[WARNING: This story contains plot details from Sunday’s season 4 finale of Silicon Valley, titled “Server Error.”]
At the end of Silicon Valley‘s fourth season, it came down to a rather familiar scene: Gavin Belson and Richard Hendricks meeting at a Mexican restaurant, with the former offering to buy out the latter’s start-up company, a mariachi band choosing an inopportune time to perform. But the song no longer remains the same on HBO’s beloved tech comedy after “Server Error.”
For starters, the game is getting bigger: Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is inching a bit closer to realizing his dream of building a decentralized internet, thanks in part to some code gifted by Gavin (Matt Ross) that he surely would love to take back now. And Richard bad-assedly breaks the news that the middle-out kings known as Pied Piper will devour the server-centric Hooli, not the other way around, as Gavin has vowed to do once again. Through the season finale, Richard continued to take a shortcut on the path to immortality by trampling through immorality, much like his enemy-turned-partner-turned-rival Gavin (Matt Ross) once did. He lied to his friends (Gilfoyle and Dinesh), berated them (Jared), took advantage of them (Big Head), and deceived consumers by sneaking unauthorized content on their phone before he finally came to his nice-guy senses and accepted responsibility for the mess that he and Pied Piper had made. (Which turned out to be not such a mess, thanks to some data-sharing, data-storing smart fridges. But also: R.I.P., Anton.)
And the winds of coming change also blew in from as far away as the Far East, where we saw Erlich for the last time. (T.J. Miller, as you know, is leaving the show.) How did the series bid farewell to the imperious impresario, the blowhard who tried for four seasons to moor himself to moguldom? Gavin — who would maneuver his way back into the good graces of the Hooli shareholders and displace the man who displaced him, Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) — first abandoned poor Erlich in an opium den in Tibet, because, well, if you’re going to leave Erlich hanging for eternity — or maybe five years — that seems as logical as any place to do such a thing.
What happens now to Pied Piper after Richard’s rejection of Gavin’s offer? What does life without Erlich look like? And will the smart refrigerator replace the smart phone as our primary means of communication within a few years? Let’s stop with the second-guessing, hand-wringing, pearl-clutching bulls— and call the man calling the shots, Silicon creator Mike Judge.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Richard’s dream of a decentralized internet got one step closer to reality, thanks to some helpful smart refrigerators. Where the heck did you get that idea, and how pure is the science here? Also, should we be worried about a refrigerator uprising in 2032?
MIKE JUDGE: The science is pretty solid. We try to vet it through a lot of different people. A lot of times there’s an explanation that may take more explaining than we care to do in dialogue with the characters. For example, the tequila bottle in season 2 that was accidentally set on the delete button — that actually, through a perfect storm of mistakes, could happen, and we had that all explained in the dialogue at one point, and it was just too boring and we figured, “Well, when we get attacked on Twitter, we’ll just explain it there.” [Laughs] So there might be a little bit of that with this. But given that the compression algorithm is fictitious but supposedly somebody could [create this] — everything else is solid. And there are people working on this decentralized version of the internet, so that is something that is happening.
And we’ll be continuing that thread throughout next season?
Yeah. And the space-saver app that he’s doing is one step along the way. We looked at different ways that somebody could achieve this, and given limited funds, this would be a way to possibly build something to show that it could be done and then get funding.
The fortunes of Pied Piper rise and fall so fast. What is the biggest discussion that the writers have about balancing these reversals of fortunes? Is the looming danger always not to make it too Entourage-y, so you have to be Lucy and keep yanking that football away from them, to mix pop culture metaphors?
Yeah. In the beginning, if you had asked me at the end of season 1 where they’d be at the end of season 4, I would just assume that they’d be out of the house and be billionaires and all that [laughs], but we take it one season at a time. What we did with this big swing of the decentralized internet is that we realized we can’t keep having them fail and pivot. So the idea with this was that this is what they’ll be working on until the end of the series — at least that’s the way we’re thinking of it. And there are a lot of steps to building something like this.
The finale sets up a return to a central idea from the beginning of the show: Gavin versus Richard/Pied Piper. It was intriguing to see them working together, albeit briefly, this season. Were there discussions in the writers’ room to have them on the same team for a longer stretch? Gavin just seemed to have vanished early in the season.
