless or kind. It’s a great vehicle for tension, and the mark of great writing. It then follows that “Two in the Box” was written by Ron Weiner, who has previously written for 30 Rock, Arrested Development, Futurama, and NewsRadio — both a list of his accomplishments and a list of my favorite television comedies. The writing staff for Silicon Valley is top-shelf.
As Richard continues to define the limits of his power as CTO, Gilfoyle and Dinesh begin to relish in the pampered startup life they had been dreaming of. Released from the dank and partially burned-down “incubator” they had been working out of before, the two quickly get used to their new level of treatment even as the fast-paced success horrifies Richard. The dense characterization from previous seasons now allows for detailed, nuanced, and individual responses to the new surroundings. Ensemble scenes become richer as you watch for each character’s reaction to shared experiences.
As the Pied Piper engineers reap their new reward, Jared and Erlich tackle the complexities of housing in the Bay Area. While trying to get Pied Piper funded, Jared had rented out his condo on Airbnb. Now finally able to return home, he finds that his latest renter is a squatter. Meanwhile, Erlich relates Jared’s predicament to in-house “incubee” Jian Yang, whom he had recently asked to move out. This serves as an inadvertent lesson on squatters’ rights for Jian Yang, who immediately announces his intention to stay in Erlich’s house indefinitely and live “rent-free,” setting the writing staff up for great satirization of the housing economy in Silicon Valley. If this is the slow-brewing B plot of this season I couldn’t be more delighted.
Money itself is often personified on Silicon Valley, and the attitude of Jack Barker this week further shapes money’s character on the show. Now that Pied Piper is cash-rich, Jack explains, (and as illustrated in his “Conjoined Triangles of Success” diagram) they must spend it fast in order to drive growth and profit. Jack uses this to justify his recent spending spree, which included the hiring of a sales team when Richard wanted more engineers. Previously, money was an engima to Richard, often talked about but rarely seen. Now money has arrived and brought its friends.
The funniest moment of the episode was also the most definitive statement on money’s relationship to the characters. Jack, who had promised idealistically to never hurt “the product,” keeps overriding Richard’s reservations about the new direction Pied Piper is going. Richard ends up confonting Jack at a stable, and as two horses graphically mate in the background, we learn what Jack means when he says “the product.” The music soars, and Jack goes into a monologue about how neither the platform, nor the algorithm, nor the software are the real “product.” Meekly, and emotionally consistent with the show up to this point, Richard asks if the real “product” is himself.
“Oh! God, no! No. How could it possibly be you? You got fired,” Jack says as the music suddenly stops. “Pied Piper’s product is its stock.” As Jack finishes making his ultra-pragmatic, anti-idealistic argument, we’re treated to another shot of penetrative horse sex in one of the most heavyhanded visual metaphors since the end of Lost.
Like with most shows committed to characterization, it takes around three seasons to hit a nice stride. Of course it also requires good writing, good ensemble acting, and producers willing to allow a product to — and I can’t believe I’m using this term seriously — incubate. Silicon Valley has all three, and is so far reinforcing its relevance in its third year.
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