'Silicon Valley' recap: 'Runaway Devaluation'
If I had to text my friends one word about Sunday night’s episode of Silicon Valley, it would have to be… bro. Yes, the second installment of the second season of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley ended with a triple-like. We watched the Pied Piper crew head back to the VC boardrooms to all but beg for bucks, Dinesh (and Gilfoyle) make an ill-advised and unplanned investment in terrible technology, and Richard hang on the precipice of a huge decision as the mariachi band played on. Smile politely and munch on some chips-n-salsa as Silicon star T.J. Miller and I recap “Runaway Devaluation,” Bro2Bro.
T.J., welcome back from your Japan vacation. You look not tanned, but rested and ready to talk. And can I say: That is a lovely color on you. You are a true winter. I’ve been a winter for years. People used to say I was a summer, but I was so cold to them.
Like the title of this episode implies, “Runaway Devaluation” was short on victory and long on trouble. We open by reconnecting with Ron, who was recently seen cutting off his nipple on Mad Men, trying to find love somewhere between the letters A and Z, and… oh, right, he’s Pied Piper’s unconventional attorney from season 1. He tells Richard that they need to lawyer up in a big way given the Hooli lawsuit, and I love how he assumes that Richard is practicing a lie when he insists that he did not create his compression algorithm on Hooli time: “Always tell me that. And tell yourself that. Because if you believe it, a jury will too.” And then when he issues his whole sucks-to-be-Pied-Piper comment: “I wouldn’t want to be part of that team,” it hammers home the idea that this guy does not instill confidence or strike us as super loyal. Ron LaFlamme is like most lawyers—snake oily with a difficult-to-pronounce last name. I would trust him as far as I could throw him. And I’m pretty strong, so I’d trust him about 12 feet.
Speaking of loyalty, the Laurie-led Raviga has none. The new ultra-pragmatic managing partner comes up with many clinical ways to say that her company is distancing itself from the start-up it was desperate to invest in last week. Better yet, she makes Monica deliver the news in a supposedly unattractive beige ensemble. The boys are understandably upset—and not just because her “dress shitty to ease the pain” gambit didn’t work. “It’s a classic chick breakup move, and you’re not very good at it either,” scoffs Erlich. “You look great.” Jared is even nicer in this time of crisis: “Beige is a good color for you—you are a true autumn.” But the boys are facing a long, cold winter if they can’t come up with some cash soon. Monica advises Richard to close a deal quickly while momentum is on his side. She is obviously torn between her loyalties, and I hope her big move last week—telling Richard not to take the Raviga deal because it would lead to a runaway valuation—was just the beginning of her showing more teeth and a bit of a rebellious side. As we see Monica find what is really important on Silicon Valley—and of course, in life—we also see that she wears beige really nicely. But as we see her tempted by greed, ambition, and self-furthering, we also see that self-furthering doesn’t seem like a word. And word is bond. And we will see that her bond with the crew gets stronger as this season trucks along.
My guess is this might result in a full-on defection to Pied Piper at one point, but don’t answer that. Anyway, this leads to another amusing round of VC meetings with Richard and Erlich, but this time Pied Piper is on the defensive. While it was naughty fun watching Erlich neg the hell out of these executives, it’s almost as entertaining to watch him force down a few bites of humble pie. But it takes a little time to ease into; Erlich is still grasping for a tiny bit of leverage. “I did not call you a pussy,” he tells one. “I said people who break term sheet agreements are pussies, and that hasn’t happened… yet. Thus I haven’t called you a pussy… yet. You’re in control of the situation.” Then the VCs start unloading on them for their horrible behavior last week, recounting some choice insults. Oh, to be a fly on the writers’ room wall when they were coming up with lines like: “You called me a chode-gargling f— toilet.” That was Danny O’Keefe, one of the writers. I remember him coming over, and Mike Judge and he couldn’t stop laughing. And I was like, “What are you laughing about? What’s the line?” And they told me that, and I think I said, “All right, that’s not going to be on the show, but we’ll say it for our enjoyment.” And then, of course, it’s in the show.
