I’m as conflicted about this installment of Silicon Valley as Richard Hendricks is about building “the box.” I laughed at lots of the jokes throughout the episode and was surprised by the plot about-face. On the other hand, the show has wasted several episodes developing characters that are never explored, and setting up struggles that resolve almost instantaneously. I am equally irritated with this season as I am delighted. The relationship is tedious.
This week, we pick up exactly where we left off. Richard and company are in Jack’s office, getting dressed down about their secret skunkworks project. Seeing opportunity, Richard turns the tables. Knowing Jack can’t fire him without suffering a severe delay in shipping the company’s product, Richard succeeds in getting him to agree to scope down the box and turn the skunkworks into an official project. As satisfying as it is not to have a season-long story arc about four characters trying to carry out a fraud they are incapable of perpetrating, it seems feckless for the show to abandon yet another plot point.
Later, Richard is called into a meeting with the box’s hardware designer. The frustrating series of exchanges that ensues expertly captures how alienating a conversation between an engineer and designer can be. Each is a creative professional, but they tend to use opposite ways of communicating. The scene also underscores just how much contempt Richard has for the device Jack is forcing him to make.
Dinesh and Gilfoyle, meanwhile, find themselves incapable of making an average product on purpose, and naturally discover a way to make the box run 20 times faster. This enhancement saves Jack’s lucrative contract with Maleant Data Systems, but also gives him a way to seek revenge on Richard: the negotiated deal effectively prevents Richard from working on his platform project for five years. When Monica casts the deciding vote to reject Jack’s terms, his plan is foiled, and her career seems likely to be over. The contract with Maleant was a done deal; Richard’s platform a speculative bet at best.
In a stroke of luck, Gavin Belson acquires Pied Piper’s technology competitor Endframe for $250 million. This buyout suggests a real value for Pied Piper’s speculative platform, saving Monica’s job and terminating Jack’s. Main investor Laurie Bream advises that the CEO chair will remain vacant for the foreseeable future.
From a plotting perspective, I found this pretty detestable.
We’ve spent four episodes getting to know Jack without learning much about him. He just existed as a manufactured Richard-obstacle. The moment he finally reveals himself to be impossible to work with, he’s gone. Richard learns nothing and doesn’t grow as a result of the relationship. There’s just tension for tension’s sake. The result is a season that’s rudderless, adrift in a sea of well constructed jokes.
Tonight’s episode was also penned by a TV writing all-star, Donick Cary. He started as a writer for David Letterman in the ’90s and and moved on to The Simpsons, where he wrote episodes like “In Marge We Trust” (the one with Mr. Sparkle). His impact in this episode is felt hardest in the Letterman-esque segment where a bulldog is repeatedly wheeled into and out of a conference room on a chair while Gavin Belson points and expresses disgust at it. Cary’s jokes build nicely and land hard. The pacing of the humor is masterful.
We are also returned briefly this week to Jared’s squatter situation, as well as Erlich’s inability to find tenants for his own place. Erlich discovers Big Head has adopted his incubator housing model, but in a multimillion-dollar mansion. Bachman strongarms Big Head into entering a tenant-sharing deal, effectively ending any fun the writers could have had with plotting Erlich against the Valley’s housing crisis. While there’s still hope that Jared’s storyline will more fully flesh this out, we still have suffered another pivot away from promising ideas.
Although the rapid plot shifts in the show could be said to mirror the constant change in the real tech industry, I’d prefer to see a dedicated story arc that presents the characters with problems that drive them to actually develop.
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