Stephen Tobolowsky, Thomas Middleditch (HBO)

The comedy of Silicon Valley is one that’s frequently ruthless to its main characters. It’s unafraid to put them through all manner of personal and professional humiliations in service of entertaining the audience, reveling in the schadenfreude of watching them fail at what they set out to do. Yet as painful as that can be to witness, it’s also a show that’s incredibly smart about setting up those humiliations. When something bad happens to Richard, Erlich, Gavin, or anyone else, it’s a safe bet that it’s their own fault they’re in this position. A decision was made, consequences were missed (or more likely ignored) and what happens next is less a cruel twist of fate than it is paying the piper.

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Or paying the Pied Piper, as it were, an entity rapidly becoming a much different beast than it used to be. With Jack Barker now firmly installed as CEO, the company’s moving to legitimacy and in the process moving away from a lot of its original ideas. “Two In The Box” is all about everyone trying to deal with this new reality of stock options, sales forces, and watermelon Jello-filled watermelons, and the adjustment process for everyone is just creating a whole new pile of issues to deal with.

It stood to reason that once Pied Piper was taken out of Richard’s hands it would also be taken out of Erlich’s living room, and the previously thwarted move to a new office finally takes place this week. Jack’s vision for it is full of every start-up luxury, from the pool table and leather booths in the atrium to a finely tuned feng shui waterfall to an engineering department with a “separately catered micro-kitchen.” We’ve seen this level of workplace perks in previous Hooli visits, but at that point it was a demonstration of the bottom rung that Richard and company started out on. Now it’s their reward, and the reactions are expectedly mixed: Dinesh and Gilfoyle are completely swayed by the degree of comfort and immediately turn it into their personal one-up contest, while Richard is still so burned by his previous failures that he can’t embrace anything that seems too good to be true.

That reticence serves him well, as his role as CTO means that he’s the interface between engineering and the sales force—something which Pied Piper now unexpectedly has. In previous negotiations Richard’s been operating from something of a position of strength with people who speak his language, but Jack’s hand-picked team may as well be from another planet. Everything about them is Office Space inhumanity, from their unbreakable tendency to introduce themselves with name and title at every point (“Doug, I’m shadowing Keith”) to the way they find their selling points in everything Richard didn’t want his algorithm to stand for. While Silicon Valley hasn’t gotten too deeply into what Richard’s exact vision for his company beyond wanting it to be his, this proletariat take is in line with his personality and distaste for Hooli’s big business approach, and helps move the executive conflict from being ego-driven to idea-driven.

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And in Jack Barker, Silicon Valley has created the perfect adversary for Richard at this next stage in the game. Steven Tobolowsky and Mike Judge are proving to be a match made in heaven, as Tobolowsky’s tone is so assured and controlled that Judge and company can write ever more convoluted business speech for him, and his commitment to what he’s saying never wavers. Silicon Valley is at peak jargon strength as Jack preaches his Conjoined Triangles of Success theory, explains the transferred focus from engineering to sales, and achieves new levels of mixed metaphors when conveying the danger of the tech industry’s bubble nature: “We can’t put all of our eggs in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow basket!” (Richard: “So, the pot of gold is in the basket?”) He’s the man who can make Richard’s company into something new and not be dissuaded by any argument to the contrary, not out of ego but a completely different way of looking at the world, looking at profit instead of potential.

That division is made all the more stark once the sales team lays out their final vision, which winds up being Richard’s worst-case scenario brought to life. In a moment of frustration Richard blurted out that if they’re not going to use his algorithm for its intended purpose they may as well just put it in a lockbox, and they take him literally by reverse-engineering it into a secure data storage solution. (A pitch whose commercial hilariously uses a break room photo of Dinesh when referring to minorities.) Season three is setting up serious culture shock at the next stage of Pied Piper’s life, and creating this technical split introduces something that all of the team may find worth fighting for.

Other Pied Piper employees are finding that a life free of the tensions of running a business doesn’t mean that tensions have evaporated entirely. While Jared may finally have enough money to move back into the condo he was forced to vacate in “Server Space,” he’s still unable to go home as his tenant has essentially decided not to leave at all—and then turns around to blame Jared for it by being part of the tech industry that’s kept rent at a level he can’t pay. Jared remains the exception to the rule of Silicon Valley’s characters bringing about their own misfortune, so downtrodden and unwilling to fight back that he makes an easy punching bag for the writers. All credit to Zach Woods for making that job of picking on Jared easy, as he seamlessly balances the character as likeable, pitiable, and creepy all at once. He reaches new levels of all three with his explanation of how he’s coping with being essentially homeless, a description Richard wisely decides to move on from: “I simply imagine that my skeleton is me and my body is my house.”

