Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

The founders of Pied Piper have talked a big game about a brand new day this season—a new Internet free from unwanted ads and identity theft—but actual hope has been hard to come by. Their new employees nearly shattered the workplace with feuds over dogs and coffee. They’ve been targeted by unscrupulous executives and appliance manufacturers. They’ve triggered crises of faith and become the victim of industrial espionage. And their introduction to the world of AI was poisoned by the horrifying perversity of its creator. While victory has never come easy to any of them, victories in this new Series A-funded world have felt increasingly toxic, determined to crush whatever optimism they retain.

And in “Artificial Emotional Intelligence,” that feeling seems to be catching up to everyone. This is an episode where, even more than usual, people seem thrown off their game and desperate for some sort of win. It’s your typical mix of deals, threats, mishaps, and random chance that usually produces a major development for the next step of Silicon Valley narrative. Yet there’s a hollowness that remains after all of the dust has settled, a sense that there’s a real cost to keep things churning along.

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The most surprising victim of the raised stakes is Laurie Bream, who slots herself into the position of Eklow CEO following Ariel and Fiona’s disappearance. Beset on all sides by complaints—hacked files, insufficient payroll, a shattered toilet—her legendary composure finally breaks down and she vomits into her shirt. Since her introduction back in season two, Laurie’s legendary laser focus has been that character’s sole defining trait, which makes a collapse into humanity all the more startling to witness. It’s startling enough that Richard, no stranger to throwing up into articles of clothing, extends an offer of further access to Pied Piper’s network. It’s a flicker of empathy between the two, a potentially different dimension to a relationship that’s been businesslike bordering on ruthless.

Laurie’s conversion to the other side is short-lived though, as she regains her composure via “two egg whites and a green bean” and immediately sells those access credits to a company called Gigglebox. It’s yet another iteration of Silicon Valley punishing Richard for taking action, but this time it feels gratuitous. He made a decision for two valid reasons, empathy for Laurie’s plight and a calculation that this may help obtain approval for the next series of funding, both of which had more weight than Jared’s flimsy argument for “emotional abstinence.” And despite all of that, he was punished for it.

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But when things are going south, Richard’s then greeted with a literal deus ex machina: Fiona, pulling up in an Uber as she locates the only other person she’s ever spoken to. (“Credit card works, I don’t ask questions,” says the Uber driver.) This is the use of Fiona I was hoping for last week, the ramifications of artificial intelligence butting against the Pied Piper team. And it does result in some payoffs. There’s the minor joy of Big Head using her as a calculator, and then immediately having to check the math with Siri. And then there’s the major joy, as Richard decides to meet Laurie on her transactional scale and offer Fiona up in trade for Series B clearance. Once again Richard has tried to take the high road, gotten nothing for it, and decided to play a more ruthless game to get what he wants.

The real payoff here is Jared’s interaction with Fiona, his initial hesitation about retaining a priceless work of technology giving way to a 12-hour conversation. (“I told her that I was afraid of being found out as a fraud, and Fiona told me she was afraid of magnets.”) The pendulum appears to be swinging back on Jared this season, as he started at a high point when his value to the company was finally recognized and rewarded with the position of COO. Now however, the company’s growth means that he can’t attend to Richard’s needs the way he once did and has to yield that to Richard’s new assistant Holden, and he’s feeling the loss more than he’s let on. It’s sad and poignant to see Richard and Jared try to find their middle ground under Fiona’s nonjudgmental eyes, seeing just what emotional middle ground they can strike.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

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And in the end, neither one of them turns out to be in the right, thanks to one of Silicon Valley’s darkest turns yet. The robot who started to become human fell victim to the human who’s more like a robot, Laurie coldly deciding that Eklow is no longer worth maintaining and carving up Fiona for spare parts. Matt Ross, in his Silicon Valley directorial debut, does a great job with the dispassionate disassembly and Jared’s continuously horrified reactions to the results. And the fact that it gets Richard what he asked for only makes things feel worse, turning Series B funding into blood money—or technically oil money, such as it is.

