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Silicon Valley recap: Binding Arbitration

A discussion of the ninth episode of season 2 with ‘Silicon’ star T.J. Miller.

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John P. Johnson

Silicon Valley

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
2
run date:
04/06/14
performer:
Thomas Middleditch, Aly Mawji, T.J. Miller
broadcaster:
HBO
genre:
Comedy

What if you say no? It’s just two little letters, and it’ll solve all of (okay, most of) your problems. But for Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks—our weary, sweaty, stressed-out mankid who has been exploring the limits of his moral code to keep his business alive—it was a “no” to which he could not go. And at the end of the compelling “Binding Arbitration,” we were left to wonder: Did Richard just demonstrate a rare and admirable example of honesty in a town built out of ones, zeros, IPOs, and lies? Or did he just press the self-destruct button on his promising company and hand-deliver it to evil Internet giant Hooli? Perhaps it’s best not for us to speculate: I mean, we don’t want to be personally responsible for the demise of Pied Pi—eh, screw it, let’s let the Schrödinger cat out of the box and recap the second-to-last episode of the second season with a man who’s second to very few, T.J. Miller, a.k.a. Erlich Bachman.

T.J., welcome back for our penultimate powwow! How are you? Feel free to huddle with your lawyers before answering, of course. I always keep my lawyers huddled. I keep them in a constant huddle, and whenever I give them a pep talk, I say, “Okay, guys—this is our game, our field, and our shoulders… let’s get out there and huddle!” And then they return to a huddle.

Richard & Co. have faced down many obstacles—Russ Hanneman, End Frame, a deleterious bottle of Tres Comas—but this week’s episode returned us to our core conflict: Pied Piper V. Hooli, with Gavin and Richard matching wits (with a little help from their lawyers). The show found another fun way to send up a town powered by a contradiction of innovation and fear with that phone call: Richard threatened Gavin that he would leak his barely functional beta Hooli phone (gifted to him by Big Head in a Gizmodo iPhone situation) while being cautiously coached not to frame it as a threat by Ron (an almost-good guy whose investment in Pied Piper could not be more minimal), only to have it revealed that the very pissed-off Gavin was also being steered out of trouble by his team of lawyers, who turned out to be buddies with Ron. Tres Comas Tequila is the real killer. Try saying it three times fast after three glasses. But at least it doesn’t try to be something that it’s not. It knows what it is and what it does. Tres Comas, like all tequilas, results in nudity and bad decisions either sexual or Taco Bell related (on the worst nights, both). Gavin and Russ are far less self aware than tequila, both convincing themselves they deserve to be billionaires and they are great people changing the world. Really? Those dick farmers? That’s like if someone was selling you grain alcohol but saying that it is “unfiltered, uncut, sensational vodka.”  Which happens a lot in Los Angeles, come to think of it. It’s all I buy.

Hooli agrees/is blackmailed into forgoing the trial and submit to arbitration, which means the case will be argued swiftly before a retired judge, and the Pied Piper crew can get closure on this legal cloud that been hanging over them before the end of the season. The litigator that has been recommended to them is supposedly one of the best in the business and has agreed to waive his fee until the case is resolved. Why? Because Pete Monaghan—played by Matt McCoy, the only man to have appeared in two Police Academy movies and two Curtis Hanson films—is a disbarred lawyer who has hit rock bottom. His introduction to the show (and the guys) is hilarious, a sober and clinical monologue in which he clears his own record: “Was I in possession of cocaine, methamphetamines, amyl nitrite—poppers—at time of my arrest? In large quantities. Did I have consensual intercourse with two women under the age of 18? Repeatedly. I admit this. Did I violate The Mann Act and transport them across state lines for sexual purposes? Alleged but not proven. And boy they tried. They tried.” (It was also disturbingly amazing that Jared knew that amyl nitrite dilates the anus.) I love how exciting binding arbitration is to Erlich. It’s the big show, he finally gets to testify, just like when his stepdad pulled a kitchen knife on him in grade school and he beat the s— out of him, but again, they settled out of court. And apparently a case was made that Erlich my have had a butterfly knife, that he bought at a Dave Mathews concert. Matt McCoy is another one of those Chris Diamantopoulos guys.  Nicest guy, and I have to trust spell check on his name to make sure it’s the real McCoy—the real Matt McCoy.

