For all that Silicon Valley the show and Silicon Valley the industry is about the unchecked promise of technology, the reality is that it’s more about the unchecked egos of its people. These are people packed into a bubble of constant one-upmanship, getting too much money too fast, high on the idea that they’ve developed something that can revolutionize the world. In the real world, look no further than Uber CEO and uber jackass Travis Kalanick, breaking rules up to the point that Apple’s CEO had to hold a knife to his company’s throat to make him back off. In the fictional world, look to the clashes in the combinations of Richard, Gavin, Peter, Jack, Russ, and Erlich—insults slung, companies slain, and millions of dollars wasted because of the inability to get along for a long period of time.
In “Terms Of Services,” the latest war of ego takes place, and the results are a wonderful thing to witness. After setting up a new corporate structure in “Success Failure,” Silicon Valley knocks it down one episode later—but it does so in a way that’s entirely believable and in keeping with the personalities of everyone tangled up in this mess. The fleeting nature of success is one of the show’s core themes, and the sudden death of PiperChat may set a new record for shortest company lifespan.
But while PiperChat is not long for this world, “Terms Of Service” does permit us some time to spend with the benefits of the new world order, chief among them being CEO Dinesh Chugtai. As predicted last week, it takes almost no time for the power to go to his head, and reinvent himself in the manner of someone with an Entourage-like view of success: sharkskin blazer, heavily gelled hair, and talking up his company in terms like “so sticky it’s pornographic.” After so long playing sullen and acerbic, you can tell Kumail Nanjiani is relishing the chance to play an obnoxious douche, and that enjoyment from his meetings and media appearances is contagious.
Where he goes wrong though is in deciding that he has to start fresh, which includes burning the bridges between regimes. The team separation is made apparent instantly, writer Clay Tarver revisiting the Hoberman Switch Pitch game around the table that’s been part of so many celebratory team scenes and that instantly goes quiet as Richard walks in. While Jared tries to handle it politely by promoting “bifurcation” in their conversations, Dinesh is all about solidifying his power, including reminding Richard of the Intersite disaster. Not a bad accusation—Richard was, as noted many times, not the best of CEOs—but it’s making things unnecessarily personal in the name of consolidating a position that Richard was making no moves to threaten. And it feeds back on him, making Richard nastier than he’s ever been and calling the man he handed his company to “a total fucking douchebag.”
Yet despite all of that, it’s still Richard who saves Dinesh’s hide. While Dinesh spoke of the importance of building a legitimate company, Richard’s focus has never strayed far from the data, and he identifies the swiftly growing rot in their users. It’s a discovery that leads to the ever-welcome return of Matt Mccoy as troubled lawyer Pete Monahan, now out on work release and considering the law as soberly as he considers his crimes. (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored.”) As he observes, thanks to Dinesh not correctly porting over terms of service, pre-teen users are flocking to PiperChat in vast numbers. It’s a glaring violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act—and putting the company on the hook for astronomical fines.
So many of Silicon Valley’s best moments take place in Erlich’s living room, and as framed by Mike Judge’s direction this is easily one of the upper tier moments. Dinesh’s absolutely devastated face as he realizes what he’s gotten himself into is paired with the quiet delight brewing on Gilfoyle, popping the champagne he clearly purchased for the post-pride fall. Jared, so readily mocked by the acerbic programmer, now can only offer worst-case scenarios up to testifying against him. (“Jared, I trusted you.” “Oh, trust has nothing to do with it. But thanks for making it official!”) And it all plays out as the cheerful blooping of new users signing up for PiperChat continues in the background, the digital beating of its hideous heart.
Once again though, it’s Richard who comes through for Dinesh despite the bad blood. It’s a nicely sincere performance from Thomas Middleditch as he tries to talk the other man off the ledge (or out of the tub as it were), a new level of understanding that exists between the two. Richard’s rise and fall and rise to CEOdom is littered with failures, so he understands just how easy it is to misstep and lose everything—including your lunch, into your pants. There’s even a little bit of regret in his actions, knowing that he handed this much power to someone who was the least capable of handling it. And after so long of being lost in the wilderness, he’s the one who’s got wisdom to dispense: “I found it was more about choosing the one wrong answer that you can live with.”
