'Silicon Valley' Recap: Comedy of Human Error


In Silicon Valley’s second season finale, Pied Piper finally got enough momentum to exit the orbit of Richard Hendricks’s incompetence, the supermassive black hole at the center of the show for the last 10 episodes. What begins as a courtroom drama, with Richard battling Gavin Belson for PP’s IP, and a beautifully compressed version of 127 Hours, becomes a meditation on how the tech industry destroys the best thing about the culture it creates.

Granted, this is still a Mike Judge show so the best things about the tech industry so callousness and greed are still the characters’ main operating system.

Let’s put that nonsense aside and start with the best thing: The remaining employees of Pied Piper pull together after a museum employee falls off a cliff on their condor egg lifestream to keep the stream up as traffic spikes (courtesy of a Manny Pacquiao tweet) and the Phillipines collectively rush to enjoy a bit of ornithological schadenfreude. Gilfoyle and Dinesh are not at all concerned for the bleeding guy at the bottom of a ravine (“Even when his sobbing shakes the camera there’s no blocking at all, and the quality is great”), but they’re concerned for their product and they come together to keep the stream up, going so far as to light part of their Ehrlich’s tear-down house on fire. There is a quasi-religious, self-killing devotion to product here that comes dangerously close to fraternity and allegiance. The guys are, as Richard puts it, creators. They love their creation and that’s a nice, redeeming thing.

In fact, their reluctance to delete their own code — a sort of communal self love — creates the opportunity for the episode’s funniest sequence, in which Hendricks rushes home to stop them from destroying their work after finding out that an illegal non-compete voided his contract with Hooli. Not content to merely order the destruction of his company on the assumption that the verdict would go against him, Hendricks loses his keys, runs out of battery on his phone, and otherwise rises to the occasion by falling down.

Despite himself, Richard makes it and all is well at Ehrlich’s rapidly appreciating flophouse for several hours as Pied Piper’s employees celebrating both their proof of concept and their ongoing possession of said concept. That celebration is only cut short when Monica calls with news that Raviga has taken over the Pied Piper board by buying Russ Hanneman’s shares and ousted Richard as CEO. 

Richard’s company is no longer a shared dream, it’s a legally defined reality.

It’s easy to empathize with a Dr. Frankenstein character pursued by his own creation, and Richard definitely fits the mold, but it’s also impossible to argue with Raviga’s coldblooded assessment. Human error has plagued Pied Piper and Richard is a fount of human error. The dual cliffhangers we’re left to consider are: Who is going to run Pied Piper and who is going to run Hooli? But the character-based question is worthy of a double take as well. Why would Richard want to be CEO?

If Silicon Valley has a weakness — both in terms of writing and verisimilitude — it is that the show’s characters lack any self knowledge. This is probably unfair to most programmers, even the ones on the spectrum, who have made a strategic decision to follow a career path that plays to their strengths. Many 10X coders are 10X coders not just because they’re talented, but because they lack either the facility or desire to manage people. There is why product managers have such a cozy little hole to plug in the tech ecosystem. The idea that Richard, who has night sweats and seems to be aging at a baffling right, would actually want to be CEO doesn’t really make sense. Sure, he wanted to try it, but having largely failed, wouldn’t this guy just want to drag his equity back to his work station? Without a doubt.

Really, the episode ended well for Richard, Richard’s employees, Richard’s deviant lawyer, and, well, everyone who isn’t Gavin Belson. Belson will almost assuredly by shown the door by his board, clearing the way for either “Big Head” to accidentally take over Hooli or for another character actor to walk onto the show. The second option seems more likely as “Big Head” can only be mined for a specific type of laugh. Which means that “Big Head” and Richard can spend more time on the former’s yacht talking about the latter’s extremely nascent crush on Monica. They should do that. That sounds nice. That would be some serious Office Space zen.

Mike Judge is darker than he used to be and unlikely to let anyone off that easy. But, even so, he should give his characters a chance to consider what they really want.

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