Pete Monaghan is yet another great character introduced into the show this season, and he is so excellent and his comedic tone is pitch perfect, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of him next season. Expect more deadpan revelations about his sordid and torrid past.  For instance, and I can not legally confirm, nor deny this, but he may or may have not hijacked a hot air balloon in New Orleans and made it most of the way to Cuba with enough drugs in his possession that he would have set up a very small cartel and bought a house, or two studio apartments.  You know, one for him, one for the drugs.

As far as Jared, that ass master has been dilating the anus since ’93.  They used to call him “ol’ dilatin’ bunghole” in high school. It was not a good time for him.

With all those five-alarm red flags, I braced for one of those deal-with-the-devil, Pied-Piper-is-going-to-have-instant-regret situations, à la Russ. But as it turns out, this guy is hellbent on redemption, and proves himself to be wholly competent, deflecting Erlich’s theater and bullshit (and desire to be deposed) while dutifully building the best case for Richard by making sure that he created Pied Piper on his own time with his own machinery. Problem: He discovers that Richard has sent emails to Big Head about his girlfriend—the nickname for his laptop—being in the shop from April 10 to 12, including one on April 11 in which he mentioned that he just successfully tested the Pied Piper system, which prompts Richard to remember that he used a Hooli computer that day. A worried Pete says the case hinges on whether Hooli’s lawyers figure out that his girlfriend is actually his laptop. Gilfoyle wins the scene with this summation: “Are you telling us this entire case hinges on people believing Richard had a girlfriend?” Hell-bent is a good way to describe it, he’s back from the depths and bowels of hell, and he is bent on getting the f— out of that hell and not going back. So he really needs to knock this binding arbitration out of the park; and Erlich is there to help.  He thinks. Also, I love that not only does Richard not have a girlfriend, he refers to his laptop as his girlfriend (already weird) and the case hinges on people believing that he is a bit of a Don Juan (impossible) and not just with the ol’ Powerbook (although he did ejaculate on it once, and it busted the keys, he had to take it into the shop). But with human women too. So. Yeah.  This doesn’t seem like a good situation.  Bizarrely though, Thomas Middleditch, off-camera, is a charming lady killer, and a good husband to his wife and eleven dogs, so he’s a great actor and comedian. He kills. The scenes, not the women.

Let’s have a quick sidebar on Big Head. Seeing him front and center in this episode made me miss him and realize that we just haven’t gotten enough of this force of passiveness this season. We first see him chilling on his boat with Richard, just three of three lessons away from getting his license, giving Richard his bargaining tool: a beta of Nucleus’ entire mobile platform, left behind at the bar by a Hooli dick. Next we see him on the stand—well, after his awkward, tentative entrance to the arbitration hearing—where Holly the Hooli lawyer tries to paint him as an accomplished genius, an early member of Pied Piper who then received three promotions at Hooli in a month. “You make a meaningful and critical contribution to everything you do, do you not?” Holly asks, to which he says: “Are you asking if I do do that or if I don’t do that?” But his best moment arrives when the lawyer is prodding him to take credit for anything, even the Hooli AIDS and cancer societies, of which he apparently is president. “I actually remember when they told me I got the AIDS thing,” he says. “For just a second I thought they were telling me that I had AIDS, but then I realized, no, I was just the president of the AIDS thingee. But for a second, it was pretty scary there.” Alas for Pied Piper, the judge is buying him as a pathologically modest man: “It’s refreshing to see someone in tech community free of pretension and ego.” They’re really throwing a Hail Mary, which to my understanding, is when rain freezes up and falls in your Bloody Mary.  “Pathologically modest”? I mean, is that even a real thing? I’ve never heard of it and I’m much more modest than everyone on this show combined.

You continue while I decide whether or not to object to that. But I’m with Nelson—I’m so glad he didn’t have the AIDS thing but rather the position of president of the AIDS society. Philanthropy for a cause is usually better than being on the receiving end of the charity, that’s for sure. I was once the president of the Society For The Prevention of Oblong Features and Toddler Bodies in White American Males (SFTPOFTBWAM), but then I found out I was just a member. So I ran for presidency for another society, under the slogan “I’m not just the the president—I’d also be a member of the Facial Hair Club for Men.”