Erlich finally works his way up to his own brand of penitence—“Thank you for allowing me to come in here today and be vulnerable and to apologize”—only to have a VC drop balls on a reclaimed Brazilian Koa wood table, just as Erlich did to him. Watching a character like Erlich who claims greater wisdom and authority than he has get his comeuppance, is always enjoyable. And yet he is steeped in honesty. Your thoughts? And which kind of shadings of Erlich do you most love to play? He’s bombastic and profane, but that’s what we love about him. He believes the world works a certain way, and he seeks to capitalize on that, and though we laugh at his audacity, we envy his freedom. It’s like last season: You have to be an asshole to get ahead. You’re nobody unless your friends are suing you. It’s almost this Nietzschian thing where he’s like, “Why are people not being honest with each other about what idiots they are and how useless different people are? Why wouldn’t I tell somebody directly to their face that they’ll never amount to anything if that’s the truth? If people are offended by me or I hurt their feelings, that’s their issue.”… I think what’s fun about playing him is that his blunt honesty is so abrasive and it’s so unexpected. It’s not that he doesn’t even have a filter, it’s that he doesn’t care to soften things. His idea of tact is not lying to someone’s face when they’re being a chode-gargling f— toilet.
Meanwhile, we learn that Piped Piper is burning through money so fast that it won’t last more than a few weeks, which is bad news for Dinesh, who just donated $5,000 to his cousin Wajeed’s kickstarter campaign for a Bro2Bro app, which texts the word “bro” to anyone. It’s like the Yo app, “but less original,” says Dinesh. When he explains to Gilfoyle that he doesn’t want to bail on Wajeed because he looks up to him as “the cool cousin,” I’ve never seen Gilfoyle so activated: “Did you just say you were the cool cousin?” he says, returning to the sofa. “Please explain.” He was probably happier in this moment than he was in winning TechCrunch Disrupt. And when he questioned Dinesh’s explanation that he got the good grades and gave gifts to teachers while Wajeed was off getting busted for smoking opium, Dinesh sensed Gilfoyle’s incredulity and explained “it’s different in Pakistan,” which led to one of my favorite Gilfoyle lines: “I’ve never been, but I know it isn’t.” He is a master of the deadpan arts. Martin Starr is the greatest deadpan comedian of our generation. He’s actually less deadpan in his humor in real life. He’s a little more animated. He’ll come over and tickle your knees or f— with you, or he’ll slap you on the back and be like, ‘Buddy, I’m so glad to see you!” His humor is very different off-camera than it is on-camera, which is surprising and shows his versatility that he’s crafted this deadpan delivery…. And which one is Dinesh and which one is the Indian Guy?
Dinesh is a highly driven character who often defeats himself, and when he tries to get the social justice he thinks he deserves, the piano falls on his head—or Gilfoyle drops it on him. We kind of get both versions here. When a demoralized Wajeed tells him that he’s thinking about dropping his Kickstarter campaign because people are saying crappy things about it, Dinesh winds up inadvertently persuading him to stick with it because his own ego gets in the way. Then Dinesh tries to poison the well at the bar by telling everyone that Wajeed is throwing away half of the global market, as “Bro” translates into awful things in other languages. That was a great run of jokes—my favorite was a tie between “in Finnish, bro means a baby’s erection” or “Fecal eclipse. Loses something in translation. We don’t have a word for it. But they do. It’s ‘bro.’” I really enjoyed the Navajo translation—”a really joyful person with mental disabilities”—because it perfectly exemplifies the show being bizarre and hilarious but also borderline offensive.
NEXT: More borderline offensiveness…
Then things turned dark, as Gilfoyle blackmails him by contributing $500 to the campaign—“I’m effectively leveraging your misery. I’m like the Warren Buffett of f—ing with you”—and demanding $500 from Dinesh or he will help Cousin Bro reach the $50,000 threshold. Much to their chagrin, someone else contributes the final dollars at the last second. What do we call what happened there? An accidental financial murder-suicide? Suicide is always fiduciary. Life is a zero balance, and the possibility of death, although a deduction, is a capital gain.
T.J., I hope you donate your brain to science one day—after you’re dead—so we can study it and learn things. Now, let’s talk about Jared, who tries to save the day; he connects with a dude at Branscomb Ventures via the Bro app and arranges a face-to-face for the Pied Piper team. He also redefines the bros-before-hoes mantra: “Well, get some sleep, my bros. I’ll set the meeting and um… then I’ll find some hoes to prioritize behind you.” Alas, he and Erlich quickly realize in the meeting that they are being “brain-raped” for their middle-out technology—which is a not-so-PC way of saying that the Branscomb guys are stealing it. And then Jared issues this gem of a line to Richard: “It’s like when somebody says they want to go birding with you, but really they just want to get you alone in the woods so they can take your binoculars.” I swear, every time Jared speaks, I want to hug him and swaddle him in a warm blanket. I want to know everything about his life, but I’m also scared to. As we speak, I’m asking Zach Woods to come to a Russian sauna house with me, because he doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke marijuana, and won’t ride roller coasters unless they’re oblate. So Zach, like Jared, leads a calm, well-spoken, never capricious, sad life, by my—and Erlich’s—standards. But I think for him the comfort of a good Jane Austen novel is enough excuse to see this whole affair as a beautiful gift.