From what I remember, initially, our plan was that he would be with them for a while. In season 3, we had this Skunkworks thing where they were going to be building their thing while they’re working under Jack Barker. We thought that would sustain several episodes of them building, and we spent weeks actually writing and outlining three episodes of it. Finally, we had to admit to ourselves that this just wasn’t working, and that’s when we got that idea to just have it all blow up in their face immediately — set it up like we were setting up the season and then they just s— their pants immediately. [Laughs] But [in this case], we just weren’t coming up with that much stuff to sustain it. And finally, we had these other ideas — working toward HooliCon — and also seeing Gavin fail and come back at the end of the season just seemed better. So we ended up going that route.
Well, it did, in its brief time, give us the Blood Boy. And Jared (Zach Woods) defending Richard to Bryce (Graham Rogers) — “You dick! You dick!” — was a highlight.
Yeah, I feel like Zach was on fire this year.
The show does a great job of filling in Jared’s dark past with these great little details — and other times, it just drops these disturbing hints that leave us hanging and saying, “Actually, I don’t want to know what Uncle Gerry’s Game is.”
That’s exactly the balance we’re trying to strike there. [Laughs] It just has this ring to it. It’s like, “Oh, god. I don’t know if I want to know what it means.” That was in the script but… a lot of this originally came from lines that Zach would just improv in the first two seasons. Almost none of them made it in, but they did influence our writing of the character. Then we just started putting them in in ways that made a little more sense, where it was a little more organic to the scene. He did one of my favorite improvs that he dropped in — we didn’t put in the show, but in season 1, they’re talking about who Gilfoyle’s [Martin Starr] girlfriend looks like, and they’re naming different celebrities, and Zach just [improvised], “She looks like my friend Gloria’s granddaughter.” It’s like, “Wow, that’s one sentence that says a lot about a guy. He hangs out with old ladies, and he’s met the granddaughter.” And then he started doing these things about his foster home. The idea that he was on the streets at some point, you don’t really want to know what he was doing, but it’s funny to know that he’s been that low down.
Speaking of the old ladies, we did get the joke this season about how he slept with the head of the assisted living facility to bump up his friend Muriel on the wait list.
Oh, right! There were a bunch of different options on that, and it’s one of the things where we shot a bunch of different takes, and I’m glad you like that one. That was the winner.
You’ve toyed with Richard breaking bad before in a previous season, but these last few episodes took him to new levels of dick-ery, especially with poor Jared. All of which is to say that this made Richard even more interesting. What’s the biggest challenge in writing the hungrier, more Machiavellian Richard?
It’s like eating your seed corn. I thought Thomas played it great. I liked watching him do something that’s out of character, it keeps you on edge, but if you do too much of it, it’s not Richard anymore. That’s why I thought it was satisfying to see him, after becoming a little unhinged, admit that he was just out of line. You don’t want to make him become so bad that it’s unlikable — and I suppose we could — but I think you’re ultimately going to want to see him redeem himself. I mean, who knows? We haven’t gotten to next season yet.
But for me, watching Thomas and Zach play those scenes was really great. I think the season finale may be my favorite episode of the series so far. I mean, the season finale of season 1 was right up there. Those guys were both playing some really subtle things — and then some not-so-subtle things. [Laughs] This was what I was always imagining the series would be, seeing a promise from the beginning: Is this character going to become corrupted by all this? And to see it come close to happening was where we’ve been headed from the beginning.
The cautionary tale of Gavin Belson.
That’s what we were sort of promising, so it was satisfying to do a little bit of that.
Jared finally stood up to his captain and (temporarily) quit the company in an emotional moment. Will we see him take more agency in his life next season?
I know among the fans, I hear it all the time, that this last season he really started to shine. It could very well be that season 5 is the season of Jared, you know? [Laughs] Like you were saying, you probably don’t want to know a whole lot more about his past, but we’re going to throw more to Jared this coming season.
Did you guys spend any time actually imagining the contents of his “Lordy, Lordy, Look Who’s 40” letter? Because I really want to read that.
Actually, when we were shooting, one of the writers started to write it, and we were in a rush, and I just thought, “Let’s not see it on camera — somebody will freeze-frame it and blow it up, and we haven’t got enough time [to write it].” But yeah, that would be a fun one to write. I know Dan O’Keefe wrote some really funny stuff on the profile page back in season 1. [Jared] had an a cappella group called Joyce Carol Notes. Those things are really fun to write.
NEXT PAGE: Judge breaks down Erlich’s final scene