Heavy is the head that wears the black hat. Especially when that head is still trying it on for size. Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks was hardly a student of the kill-or-be-killed philosophy of business, but last week he began his crash course in it, capitalizing on illicitly obtained information on a competitor—albeit one that stole from him. This week, he wobbled down the left-hand path that he had chosen and hit a few bumps along the way. (See: Delete, defeat.) Let’s pour ourselves a glass of Tres Comas and play in the grays as we recap “White Hat/Black Hat” with the man who not only brings Erlich to life but boasts zero commas and two dots in his name: T.J. Miller.
Before we get started, T.J., congrats on winning a Critics Choice Award for Best Supporting Comedy Actor—and for that awesome mouth-full-of-food speech. What were the first three thoughts going through your head when they announced your name? Macaroons, macaroons, macaroons.
Seriously, how much of that was planned? I was prepared to lose, and thought it would be funny to stuff my face as they cut to me to get my reaction to defeat. My wife, Kate, agreed to eat a bunch of macaroons as I lost as well, but she kind of punked me and didn’t inhale dessert as they called the winner. But I did.. and then won. So, no, nothing prepared… I haven’t won an award since high school: Best Off-Field Contribution to My Lacrosse Team, so this was truly an honor, and I’d like to thank Entertainment Wee—
Cut to music playing you off. So, T.J., this is the tale of two Richards—the nervous nebbish and the chained-down guy in charge who is ready to break free of his shackles (those shackles being Ridiculous Russ). Or, to put it another way, he has made his morally suspect bed but isn’t ready to lie in it fully just yet. Or, to continue with another strained analogy: He’s trying to acclimate to the dark side, but the guilt is strong in this one. And yet again, Dan, you have coined a nickname, I love “Ridiculous Russ.” Because he so is. And those three examples put it better than I ever could. Or, to put it another way, you trounce-bounced the analogy assclaps.
So, we see Richard’s struggle in the story of Seth, the network security dude at End Frame who was fired for the “breach,” which was, of course, not a breach, but a Post-it purloined by Gilfoyle. Even after a nerdy debate with Dinesh and Gilfoyle in which it is determined through the transitive and/or reflexive properties that Seth is still a piece of s— (“The pieces of s— fired him so his piece of s— status is reversed” is the new “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”), Richard secretly meets with a flummoxed Seth because he believes it’s the right thing to do. All he does, though, is inflame the situation (he lets it slip that this wasn’t Seth’s fault but rather Gilfoyle’s, prompting Seth to vow that he will skullf— Pied Piper’s system) and present himself as a pedo. (“I’m just here watching and waiting. I love kids, not like that,” he stammers to the alarmed parents at a kid’s birthday party as Seth swears up a storm.) And when Dinesh and Gilfoyle tell Richard to shut up and embrace his identity as a blackhat, he protests, medicating through math: “Since the negative of a negative is a positive, stealing from a thief is okay. It’s the additive inverse property.” But Richard is far from okay—he’s so paranoid despite Gilfoyle’s assurances that Pied Piper will get hacked during the transfer of 100 terabytes of porn from Intersite that he meets with Seth again—and blunders again by telling him that Gilfoyle didn’t even consider him a threat, enraging him again. Cue: more alienation of children, soccer moms. I love that the few times Richard meets Seth it always ends in him lamely apologizing to mothers and children. I’ve lived that life many a time. And Thomas Middleditch does that comedy so well, I think that in another comedian’s hands that bit would almost be hack. But Thomas is an excellent comedian. We see again and again how Richard simply doesn’t have the skill set to lead, much less to interact with mothers and children. He has the potential, and I think even Erlich (perhaps to his chagrin) recognizes that, but he’s not doing so hot, so far. And one sad truth is unraveling, and that is that you have to be cutthroat to make it in Silicon Valley, and Richard either has to learn that lesson or fail. At least that’s how it’s being presented and unfortunately I think that’s pretty accurate. Can you be Hooli without being a blackhat? Can you be something different from Hooli without being a blackhat? What is a blackhat? What is a whitehat? Is there a greyhat?
