Watching Silicon Valley is like climbing a very tall mountain one switchback at a time: Whenever things take a turn, there’s an impressive view, but it’s impossible not to notice how little progress has been made. As laboriously plotted as his show can feel, Mike Judge never seems in a rush to get his characters anywhere. This is because the joke at the core of the show is cosmic in nature and also because Richard Hendricks, Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti, and Erlich Bachman are idiots about everything that isn’t an algorithm or a line of code.
Or are they?
The finale of Silicon Valley’s third season called that basic premise into question. Richard continued to be a morally confounded mop and Big Head continued to breathe through his mouth, but Bachman, who had previously played the role — well-suited to his physique — of Judge’s heavy bag, did something different. Bachman did something smart. Though his rant about his own genius at the beginning of the episode is played for laughs, the plan he has executed to gin up Series B funding is actually as savvy as it is effective. Using the bizarre social dynamics of Sand Hill Road, he pulls a $6-million rabbit out of his hat. That’s pretty damn impressive for a guy who, just a few episodes ago, lit his bank account on fire with a tiki torch.
And what does Bachmando do when the blog he owns gets an exclusive on the death of a circus elephant at Hooli? He makes a strategic sale to Gavin Belson, then convinces Big Head to help him use Belson’s own money to outbid the Hooli CEO for Pied Piper, keeping the company viable. Bachman even gets to be serious for about 30 seconds, lecturing Hendricks on trust before taking some victorious bong rips.
Silicon Valley fans likely didn’t see the rise of Erlich coming. And casual watchers certainly didn’t. T.J. Miller, who is clownish in what seems like a calculated way, plays Bachman as a botulism-bent can of Burning Man from concentrate. He is, in short, annoying, which is a hard thing to pull off long-term on a TV comedy. If Judge’s gambit is to make Bachman less grating while also giving the show a character capable of intentionally rather than haphazardly furthering the plot, Season 4 will end up better for it. Season 3 wasn’t actively bad. But it also wasn’t as uniformly strong as Season 2. What was missing? Among other things, a win. Even losers have to win. And wins have to be intentional to count as wins.
Season 4 will be about Pied Piper’s pivot to video chat, about the company rebranding so HBO can sell more merch at SXSW, and about Bachman becoming a smooth operator. And, sure, it will also likely be about the fall of Bachmanity, but there will be a four to five episode hiatus from financial pratfalls and general fuck-uppery. That represents a reprieve for fans and an opportunity for Judge to ride the news cycle. After all, bursting bubbles, venture capital lockdowns, and major market events are more dramatic than the slings and arrows of outrageous paper fortunes.
Ehrlich Bachmann needs to grow up because Twitter stock is in free fall and shit is about to get real.