Though it still boasts the fastest load times in the joke game, Silicon Valley has a resolution problem: Its characters are increasingly fuzzy and their numerous ticks now read as glitches, not personality. The issue comes to the fore in “Binding Arbitration,” the ninth episode of the second season, which sees Richard Hendricks and Gavin Belson going head to head (along with a lot of lawyers) in front of a Palo Alto judge. Predictably, Hendricks and Ehrlich Bachman, who is at the arbitration hearing for seemingly no reason, maintain the moral high ground, but end up on their ass. The action — and, more alarmingly, the dialogue — is predictable and rote and, hopefully, represents the show’s nadir, a lackluster, wandering bit of courtroom drama in the service of setting up a great third season.
Looks like SV might finally start punching down.
Richard’s decision to leverage a Nucleus phone given to him by upwardly mobile incompetent “Big Head” to expedite legal proceedings makes perfect sense and his sex-offender lawyer Jerry Sunshine (weird outdated Governor Brown joke!) is a nonsensical, but beautiful bit of deadpan artistry from character actor Matt McCoy. The main problem seems to be that the judge in charge of the arbitration doesn’t know anything about tech and the law in question — Hooli gets the IP if Richard used any of its machines to do any work ever — makes no sense. It’s an actual stupid law, but it still dumbs up the episode. It might count as a spoiler to say that Richard refuses to perjure himself and goes down with the ship (raft?), but that’s precisely what would happen.
And we’re not talking A Few Good Men here. Richard is so annoying at this point that even when he’s doing the right thing, it feels like he’s doing it wrong.
That’s what’s so compelling about this otherwise subpar episode: Richard is being set up to be some kind of Silicon Valley martyr. The tech industry — well, journalists who cover the tech industry — love a martyr and they love a story about corporate overreach even more. Hendricks v. Belson has the potential to blow up in two very different ways: For Hooli, the new IP presumably represents a massive change in fortune for its Nucleus project while, for Hendricks, it represent (if the details of his testimony get out) the opportunity to be the “Last Honest Man in Palo Alto.”
Here’s hoping the show takes a turn in that direction. Richard is an awfully thin screen on which to project anything, but seeing him involuntarily submerged in hacktivist rhetoric would be both amusing and a relief. SV has gone after the big guys; the subversive thing to do now is to turn around and go after the people going after the big guys. Mike Judge is bloody minded enough to do this and it represents a way out of the punch, counterpunch pattern that is turning his show into a comic strip.
Let’s do a bit of middle-out compression: Bad episode, good premise.