Salvation, when it comes, comes from the most unlikely of services. Gavin’s attentions remain focused on Jack Barker, who despite exile to the server basement office remains unfailingly energetic about new business ideas. His increasing paranoia leads him to confide more strongly in Hoover, rattling Denpak and leading to a delightful war of dueling sycophants. These two characters have never interacted before this point, but we’ve had enough instances of their interactions with Gavin to see they know how to manipulate him in the right direction, and little regard for how whatever they say bounces off on anyone who isn’t them. (And the fact that Denpak steals break room creamers is perfect punctuation to that scene. Perhaps like in Better Off Ted, it’s a quiet act of rebellion?)
The two guide Gavin’s wrath back to one of his favorite targets, Pied Piper, and once again he makes a play to buy the company to get his hands on their video chat logs. Gavin trying to get this company is another long-running Silicon Valley beat, but here it manages to feel fresh because for once his lingering pettiness about being screwed in the courts of law and public opinion has nothing to do with it. All he he just wants to get his hands on video chat logs that may or may not exist he can use in his entirely one-sided war with Jack. Here’s where the true interplay of egos in “Terms Of Service” really pays off, a moment that plays out on Dinesh’s face at the same tie it does the audience’s: it was Dinesh’s ego in comparing PiperChat to HooliChat on all his interviews that gave Gavin his ammunition for a hostile takeover, and it’s Gavin’s ego that’s leading him to speed ahead and acquire the company without any of the due diligence Jared warned he’s famous for.
So the acquisition goes through, and the full burden of PiperChat’s legal woes are transferred to a company that can could feasibly afford $21 billion in fines. That revelation makes for a terrific final beat to the episode (and the ever-welcome return of the Hooli focus group) as the mean age of PiperChat/HooliChat’s users is apparent to Gavin within minutes, leading to a rageful expression not seen since he realized that Nucleus was Apple maps bad. Another day, another easily avoided disaster in the world of Silicon Valley.
- This week’s closing track: “Fun House,” Pregnant Boy featuring OG Swaggerdick and Grip Plyaz.
- Erlich’s b-plot doesn’t have much to do with the main narrative, but it does contain the same warning of looking before you leap. Thinking that Jian-Yang’s got his foot in the door on VR tech—“the frothiest space in the valley”—he agrees to let Jian-Yang live in the house again with pool privileges and crisper drawer access, before learning he’s developing a Chinese recipe app. It’s also an encouraging sign that they’re letting Jian-Yang be more of an active character, and pushing back on Erlich’s bullying, when for the past three seasons he’s been a potentially racist joke about language barriers at best.
- Some fun callbacks this episode: Dinesh curled up in the bathtub similar to Richard in “Daily Active Users,” Gavin bringing his own pre-packaged fruit to the Mexican restaurant as he did in “Runaway Devaluation.”
- It’s a great detail that Big Head both gives Richard what he needs to get into PiperChat’s data (along with his Skyrim cheat codes), and also dooms Erlich by confusing Oculus and octopus. Big Head giveth, Big Head taketh away.
- Jack compares his basement demotion to the humbling of Disney CEO Bob Iger forcing his higher-level employees to wear the Goofy suit. If Silicon Valley were to introduce a plot that forced someone to wear a Pipey suit, I would not be opposed.
- Pete’s elbow moves to return Jared the computer are fun to witness. Is he doing that because his hands are soaked from washing cars, because his work release means he can’t touch a computer, or because he doesn’t want his fingerprints on a physical connection to COPPA violations? Your call, viewers.
- Erlich is smoking both a bong and a pipe during the party scene.
- “It’s ‘hards-on,’ that’s syntactical error!”
- “Have you seen the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? The cover model has the most lovely and enigmatic facial expressions.”
- “Richard entered us without consent.”
- “He even referred to you as Gavin Smellson.”
- “It’s basically a Sizzler buffet for the sexually deranged.”
- “I hope you have a good lawyer.” “He works at the car wash down the street.” “What?”
- “Now, Carl, you said the new sign-in page made you nervous.”