[Executive producers] Mike Judge and Alec Berg told me that they have to be vigilant about watching how much Gilfoyle and Dinesh rip on Jared during filming because he’s such an easy target, and it can devolve into just mean insults when you guys are having fun improv’ing lines. It’s hard because Zach is in his affirming style of improvisation, no matter what you hurl at him. He’ll say, “Yeah, that is a good point. I’ve been broken inside for the last six months and I must come off as somewhat difficult to be around.” That’s the other problem. Jared would never fire back. So, that makes it even tougher because no matter what you hurl at him, he’ll agree with you.
He’s so quick on his feet. Pound for pound, in terms of coming up with stuff off the top of his head, improvising from the character’s point of view, I don’t know that there’s anyone better. I certainly break the most—I think we all do—at Zach. Thomas [Middleditch] would say the same thing. We’ll break the most when Zach Woods is improvising. He’s that good. He’s superiorly funny to all of us.
Our final scene takes Richard to a mystery meeting at a Mexican restaurant with a hooded Hooli—that is, the hoodie-wearing Hooli CEO Gavin Belson. Knowing that he has cornered Pied Piper, he tells Richard that he should submit to an acquisition by Hooli. “You get my infrastructure and I get your speed today, instead of a month or two,” he says. I like where the conversation goes from here, as it exposes some of Richard’s naivete cloaked as idealism—not that it’s not admirable. He says that he doesn’t want to be part of Gavin’s giant soulless corporation, to which Gavin bottom-lines the inevitabilities of mass success, rhetorically asking Richard: “When Pied Piper is a billion dollar company, you’ll seek out your competitors and help them?” Richard has to make a few very difficult decisions this season. Will he submit to corporate culture for money? Will he doublecross his friends for his own personal gain? Will he never not wear a hoodie? These questions and more go unanswered in season 2.
When Gavin said to Richard, “We could build something together, something great,” I got kind of a Darth Vader offering Luke to come join him on the Dark Side, with the lacerating lawsuit representing, I guess, Luke’s missing hand? Well, SPOILER ALERT, Richard loses his hand in a light saber fight with his father.
Did you believe Gavin at all when he says he’s just trying to do the right thing? Or is he that scared of Pied Piper? Or a little of both? Everyone is scared of one or the other; working for the man or chasing a dream. Both are scary, but one plateaus in monotony, one ends in personal satisfaction. And I remember that moment for me—when I sold my comedy routine to Wendy’s fast food restaurant. “Quality Is Our Recipe.” My recipe is selling jokes about giraffe facts!
That takes us to the very last moments of the episode, where Richard is about to give Gavin his answer, saying, “You want to know what I say? Okay, here’s what I say…” But instead of launching into a big screw-you speech—or even maybe surprisingly shaking hands with him as we later learn that Richard is now plotting to take Hooli down from the inside—Richard is stopped cold by the mariachi band that starts up, leaving them, and us, hanging. What a silly and incredible way to end on a cliffhanger, where something puny and anticlimactic perfectly undermines our huge stakes. And the joke compounds by letting the band continue to play over the credits as Richard and Gavin just sat there, uncomfortably waiting for this musical interruption to be over. Can’t wait for the resolution next week. Or for the band to stop. Oh, me neither! You do know that episode 3 is just the end of that song and then the mariachi band’s full set, which includes Christina Aguilera’s “We Remain.”
And that brings us to our extremely popular closing segment, Tease J. Miller, where, you, T.J. Miller, give us a hint about next week’s episode, titled “Bad Money.” Tease J., take us away! It’s me! Tease J.! No one will believe the twists and turns that episode 3 contains! Without giving too much away: People say things, others do not.
Can we get a little more? In the next episode, we meet a very different type of Silicon Valley billionaire who may or may not prove pivotal in the future of Pied Piper. In any case, you’ll see a lot of chest hair.