“To Build A Better Beta,” the most recent installment of Silicon Valley, is funny, heavy, and full of rich character development. It pulls no punches and significantly advances the plot. Characters, specifically Erlich Bachman, confront their failings and make new and fresh decisions. Essentially, “To Build A Better Beta” returns all the missing pieces to Silicon Valley, and the show benefited.
After discovering last week that Big Head is insolvent, Bachman learns that the majority of Big Head’s stuff was rented and must now be returned. This leaves no capital to pay vendors for Bachmanity Insanity, Bachman’s over-the-top Alcatraz luau party. Their business manager Arthur advises Bachman that he is also personally on the hook for the fête’s debts, because of his partnership contract with Big Head; even bankruptcy won’t absolve his financial obligations. In a panic, Bachman contemplates selling his house and has Jared review his finances. They discover that 70 percent of Big Head’s total assets were embezzled by Arthur, who confesses that he has redistributed the ill-gotten gains among his other clients.
Livid, Bachman and Big Head visit the District Attorney, setting up the most important scene in the show to date. Upon hearing their story and request for charges to be drawn up against Arthur, the DA (notably played by a non-white woman) informs them of exactly how unsympathetic their circumstances are. After Bachman balks at the idea of divesting from Pied Piper in to cover his debts (hoping for a greater payout on his initial investment) the DA cuts to the quick, saying:
“I see two able-bodied, entitled young white men who lucked into more money than most people see in five lifetimes and who, if they hadn’t had their millions stolen, would have promptly squandered them….Mr. Bachman, you pay those caterers and bartenders you owe money to or I assure you that I will prosecute.”
This marks Silicon Valley’s most significant statement on youth, wealth, ego, and entitlement, and the grounded Bernie Sanders-y sentiment is brave and noble. Everyone in the industry should see this scene.
Meanwhile, the Pied Piper team completes programming work on the Beta of Richard’s platform. After some extreme fretting, Richard allows Gilfoyle, Dinesh, and Jared to talk him into releasing a limited seed. Richard begins to collect feedback and much to Richard’s surprise, it’s almost entirely positive. Unfortunately, the one dissenting voice is an important one. Monica, their VC mentor, doesn’t “get it.” This puts Richard into an interesting dilemma. Can he use his ego, so poorly flexed in his previous interactions with his colleagues, to overcome Monica’s dissent? Or will Richard cave to her individual taste and send the project back to the drawing board?
As he struggles with this decision, Gilfoyle learns that someone at Hooli has intercepted a copy of the beta seed. In the process of shutting down the rogue user (who happens to be CEO Gavin Belson), Gilfoyle reveals that the beta seeds phone home, supplying the Pied Piper team with IP addresses and location data for any active user. In a paranoid fit, Richard uses this data to track down Monica and ambush/confront her about her hesitations. Not only does Monica appropriately call Richard out for stalking her, but she also refuses to decide for Richard whether his project is ready to ship. He chooses to ship, despite Monica’s hesitations. It’s sad but rewarding that we had to wait this long to see Richard use his ego for the greater good.
“To Build A Better Beta” was written by Arrested Development producer and writer John Levenstein and his pedigree of bittersweet hilarity shines here. The decision to ship software is not easy. There is no such thing as “bug-free.” I cannot tell you the number of times during hellish development periods I’ve heard one engineer describe a bug to another, only to hear “SHIP IT!” shouted sarcastically in response. An episode based around Richard’s ego and his response to having to ship is an inventive way to move his character forward.
Furthermore, all season (possibly all series) I’ve wanted someone to call out any of these characters on their entitlement. To see it happen aggressively to Bachman, and for it to push him into better behavior despite the consequence of a smaller net worth, is delightful and engaging. I hold only mild hope for future episodes since the story has careened around wildly this season. But as the episode was ending with Richard making the final click to launch Pied Piper, it felt like a fresh start.
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