This week’s disappointing installment of Silicon Valley, titled “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” is named after Richard Meinertzhagen, a British intelligence officer during World War I. In 1917, he intentionally allowed a haversack (e.g. a backpack) full of fake British plans to fall into enemy hands. As the Ottomans wasted time planning for attacks that never materialized, the British claimed victory in two major battles. The tactic became known as the Haversack Ruse. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
Richard Hendricks continues to demonstrate his inability to either accept the sacrifices of success, or to mature enough to negotiate for what he wants. Recently, I pointed out how artfully Silicon Valley had avoided allowing Richard to come off as entitled. This week, they took a sharp turn in this direction for his character. Richard is still incensed that CEO Jack Barker only wants to go after server-side enterprise sales by selling Pied Piper’s technology as a “box.” He attempts to go over Jack’s head, complaining to main investor Laurie Bream, but to no success. Richard’s original concept of developing a consumer platform has been killed.
Instead of forcing Richard into a position where he has to learn the art of compromise or make peace with Jack Barker, the plot takes a decidedly juvenile turn. Richard instead convinces his original engineering team to start developing their platform in secret as a skunkworks project. The team meticulously crafts a plan to give the appearance of creating Jack’s enterprise solution—all while working on Richard’s consumer-centric vision instead. Jack would have to accept Richard’s platform and market it, ultimately a more favorable option than having to admit as CEO that he couldn’t manage an engineering team.
This sets up unnecessary conflict. The Richard/Jack relationship has so many other interesting angles that to needlessly force a trite Ocean’s 11-style caper into the mix seems like a writing folly. For the plot to continue and for the Richard/Jack relationship to develop, an inciting incident like this was necessary, but that incident shouldn’t have been some shortsighted sabotage by Richard. Had the show gone out of its way to paint Barker as a tyrannical leader, it might have been easier to pull off. Instead we’re left with a pretty distasteful view of Richard, and the last thing you want in a story is an unsympathetic lead character (Breaking Bad excluded).
As Richard is constructing his plan, Jared (whose willingness to support a deceitful plan was irritatingly out of character) briefly explains the idea behind Meinertzhagen’s Haversack. “Essentially, it means you have to continue to act the part. As far as anyone knows, we’re still building a box that we hate, so we need to act like it.” With that we move on to a cliched time-lapse montage of everyone working through the night. The episode ends with Richard arriving to work with his team the next morning and pointing out to the audience that Jack can’t find out about their secret plan. He trips over some cleaning supplies, drops his haversack, and pages of printed documents about the skunkworks spill out, which are immediately turned over to Jack Barker. It seems that a greater scheme to sabotage Jack’s box project remains alive and well.
“Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” was written by Adam Countee, whose main writing credits up to this point are four episodes of Community and two episodes of The Mindy Project. Compared to the heavy-hitting TV writers of the last two episodes, his inexperience shows. There were few if any laugh-out-loud moments this week, and interesting side plots like Jared’s and Bachman’s renting problems are not addressed.
It’s a pity that so much good exposition was not only squandered but also used to setup such a flaccid arc. Nobody wins when character and relationship development is sacrificed for clever plotting. I gave Silicon Valley more credit than this.
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