While Hooli’s case against Pied Piper has been rather thin thus far, this isn’t a great development for Richard. So Pete digs deep and calls to the stand the eager Erlich, who is promptly shredded in hopes of establishing that if Hooli’s lawyer called Nelson a genius, then Erlich’s reverence for him is proof that he’s a moron. “Is it also fair to say that every instinct you have as a business man has been completely and totally wrong?” snipes Pete, noting that he didn’t believe in Pied Piper and wanted it be more like Big Head’s horrific app Nip Alert, which was rejected by every investor except Erlich. They have an amusing “You Can’t Handle the Truth!!!” moment in which Pete hammers Erlich so hard with the “You liked Nip Alert and it was terrible!” Erlich finally caves: “Yes! I liked it even though it was a terrible app and it had no market potential!” Unfortunately, Erlich prattles on about how the app was so bad that it crashed Richard’s laptop, sending it into the shop for three days, prompting lightbulbs to illuminate over the heads of Hooli’s lawyers. Yes, our proud incubator just sat on his hatchlings. I want to get vulnerable with our readers now:  It’s difficult to watch this scene, and it was strangely difficult to film it as well. It’s hard to play a character that you feel sorry for. I also want to get vulnerable because I’m in an emotional place. I just moved. My wife said in her vows, “I promise to make sure when we move, you live in a Dodge Caravan.”  I cry most nights, but on others, I laugh maniacally and the police come to calm me down. Derek is really a cool cop.

Erlich, like me, has really fallen from the top of Mt. D-baggery (it’s in Texas). He begins to get slapped around by the big boys. He valiantly attempts to hang, but he’s at the adult table now and he will get his grubby little hands slapped if he tries to reach for the cookies. That metaphor ran off the rails, but this train of thought does have a caboose. (™J. Kent Miller) So not only does Erlich get to take the stand, he fumbles the ball—bad—and has possibly scored for the other team. And I think even Erlich is aware of those repercussions—he must feel like s—.  He was sure that his contribution to arbitration would be biopic worthy, but it was the opposite. And that sucks, because even if Erlich Bachman: Binding Arbitration never gets made (I would see that movie. Two hours of that scene! What fun! It’s a new franchise starring Vin Diesel!), he may have to live having destroying the company that he loved. I think there is a really real possibility that in the next episode we may see Erlich as a bigger detriment to PP than Russ or Gavin, and it may very well be time to drop the dead weight, literally and figuratively. He is figuratively dead to Gilfoyle and Dinesh, and he’s difficult to hoist, so yes, dead weight. And that is sad. Because he really does want this company to grow, and wants to be a valuable contribution to PP. Admittedly—no, wait, would the court strike that last comment?—I will concede the fact that he wasn’t as supportive as he could have been, and he threatened to kick him out, and he cost him 30 large in sssshhwwwaaagggg, and, yes, he smokes a lot and dances on women’s feet at sparsely attended Kid Rock events, but he believes in Pied Piper and he believes in Richard as a visionary (not yet as a leader, my little incubee). Erlich wants more than anything to build the company with Richard and he wants to take down Hooli, annnnnd… oops, he just caked his pants by saying the absolute worst thing possible.

Do we have an assistant? Because we should yell at him to set up a Kickstarter for that movie ASAP. Anyway, the situation looks increasingly dire and Richard frets: “They’re going to ask me if I ran a test of Pied Piper on Hooli computer, and I’ll have to say yes.” That’s when Erlich pulls a Gilfoyle (see: “What if it was worth it?”) and says: “What if you say no?,” instructing him to say that he borrowed his laptop and he’ll back him up on the stand. Right as your heart is softening for Erlich—he’s willing to perjure himself to back up his friend!—Erlich reminds Richard that he’s got a $100-million horse in this race. “Do the right thing here,” he tells Richard. “Lie on the stand.” And in that moment, I was conflicted about whether I wanted Richard to stay on the left-hand path or follow the path of the righteous; both carried dramatic danger for our story. But in any case, I savored the fact that for the second time in three episodes, he was facing down another critical character-defining—and career-defining moment. It gets tricky here, and this is one of the many reasons that I love the show. Erlich here is not being an asshole and he really doesn’t want to lose the company (or his $100M, but c’mon, everyone could use a hundred million dollars—I have like zero new flatware for this year’s dinner parties—I would kill for a platinum/diamond encrusted ladle) and he really would lie on the stand for Richard. In a heartbeat. Think about that. He would perjure himself without thinking to try and beat Gavin Belson because he knows that Gavin is nefarious and using his power to crush Richard. And Erlich is not just urging Richard to do the same because of self interest, he sincerely wants Richard to do the right thing, and for him that thing is lie on the stand. Hell, Erlich would lie on the judge’s lap if it would help Pied Piper.