I think that’s the lead of every cable drama. We’ll talk about how Richard’s desire to assert himself—or at least the reaching of his shit-taking-limits—was on clear display in a confrontation with Russ, but first let’s discuss a different Richard roadblocker: Gavin. This week, the Hooli CEO was again seen slithering through the corporate jungle like the snake in the grass he is, telling the board members that they should keep Nucleus plans a secret before launch (always a good move when you’ve got no product to show off) and setting up a fall guy (he persuades former XYZ co-head dreamer Bannercheck to cancel his Boston move and head up Nucleus). I had no idea that Bannercheck would make another appearance and even less of a clue that his return stint would last shorter than a popsicle: when he found out how far behind Nucleus was, he bolted out the door in 11 minutes. Gavin had better start building an escape pod at that Habitat for Hooli PR opp because he doesn’t want to get nailed for this failure—excuse me, pre-greatness. Unless Bag Head is about to expand his responsibilities? There isn’t a damn thing shorter than a popsicle on a hot day. And like a popsicle on a hot day, Gavin’s chances of pulling out of this tailspin are getting smaller and smaller. And as far as “pre-greatness”, that’s yet another post-great reason that Silicon Valley is almost too real, because that’s really the way that people talk and think up there. And the narrative this season is starting to intertwine and weave toward a finish… ideally a finale that people really like.
But the biggest surprise of the episode is… Monica smokes? Yes, Erlich and Jian Yang bust our do-the-right-thing Raviga employee for sneaking a cig as they walked into Raviga for a pitch meeting about Jian Yang’s new app that isolates the least crowded playgrounds. I mean, that’s like on the level of finding out that Jared attends Ozzfest every year. Last week, she stepped out of the room when things started getting a little unethical but she still participated from afar, and now this? It’s disgusting. I can’t believe Monica would smoke—and in broad daylight! I love that Erlich smokes copious amounts of marijuana but doesn’t endorse cigarette smoking. And his argument is sound—he isn’t supporting terrible soulless corporations and smoking chemicals made to foster addiction, he’s getting down with the green, and the ladies know what he means. Ladiiiiieeess.
Jian Yang accidentally outs her puffery to another Raviga employee, getting her in trouble In Silicon Valley, a town fueled by the collective smoke being blown up everyone’s ass: It is the ultimate sin to smoke. I enjoyed Erlich’s line to Jian Yang :“We don’t enjoy all the freedoms you have in China, all right, where people smoke all the time—this is Palo Alto,” as well as Jian Yang’s rejoinder: He notes that he doesn’t smoke “except for special occasion,” and “there’s no special occasion ever happen in your house.” It’s a little sad that there are no special occasions for Jian Yang in Erlich’s house. But I thoroughly enjoy their interplay. It’s fun to be a part of a sort of modern Laurel and Hardy, and Jimmy O. Yang is such a good foil, and a great comedian—some of those scenes really are my favorite. Jimmy cracks me up offstage too, so those are always fun days to shoot. The benefit scene where Erlich can’t pay for the tickets was one of my favorite nights of filming. Clay Tarver (one of the writers) was crying/laughing at one of the takes of Jimmy and me, and he could barely talk and I said, “Was that a funny one?” and Clay said, “Yeah! You just both look so funny! So stupid. Yeah.” So. I guess my comedic prowess lies in one simple fact: I’m pretty weird looking. Especially standing next to a small Chinese man.
As it turns out, Jian Yang’s playground app is a perfect tool pedophiles to find victims, which would have helped gotten Richard in trouble with those moms in the park. Erlich agrees is problematic: “Pedophiles are not typically early adopters so we would miss out on that whole market.” They salvage their sell by playing to Raviga managing partner Laurie (who, by the way, has been introduced and then underutilized) and repositioning the app as a real-time crowsourced map of “an even worse segment of the population” to avoid: smokers. Laurie’s in! Alas, this special occasion prompts Jian Yang to have a celebratory cig. I really do believe that Erlich would go ahead with the app if they could get enough business from pedophiles. It’s just business. And I love that about him. Though I hate pedophiles. What other things do I love and hate? I hate cold french fries but I loooove Suzanne Cryer—there will be much more of her. But this is the problem of a comedy with thick narrative, it can’t be about anything else but the story; the comedy is along for the ride. That character is pitch perfect. She’ll become one of the show favorites.
“Smokers are worse than pedophiles.” That’s actually the city motto of Silicon Valley. “Hypocrisy in action, changing the world, one billionaire at a time” was in the running as well. [proud of himself, lights cigar, ashes, accidently sets pants on fire.]
