[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details from Sunday’s season 3 finale of Silicon Valley, “The Uptick.”]
Now do you believe in the insanity of Bachmanity?
Once again, things had turned a bit desperate for the Pied Piper bunch: Jared (Zach Woods) used their dwindling funds to pay a click farm in Bangladesh to juice their daily active user numbers, and when Richard (Thomas Middleditch) found out about the bogus bonus, he chose to remain complicit and illicit while former investor-turned-hype-man Erlich (T.J. Miller) worked the town into a frenzy over the company using his slingshot strategy. And then, right as Richard was about to ink an Erlich-brokered deal with a VC firm Coleman-Blair for a $6 million investment at a $60 million valuation — fine, $7 million on $70 million! — our conscience-haunted CEO’s feet grew cold and his signing hand became paralyzed, and he confessed the company’s dirty deed. This left Erlich out to dry (and as pissed as we’ve ever seen him), torched the company’s reputation, and prompted Raviga managing partner Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) to put Pied Piper up for auction.
And just when it seemed that the sad-sack company would be sold to Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), who was back from the dead/roof, for the weakly sum of $1 million, the once-cashless Bachmanity, flush with profits from the sale of CJ’s blog, rode in on a floppy white unicorn and saved the day: Erlich and Big Head (Josh Brenner) outbid the cocksure Belson by one dollar, positioning the company to rise from the ashes of file compression and build a future as a video chat company, approved by 400 Satanists in Boston. Oh, and Erlich forgave Richard in record time, allowing the season to end on a triumphant game of “Always Blue.”
If Bachmanity’s heroics caught you off-guard, you weren’t alone. “I was surprised because I had no idea,” Miller tells EW. “I thought it was a Sopranos thing; I thought they were figuring out a way to get rid of Erlich, but then came this hilarious turn of events. I was most excited that Big Head now takes this huge role in Piper, which is a great coup for him — to return as a pivotal player as one of the owners. I think he’s so funny. Josh has created this bizarre Chance the Gardner, funny, naive, comedic archetype that doesn’t really exist on television.”
For Erlich, the finale represented was a rich reversal of fortune, as his ill-fated Alcatraz toga bash for Bachmanity wound up costing him his stake in Pied Piper. “I was just enjoying how awful they were making it for Erlich because he needed this comeuppance,” says Miller. “You can’t get let him get away with murder as an abrasive blowhard for the whole season — for the whole series, you know? It was fun to play with the idea that he fell on his own sword, however dull and dimwitted that sword was. [But] I would feel bad on the way home [from the set] about what was happening to Erlich, so when they found a way for him and Big Head to save the day, all I did was feel good for Erlich. As a fan of the show, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s great! What an ingenious way to bring him back in the fold.”
The episode showcased Erlich at perhaps his savviest — when, as he hilariously recounted, he single-handedly changed the perception of Pied Piper around town and pleasured himself with the other hand — as well as his angriest, when he told off Richard and called out his hypocrisy after Richard tanked the deal. “You wanted me to commit a crime?” “No, I wanted you to f—ing think about that before you parade me around the whole f—ing valley to sell your lie and then suddenly grew a thick girthy conscience and f—ed me with it!”). In this rare case, though, his outrage was justified.
“Erlich had his Mona Llisa, and then f—ing Richard just spray-painted graffiti all over it,” quips Miller. “It’s good interplay between these two characters because they have this weird, symbiotic relationship where they f— each other over, even though for the most part they just want to help each other. Only when they’re only looking out for themselves do they kind of step on the other one’s toes…. I really do laugh when he’s like, ‘I played these people against these people and these people against these people….’ In that moment, he‘s proving that he does have a skillset that none of the other guys have. That’s the great tragedy: Erlich finally shows his value — he’s such a blowhard, he knows how to work people against each other — and he does this incredible thing, and it’s all for naught because Jared flimsied up the numbers and then Richard didn’t have his back. It’s a disaster.”
Near the end of the episode, the two share another key momental albeit much funnier one: When Richard finds out that Erlich, who is furious with him, bought the company back for him to save it from Gavin’s clutches, he humbly tries to thank Erlich, who tells him that he didn’t do it for him, and that it would take a long time before he could move past this— cut to: they’re all laughing, having a good time together. “[Mike Judge and Alec Berg, the show’s executive producers] were very big on that — that I was very stoic, I was very stern,” says Miller. “And then, of course, seconds later, yeah, they’re partying. That’s very Erlich. This idea of being so dramatic for no reason.”
What did Miller think about the seismic shift in Pied Piper’s focus to video chat? “True to life, sometimes you have to pivot,” he says. “The tech that they thought would be applicable in one way is actually going to serve the different thing much better. And it’s very real. I mean, how often have you tried to FaceTime with somebody and it pauses or it’s a bad connection? Again, we’re mirroring this idea of we have these problems in our tech that we don’t even know that we need or can solve. And that happened with Pied Piper. Nobody set out for this to be a video chat app but the one place that we need more lossless compression is in video chatting.”
The one place that finale didn’t end on was a dramatic cliffhanger, a la the season 2’s sign-off, which left off with Richard being fired as CEO. “We didn’t want to do the same thing we did last season,” says Miller. “We wanted it to be still a mystery as the future of Pied Piper, but we don’t always need to leave the people going, ‘Ahhhh, we have to wait a year for the next season?’ And people have caught onto the idea that Pied Piper can’t get it right. The joke of the series is that anytime you think we’ve got it going on, it just totally falls out from underneath of us. We’re not going to use the same trope all the time. It’s more like, ‘Well, so they pivoted and it’s exciting, but now what?’ It’s interesting to me too; now we’re getting into the world of Gavin and Richard were talking about, which is: What happens when we become a big company? Do we turn into a Hooli? Are we a Facebook that’s trying to get drones to take the internet to places that don’t have it? Do we become the self-serving monolith or are we something entirely different? Do we actually try to make the world a better place through lossless compression when it comes to video chat? Or because of how we pivoted, have we become more trivial? Is the actualization of our technology not what everybody hoped it would be?”
Another deep question: Now that Erlich has a much bigger stake in the company, how will that impact the way Pied Piper is run — and his relationship with Richard? Will his ego outstretch again?
“That’s what a lot of this comes down to: Richard and Erlich’s relationship,” says Miller. “It’s a very Steve Jobs-Steve Wozniak relationship. Is Erlich going to take this power and f— up the whole goddamn company or will he [be the guy] we saw trying to get the funding he needs that to help the company grow? I don’t think even the writers [who have yet to start working on season 4] know that. I can’t imagine that relationship ever being neither symbiotic nor antagonistic; those are always components of that relationship, that it’s mutually beneficial but it’s so antagonistic. They can’t stand so many things about one another, but they can’t operate without each other. That’s very interesting.”
What also interests Miller, as you read above, is that this circle of start-up life is coming full: Richard, Erlich, Jared, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) seem to have officially reunited with their old co-worker Big Head. (They also might have to find a job for Amanda Crew’s Monica, who was removed from the Pied Piper board after showing loyalty to the guys.) “I like the idea of all of us coalescing into the next stage of the company. Finally, the gang’s all back together. Pied Piper is in full effect again. And if this is the last thing Erlich ever does, it will be the first thing he did right.”