Back at the office, we fall into the latest recursion of the Dinesh/Gilfoyle feud. After a code sprint to fix all the damage done by Ariel last week, Dinesh becomes fixated on learning whose round of upgrade had fewer bugs, determined to get the advantage in the next round of. It’s a good demonstration of Kumail Nanjiani’s versatility, able to pivot from cocky to enraged to desperate within the span of a minute as he browbeats Danny fr the information. Unfortunately, once he gets the information he’s looking for, he falls down the dislikable mine shaft, throwing off lame jokes at Gilfoyle’s expense in front of the biggest audience possible. (Jokes he painfully writes down, rehearses, and waits to deliver once the elevator opens.)

The gambit falls through as it turns out, of course, Gilfoyle planted false information and was one step ahead of him the whole time. What’s different here though is that fellow employee Danny was one step ahead of both of them, calling them both out with gongs and wearily asking if they can get back to work now. Unintentionally, he’s making one of the meta points of the episode, one that Jared similarly tried to get across earlier: The two of them waging these petty little wars has worn out its welcome, and they can’t fight the same way they used to anymore. It’s a lesson that neither of the two seems prepared to take to heart, but given the diminishing returns we’re getting on these plots, hopefully the writers will.

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While Matt Ross is behind the camera for “Artificial Emotional Intelligence,” Gavin isn’t entirely absent from the picture, as a visit to China to oversee Box 3 development leads to a chance meeting with Jian-Yang. Jian-Yang’s hit the predicted roadblocks of trying to bring unrestricted Internet to a country that depends on its restriction, but in the process has found a modification to Richard’s code that gets around the patent. It provides the zing Gavin’s narrative has been missing, and also introduces a instance—rare this late in the game—of two Silicon Valley main characters meeting for the first time. Said meeting is as amusingly contentious as you’d expect from these two greedy individuals, Gavin keeping his identity secret and Jian-Yang sitting on that knowledge for the time being.

In the end though, neither man gets what they want, as Gavin’s push to have the factory manager (Tzi Ma) force Jian-Yang out winds up backfiring on him. Gavin spent so much time praising China for its culture of ruthlessness, he never once stopped to consider he’d be a victim of this ruthlessness himself. Like the Dinesh/Gilfoyle feud, this sort of development is one we’ve seen over and over again, Gavin’s sense of entitlement and arrogance costing him more than it ever gets him. Unlike their feud though, this one still has merits because it’s a valuable plot generator for the show, the vast scale he operates on creating far bigger ramifications than an electric vehicle parking space. Now Pied Piper’s code is in the hands of someone who completely understands what they have, and has the framework to set itself up as a legitimate rival in the way Jian-Yang never could.

And once Richard gets wind of this, his tirade over Jian-Yang’s cartoonishly bad website will probably seem like a pitiful squeak. If hope’s in short supply on Silicon Valley now, it’s hard to believe they’ll find a last-minute well of it in the last two weeks.

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Stray observations:

  • Monica seems to be the only one having any fun this week as she’s treating Laurie’s absence like a weekend when your parents are out of town. Smoking in the office and having the hair question-mark painting moved as far from her line of sight as possible.
  • Gilfoyle’s coffee mug: Drink Coffee, Hail Satan.
  • According to Jared, a campfire smells sad and exciting at the same time. That adds up.
  • “Fortunately, you’re the same size as the robot.”
  • “If I wanted to see nap pods or climbing walls I would have stayed home, or gone to fucking Denmark.”
  • “I’m the fucking tortoise!”
  • “Maybe we’ll quit, try something else. You like octopus?” Jian-Yang just can’t let Seefood go.
  • “You have an enormous heart, and I don’t mean in the same way my deceased friend Gloria did, which the doctors really should have caught because her knuckles were gargantuan.”
  • “It’s daytime but I can see the moon.”
  • “Oh look! The children have returned to sing for you.”
  • This week’s closing track: “Made In China,” Higher Brothers featuring Famous Dex.

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