A discussion of the seventh episode of season 2 with 'Silicon' star T.J. Miller
“What is failure?” asked Hooli CEO Gavin Belson early on in Sunday’s Silicon Valley. The theme echoed throughout the episode—and was a clear and present danger for many of our characters. “Adult Content” contained bad news for almost everyone at one point or another (including Gavin, Russ, the boys of Pied Piper—Dinesh in particular—and the boys of End Frame), and what made the episode, well, good, was that it led Richard to a sharp, jagged fork in the road and forced him to make a painful decision: Do you want to be the idealistic CEO who always plays the game fairly—or would you still like to actually have a company to run? Mark the moment: Episode 7 of season 2 is when s— got real for Richard—and left us (cliff)hanging on a note of “game on, bitches” determination. Shall we break down this week’s action? First, let us figure out the password for this Wi-F—Hey! That’s weird! It connected automatically!—and then delve deep into some “Adult Content” with Silicon insider T.J. Miller, aka Erlich Bachman.
Sorry, T.J, but I don’t have any early Sade on my iPhone to cue up as your intro music. Any other requests? I will begin interviews with Sade, and only Sade. Or a spoken word reading of Marquis de Sade.
You did always strike me as a 120 Days in Sodom kind of guy. Yeah, I’ve always been more into the S than the M.
Understood. And for the record, I only come out to “Sad But True” by Metallica. Anyway, to quote Don Henley, who has nothing to do with any of those people, this appears to be “The End of the Innocence” for Richard, who has started to venture down “the left-hand path,” as Gilfoyle terms it. His decision to use the ill-gotten information about End Frame—the compression company, yes, that stole his middle-out algorithm—from Gilfoyle, who pilfered a Post-it note containing the log-in and password information of the company’s CEO, is game-changing. For Pied Piper. For Richard himself. For our understanding of Richard. We’ve known him to be the show’s earnest center—a nervous, sweaty jumble of a gifted manboy who has been thrust into a position of leadership that is not conducive to his mentality. Last week when he tried to assert himself, he inserted his foot in his mouth. (See: Double A’s double a–hole. I mean, don’t actually see it…) This week, Richard is still struggling with his identity; even the End Frame receptionist couldn’t see him as a top dog. But when he finally does assert himself, it yields better results: He walks up to Molly, CEO of porn hub Intersite, and after a rough start, begs her for a shot at her business, as his business is on the precipice of failure. He manages to persuade her that his middle-out technology might actually be better than End Frame’s (7 megabits per second versus 20, and higher quality to boot), prompting her to offer him a bake-off with End Frame. But what price victory (or at least a shot at victory)? Do two wrongs make a right? Maybe not, but they do make for interesting television. And an interesting Richard. This season gets tricky—and brings up my favorite subject of late—morality. What is the right way to make a company, what is the wrong way to act in making that company, what is the right way to treat your competitors and peers… Richard has to deal with all of that as an emerging CEO. And as you can imagine, things like this plague a man who is more comfortable with mathematics than conversations with girls (or anyone really).
A man who has been not afraid to stray into the gray, Gilfoyle went extra dark this week. He won’t call the stolen Post-it note—which moves the ethical line into uncharted territory—a “hack,” instead preferring the term “natural selection,” rationalizing that the End Frame CEO was a Darwinian dummy for leaving his computer unprotected. But Gilfoyle’s tempting of Richard feels like the work of the deadpan devil. When Richard doth protest that stealing this information is illegal, Gilfoyle retorts, “Like lying and saying they want to meet with you to steal their tech? You want to do something, Richard? This is something.” That scene was stellar—and a bit chilling. It’s strange how the different characters represent different approaches. Gilfoyle purports to have taken the left hand path, but is it evil to wrong someone who has wronged you? Do two wrongs make a right? Do two rights make a left? Does one wrong, one-half right, and zero value negation of a wrong makes three-quarters right? I have no idea. I’m more comfortable conversing with girls than with mathematics.
But I love that everyone attacks the building of a company different ways. And everyone has their own priorities (I’m looking at you, Dinesh! Modeling agency over servers? Disgusting. Get your head out of the beautiful, well-manicured, soft, supple gutter!) Erlich has been building a company, seeking respect, and doing what it takes (no matter if it’s good or evil) to become an icon and to disrupt the world. Richard is trying to make a different kind of company, something that isn’t Hooli, but he’s beginning to realize that all companies are something like Hooli (as Gavin pointed out with a mariachi soundtrack). And I don’t know about Jared. I think he just wants to make a great company where he can have his own conference nook to take naps. As Erlich says: “He speaks German in the nook.”