That lap scene would definitely be in the first trailer of Erlich Bachman: Binding Arbitration. Or maybe it’s called Manatee in Mediation: The Erlich Bachman Story. Anyway, as the tension crests, right-hand path Richard starts to reemerge: “I wanted Piped Piper to be different. But if this company is built on lies then we’re really not much different than Hooli. The law says that I lose everything, my whole company, everything that I’ve worked for because I used one Hooli computer to test and modify one block…. To me, if the system says that’s fair, then I, I guess I’m probably not meant to be part of it.” Pressed to answer the question, he fesses up: “I used a Hooli computer to work on my algorithm. One time. So there you go.” The dramatic pressure is then comedically and perfectly relieved with Erlich’s desperate Hail Mary: “It’s okay, you don’t have to protect me anymore! I’m his girlfriend!” Where do the laughs leave us? We’ll find that out next week. You have to believe that despite Richard’s admirable admission, there will be consequences for that action. This season-long case can’t magically be resolved by one earnest speech, but then again, where does the show go if the judge rules fully in favor of Hooli? Is there a middle-ground scenario? And if not, are we setting up a story in which Pied Piper is somehow forced to operate against its will under some form of Hooli ownership? That would be the conclusion of almost every start-up’s life cycle. So he doesn’t want to be that. But does he have a choice? For some reason, I was hoping that Richard would lie. It would fully solidify his change from a wet behind the years, sniveling, hobbling wispy wisher to a full-on corporate leader. But again, he is deluded with idealism and wants everything to be different. But every company can’t be different or then they would be all the same. That metaphor kind of ran off the rails, but there’s still coal in the engine, so let’s keep chuggin’ along!

With our feline-like reflexes, let’s bat around this week’s B-story with Gilfoyle, Dinesh, and Jared, which is appropriately and amusingly geeky as we explore the concept of Schrödinger’s cat, a PETA-protested quantum mechanics thought experiment that if a cat were left in a box with poison, there are two parallel realities: one in which it is alive and one in which it is dead. Jared frets that it’s been two weeks since mother condor went to nest, and wants to alert the museum that something is wrong with the egg, but is intimidated by Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s cautionary conundrum. He ultimately does call, drawing attention to the live stream’s pathetic numbers, which leads them to take down the camera. And the story ties back to our main plot—until Pete opened the box of emails, Richard didn’t know he had worked on a Hooli computer, making him both innocent and guilty. Our episode wraps up with Dinesh eager to text Richard to learn what happened in the arbitration, though knowledge is a dangerous thing. His finding out could effectively make Pied Piper lose. Meanwhile, the staffer sent to dismantle the egg camera falls off the ledge and tumbles perilously to the ground. “Holy s—. Jared, you just killed that guy,” says Gilfoyle, setting up our episode-ending joke: Dinesh decides not to read the text he got from Richard. Here’s to never knowing the outcome—hey, it’s a lot less work than a SWOT board. Ahhhh, Silicon Valley. It doesn’t get much better or nerdier than Schrødinger’s Cat joke. I mean, you gotta give them propers for that—they’ve covered some area on television that hadn’t been covered, from dick mathematics to combative cat theories. And of course the jocks (Dinesh & Gilfoyle) to Jared’s effeminate, easily teased prep-schoolboy demeanor, would torture him using a 1930’s physicist thought experiment.

When SWOT is all you got, that’s still a lot. I think it’s just that so much has gone wrong and it’s such a high tension time, that each of the guys is melting down and trying to figure out how to deal with the overwhelming stress.  It’s getting down to the wire, and an eggman just fell to his possibly untimely death.

All death is untimely. But I’m sure he’ll be fine. Before the defense rests, this recap now calls Tease J. Miller to the stand for the last time this season and demands that he give the court something resembling a clue about next week’s finale. Objection your honor!  The next episode is the finale, and I will not tease, I plead the Fifth. If you want to hear anything from me, please contact my attorney who is not an attorney, Erlich Bachman. Let’s get him in the conversation next week… I think he could add a lot to the conversation with the two of us. And he is good in an interview—it’s not as if he loses his cool and blurts out game ruining things under pressure. I’m sure he’d be willing to talk to you. He’s a great friend of mine, we spend a few months a year together. Sometimes we vacation in Central Florida when we want to be depressed and sunburned. Other times we go to Catalina and smoke until we know how to sail a boat (Big Head—I’d invite you but I didn’t want the p—y we’ll bring on board to combust.) See you next week for the ultimate episode, the finale, and the question that is burning in all our minds… “Why isn’t it spelled ‘finally’?” It could even be pronounced that way. See you next week!

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