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Jared’s attempt to leave Erlich’s house is yet another abandonment heaped on Erlich, who has no place in the new Pied Piper structure save pilfering a case or three of coconut water. (“They are the most expensive unpasteurized brand, if that helps.”) Yet he’s trying to take this as an opportunity by bringing fresh blood into the Hacker Hostel, or at least exsanguinate some of the old with Jian-Yang’s departure. In another return to “Server Space,” he puts Jian-Yang through the same kimono ceremony he gave Richard, this one going far worse as Jian-Yang stuffs said kimono into the garbage disposal.

Both of these stories intersect in a terrific way, as Jared returns to Erlich’s home at the exact same time that Jian-Yang is supposed to be departing. Erlich tries to justify Jared’s continued presence (“He’s in the garage like a sad bag of potting soil”) but gets too deep into the legal woes surrounding it, and Jian-Yang starts picking up on the parallels a lot faster than Erlich does. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Jian-Yang as he’s only used for language barrier jokes and Erlich rage—the latter an admittedly noble goal—but this scene is the closest I’ve gotten to liking him. He may miss 75 percent of what’s said to him, but that means there’s still 25 percent he gets, and in this case the percentage he gets is the one that leads to Erlich’s worst-case scenario.

Also inadvertently producing a worst-case scenario by way of ego is Gavin, who may have solved his Nucleus problem but can’t shed the stink of it online. Negative news stories at the top of Hooli search engines are destroying his early morning ritual of searching his own name, and once again the flip from zen to profane is effortless, going from a talk about centering himself to screams of “The fucking Internet rains shitballs down on me!” In two episodes of season three Gavin is heading down increasingly unethical legal roads, first with the mass layoffs and now by taking advantage of the still technically employed Nucleus team to do the work he can’t legally ask other employees to do. (A message conveyed through his Greek chorus of yes-men, who get their biggest laugh to date in their indignant response to Nucleus disbelief.)

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Yet by doing this, he winds up breeding another competitor, as while trying to slog through the work the team has one of those unexpected flashes of genius that distinguish Silicon Valley and put together the piece of middle-out compression that Nucleus never did. I’m not a huge fan of giving the brogrammers their own story as they’re not the most engaging part of the show, but it’s doing the job of creating another wrinkle for both Hooli and Pied Piper to trip over as they’re in the throes of rebranding themselves. A company made of the former’s layoffs and using the latter’s technology is sure to push all the buttons—and the more buttons gets pushed, the more hilarious disasters are sure to follow.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s closing track: “Time Hard,” The Pioneers.
  • And now, we get to talk about the horse cock. With the mean-jerk time theorem of season one and the robot monkey masturbation of season two, every season of Silicon Valley now demands some epic penis joke, and this season stands erect early on when Jack’s veterinary appointment turns out to be his prize mare’s not at all artificial insemination. It’s instantly a great sight gag once Richard walks in on it, and gives that scene perfect tragicomedy. Richard’s giving his most articulate argument ever in defense of his company’s mission and potential, and at every beat there are various whinnies and snorts coming just off camera.
  • Always a joy to see Review’s Andy Daly return as the worst doctor in Silicon Valley, commenting how Richard’s reduced stress has almost given him a glow that could be mistaken for pregnancy, but he’s gotten smarter about that since. “I thought my girlfriend was pregnant and I was sure wrong about that! Hey, give me that ring back!”
  • The legacy of Russ Hanneman cannot be escaped, as his vacuous “I Am Pied Piper” billboard has been reimagined and incorporated into the new offices artwork. Also re: Pied Piper’s media presence, Jack had the logo redesigned into a rakish feathered hat. Of the old logo: “I didn’t know if you guys realized it, but it was a little phallic.” Dinesh nods in assent and Richard glowers, its rejection clearly still a sore point with him.
  • I don’t know where Jack acquired that stand-up bass liquor cabinet but I want one more than I’ve ever wanted anything.
  • The mouthed “Motherfuck” when Erlich when sees Jian-Yang pouring out the water is a masterclass in conveying silent contempt.
  • Jack, after an elaborate story on the merits of Google’s employee perks: “And do you know the name of that company?” Richard: “Google? You said that at the beginning.” Jack: “You’re right. I did that wrong.”
  • “I have this charity wine thing I committed to months ago.”
  • Dinesh, playing Solitare on six giant monitors with a VR glove: “This is fucking amazing, I feel like I’m in Minority Report!” Gilfoyle: “Except in reality, you’re just a minority.”
  • “And now if you will excuse me, I paid $150,000 for that semen and I intend to see it.”

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