Speaking of Jared, did he stray from the straight and narrow too? During the corrupting process of Richard, I expected our docile, harmless oddball to serve the lone voice of goodness and reason, but even he was focused on the benefit of the illicit End Frame info, noting that Intersite could save tens of millions of dollars by using a more efficient system like Pied Piper’s to handle their streaming needs—and if Pied Piper could swipe the $15 million contract from End Frame, they could settle out with Russ and pay off their legal fees to defend the Hooli suit. I should’ve known that Jared was a little different this week; when the others were calling the End Frame guys “a–holes,” he agreed and used unusually coarse language: “Buttholes, indeed.” Maybe German-nightmare Jared is working his way into his conscious state. Again, we have an interesting moral dilemma. Jared is taking the approach, in the end, Intersite would benefit from their tech much more than End Frame, and so it would be right to win the bake-off because Pied Piper is the better tech and Intersite will benefit from it, not to mention, millions upon millions of pornography enthusiasts who will get their sexual images and videos faster, at a higher quality, and thus those millions will, thanks to Pied Piper, reach climax faster. It gives them more time in their day. It’s really about the pornographic consumers and their well-being. So in a way, Jared may have the best interests of the most people in mind, and that is ethically sound. That’s some John Stuart Mill utilitarian s—, that right thar!
NEXT: How to win over a woman with the smooth sounds of Sade
You really know your way around a Wikipedia page, T.J. Time to talk about you. Or rather, Erlich, who got his groove back this week. He’s had his victories and losses in his battles with Richard in recent weeks, but he’s trended more toward buffoon than babe magnet. But after giving Dinesh advice on how to score Karen, the lady that he was wooing (“Just maintain eye contact and light some scented candles and throw in some Sade. The early stuff, though, before her arrangements got too baroque”), he proved himself to be quite the smooth operator. Turns out, he had previously bedded Karen, and he was going to do it again, Dinesh be damned. But admit this: He may have needed that victory, but the collateral cruelty was not kind at all. Bad manatee! Bad! You can’t teach a manatee not to be a manatee—for a manatee can only be a manatee not a man that’s me. i.e, I, Tee Tee, am no manatee, I am a man, a “T,” but not a manatee. Sorry, I had a mini-stroke and reverted back to our haiku recap. I’m back. Erlich does what he wants because he knows that if other people hadn’t been conditioned to take everyone else into consideration (a weakness), they too would “take Karen back to the bedroom and throw on some Sade.” And that is the first and last Sade metaphor I will use. Deep down we all want to be a bon vivant, bacchanalian, bombastic buffoon, who does what he wants, says what he says, and doesn’t apologize for who he is. We all wish we could tell more people to f— off and have sex with Dinesh’s prospect, but we either lack the courage or feel that Erlich is inconsiderate and amoral—but is he? Let’s throw on some Sade and find out.
Poor Dinesh or… Dinesh got what he deserved? More of the latter. The hapless programmer did not come off well this week, first outed (via Wi-Fi) that he’d been looking around at other job opportunities, and then semi-catfishing a woman through a dating site, constructing a throne of lies to make himself look more regal. He set his email sign-off to read “sent from my iPhone” to make it seem like he was a man about town, and to further position himself as the most interesting man in the world, he sent her pics of artwork drawn by a 5-year-old, Montessori-schooled boy, passing it off as pictures at an exhibition. (“Crimes against children, really, so easy to get away with,” he marvels.) First Erlich destroyed him in words (explaining that when she texted him to come over, she was all but his: “You’ve basically done the deed, which for you is ejaculating in your own pants all over your leg end then apologizing profusely”) and then in actions (flirtingly saying to her that they should “check the ol’ lost and found” for her earrings), leaving Dinesh to wallow in a state of misery/rejection as he listened the taunts of “Sweetest Taboo” playing through the walls. Leave it to Gilfoyle to pile on, sarcastically asking him, “Will they ever find those earrings?” which was almost as mean as his “He’s definitely going to f— her later and she’s not going to think of you while it’s happening” barb from last week. Bad ferret! Bad! That’s a pretty bad ferret. Gilfoyle can be so cruel. But if you could say what you wanted to someone that you hated or merely wanted to taunt, wouldn’t you? If you could release guilt and shame and just act how you wanted, would you? Let’s throw on some early Sade and see what happens…
Russ Hanneman needs to calm, or, rather, comma down. A dog dump on his floor (the universal sign for human neglect and distress), he is distraught that he’s no longer in the three comma club (the marks of a billionaire), and only has $986 million, thanks to a “series of bad investments that my money guy let me talk him into.” (So close to self-awareness, but no cigar!) He instructs Richard to reverse course and have Pied Piper start showing revenue, because, well, that benefits his bank account. His sub-billionaire belly-aching yields a very funny, absurdist, perfectly fitting joke for Russ, which is that he can’t afford to have the cool doors that are found only on the most outlandish sports cars. I loved his physical demonstration, one of which looked like the Karate Kid crane kick. “These are not the doors of billionaire, Richard, f—you!” he shouts at him, priorities where they always are (misplaced), as he drives off after Richard rejects his proposal to merge with/be absorbed by End Frame. I really wanted, with all my heart, to sing “Comma comma comma chameleon” but I know that people will groan and roll their eyes, and somehow feel that I have wasted precious moments of their life. So I’m not going to make that Karma Chameleon joke, and I won’t even waste time talking about why I didn’t and how people would react to it.