Back to Richard: He had taken one too many absurd comments from Russ Hanneman, one too many orders that were not in the best interest of the company, one too many commands to do a shot, and when he finally stood up to Russ, he did it in a way that shook the investor to his shallow core. Russ stops by the house at a critical moment in the bake-off, wanting to do tequila shots, and Richard blasts him as an asshole for not giving Pied Piper the money it needs and strenuously objects to his narrative that he is making Pied Piper leaner and meaner. “You forced us to hack End Frame and break the law,” he says, noting that they win the bake-off, they will pay him off to go away forever: “So take your s—ty tequila and your s—ty jeans with f—ing metal chunks on them and get the f— out of here!” Strangely, I’m inclined to side with Russ on this one—please, put your guns down, let me finish my explanation—because what he did actually did force Richard and the team to improvise, and unfortunately, that skill set can be the difference between failure and success in the valley of Silicon. That may be a more Erlich point of view than I would usually purport, but in this case, I think we would agree. I don’t know. I can’t call him because he only gave me his LinkedIn profile.
Russ responds in Russ style first by defending his tequila and then playing the wounded-friend card. “What bums me out is I thought we got each other. You know, you were my guys,” singling out each member of Pied Piper, “That guy. Bin Laden. He fucks!” And for Erlich? No name, nothing. Next he plays the woe-is-me billionaire card, explaining that “you never know if someone likes you for you or for your money. And I guess with you, it was all about the money, wasn’t it Richard?” But before leaving, he wants to show them a gift—a Maclaren 650s Spider. A gift for Richard? Nope, not from this douche! “I bought this for myself to celebrate you guys helping me getting back to a billion.” (Dinesh’s question is one of my favorite ignoring-the-big-picture jokes of the season. “You drove it here with a bow on it?”) I think this is the nail in the coffin of Erlich’s dream of being friends with Russ. Russ doesn’t even acknowledge Erlich, not even when is describing how close he had gotten, emotionally, to each of the Pied Piper team. And then he leaves Erlich out. What. The. F—. I mean, throw a dog a bone, give a bone a break, break him of a piece of that Kit Kat Bar. Am I right or am I Robin Wright?
But Russ’ contributions are far from over, as the Intersite CTO called in a panic, saying that all of his data is being quickly deleted and he’s losing hundreds of hours of content. This is not an attack from Seth, though—Russ has left the tequila bottle on the delete key of a laptop. I really did like the simplicity of the disaster that felled them, though I’m not sure how this action would lock them—and Intersite—out of all their systems and there was no way to override. T.J., can you explain this or do we just go with it? Wow. This was a heart-wrenching scene. Russ is not only obnoxious, but destructive. And he has strange taste in clothing. It’s a disaster. And if there is a command being repeated over and over and over and over then there is no room to enter another key command. That’s the case with marriage too. If Kate repeats over and over and over and over to me that I need to fix the disposal, I can’t enter the key command of “You put a fork in there like it was a goddamn grapefruit!”
The final scene was the egg-on-the-face denouement, with Richard Erlich and Monica meeting with a pissed-off Molly. You know the conversation isn’t going to go well when you start with “Did we delete over 9000 hours of our premium content? Yes. We did. And that is bad.” Richard then tries to spin harder than Gavin in a Hooli board meeting: “We were able to delete all those files at a rate that until now was unthinkable if we’re considering just raw speed. Had End Frame put a tequila bottle on their delete key, I guarantee they would have struggled to delete half the amount, of files that we did. At best. Or worst.” Molly boots them out, but not before Erlich extends an olive branch adorned with a seedy compliment: “I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that your sites are some of my primary destinations.” And so the best tech does win out—at least in this round— as Richard & Co. end this episode wearing not a black hat or a white hat but something resembling a dunce cap. Well, had they not had erased the data at the speed they did, then they wouldn’t have not shown that the deleted data could be destroyed so quickly that it wasn’t not a problem but more of a solution to a problem caused to… oh, f— it. They can’t seem to get it right. They are up, then they are down, then suddenly they’re up again! I’m at the edge of my seat, I’m at the back of my seat, I’m under my seat, looking for my cellphone. The question is—now with a third season, will the finale end with them up or down? That is a question for Tease J. Miller.
Yes. Let’s summon him. Before we say goodbye, Tease J. Miller, you really would be remiss if you did not drop a crumb of a hint to us about next week’s episode. They will end down.