Yeaaaaaah, I’m not seeing a whole lot that’s positive from Russ. He’s basically one terrible thing after another, and it’s becoming clear that Monica had good reason to caution them against getting involved with this more-chest-hair-than-shirt rich dude. And again, it’s heart wrenching that Erlich so desperately wants his approval as we see more and more what a d-bag Russ is. That is harder for me to watch on TV than when I’m actually filming it on set, because if I’ve done my job, you really do feel some empathy for Erlich. In real life, sometimes I get sad watching certain scenes with Erlich, a man who has painted himself into a corner of loneliness and the empty feeling that comes along with drinking the Kool-Aid that is Tres Commas tequila.
And Gavin? Good god. He is reduced to groveling before the Hooli board after Nucleus’ disastrous live stream of the UFC fight. It’s fun to see him in a submissive, scared position, desperately attempting to recast his failure as “pre-greatness,” with a presentation on how every visionary gave birth to a dud before a success: Steve Jobs (Newton), Mark Zuckerberg (Wirehog), Kevin Rose (a bunch before and after Digg—that was quite a dig). Desperate to save face (and his job?), he lies to the board, hinting that he has added secret functionality to Nucleus, which he then goes back to XYZ and commands Big Head & Co. to invent. Quickly. But now he has to deal with the consequences of hiring Big Head to prop up his lawsuit, as Big Head pitches a revolutionary idea about an earbud-modified piezo electric sensor which allows users to control their Hooli phones simply by neural impulses, and it will be ready by, ummmm, “probably in our lifetime…. I really believe our grandchildren are going to grow up taking this technology for granted.” It’s a good thing that the potato cannon is malfunctioning, because otherwise Gavin would fire it up Big Head’s ass. Yes, I love that we see that even Gavin has bosses, and they are more interested in money than innovation, and he has to deliver or else… Let’s just put it this way—he’ll be pawning some of his weird separated toe shoes for Ramen. He doesn’t need a hair clip though, so he’ll save some scratch on that. On top of this potential loss of his job, he is sleeping in the bed he made, a bed wet with the stain of “Bag Head”. He planned a nefarious ascent of this bag full of air, aimed on using it to destroy Pied Piper, but now he is going to have to figure out how to do Nucleus without Bannercheck and it’s not going to be with a potato cannon-making, Big Gulp-chugging dunderhead. I feel bad saying so many mean things about Big Head, but I put on some Sade, saw it from Gilfoyle’s perspective, and I’m sayin’ what I want and going to Satanists meetings for the Chick-fil-A.
We wouldn’t be doing our jobs right if we didn’t point out the time and effort that the writers surely put into the porn conference. While Intersite CEO Molly is prattling on about pioneering cutting-edge interfaces across new device platforms, the camera pans across the room and indentifies the well-dressed execs from the various adult-film companies by the crude cards on the table in front of them. “Let’s Try Fisting.” “Fingered Teen.” “Nonconsensual Santa.” “Poop on My Wife.” “Blackmailed into Gay.” The writers clearly had a ball (balls?) coming up with those names, and they were almost as creative as the cards on the Let Blaine Die SWOT board. Oh, and the dildos that came alive at the end of her speech? That was like a porno Pee-wee’s Playhouse. I’m almost afraid to ask, but I will anyway: T.J., if you were to start a porn company, what it would be called? You would not be doing your job if you didn’t ask! And I thank you, Dan, for freeze framing every frame of the episode, that’s the kind of journalist you are. You take roughly five hours to watch an episode of Silicon Valley. You go the extra mile and it takes a while… Well, first off, the name of my porn company would not be a suggestion. “Let’s Try Fisting?” No, thanks. “Nonconsensual Santa” is more up my alley, but the market for Santa porn is so niche and completely saturated (see The Toothfairy Takes It). I think my porn company would be something that sounds more regal and sophisticated, something that couples could enjoy together. Perhaps “The Aristococks” or “Goin’ Downtown on Abbey” or “There is More Caressing Than Intercourse but the Candles are a Nice Touch.”
I think you’re onto something—or you’re just on something. Okay, finally, we have arrived at our closing segment, Tease J. Miller, in which you drop a hint about next week’s episode. I, Tease J. Miller, intend to spill the beans—even purposely pour them out! The competition is going to heat up, a few things are going to go up in smoke, and tequila is more than a mind-eraser. As Erlich always says, “He speaks German in the nook.”