“We just spent an hour bonding over how this business is full of backstabbers and cutthroats!”
“Yes, exactly! That’s what this is! It’s a little weird that you don’t get that.”
With the end of Silicon Valley only a few episodes away, I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks revisiting past episodes and the respective highs and lows of the series. And in revisiting those episodes, what’s come across clearly is that the show’s never been better than when it’s in crisis mode. When Pied Piper is put under the gun, forced into an impossible scenario that they have to improvise or bullshit their way out of, it brings out the best in the actors and the writers as they try to figure out how they’re going to get out of this corner. A fondness for doing this may not have been to the show’s advantage overall—requiring constant narrative backsliding to keep them in a position where they need eleventh hour wins to survive—but in isolation the episodes themselves remain series highlights.
It was a near-certainty that we’d get one more caper before the show came to a close, and Silicon Valley elects to not even wait to the halfway mark to get there. And it’s to the show’s benefit to do that, as “Hooli Smokes!” is the best episode of season six yet. It’s an episode that makes full use of the show’s extended cast in ways that make sense, full of last-minute improvisations and digressions that have always been where the show is strongest, and a welcome moment of self-awareness on the part of one of the show’s most unpleasant characters. And from a narrative standpoint, it’s the show coming full circle to the rise of Pied Piper and fall of Hooli, the skittish deer somehow turning around to swallow the apex predator that’s been stalking it for six seasons.
That improbable twist comes as Pied Piper’s about to fall victim to another predator model, the pack mentality. Last week’s addition of Maximo Reyes to the Silicon Valley ecosystem meant that the stakes felt higher than ever before, to the point that Richard’s life could be in danger. “Hooli Smokes!” gets that option out of the way almost immediately though, as Maximo proves he knows a more dignified way to cut Richard’s throat. With Richard backing down from the deal, Maximo uses his vast financial resources to turn the playing field to his benefit. It’s a unity of enemies as he partners with Laurie to fund YaoNet US, lures Colin over to strengthen it with the Gates Of Galloo user base, and acquires shares from Laurie and Big Head’s father to own 30 percent of Pied Piper—his immediate competition. While less brutal than what “Blood Money” implied could happen, the effect is somehow even more compelling and still speaks to this high-stakes world: a few phone calls and Richard loses everything.
Forcing Pied Piper to a low point is a development you can set your watch to, but in this case it’s less bothersome because of how good the core cast is and how well writer Sarah Walker captures their dynamic. Even when faced with the greatest disaster, the analytical minds that got them into the business can’t stop running the numbers, a terrific sequence as the remaining Pied Piper quartet keep going back and forth on how much money they’d have made on Maximo’s offer. (Dinesh observes he’d be making $69 a minute. Gilfoyle drives the knife in: “Think about all the gold chains you could have bought with that money.”) And it’s some of Thomas Middleditch’s best physical comedy as he projectile vomits onto the glass in response to Maximo’s presentation, and his complete inability to punch a wall in frustration. His weak justification of “I clipped it” may well be the most defeated we’ve ever seen Richard, and we’ve seen him defeated a lot.
Wandering off into the wilds—or as close as the Valley gets to wilds—Richard encounters another CEO down on his luck. Going back to series-long reflection, one point I’ve been dwelling on is considering the parallel universe Silicon Valley where Christopher Evan Welch didn’t tragically pass away during the first season and the show focused more on the feud between Peter Gregory and Gavin Belson, making Richard a pawn for the two to wage their decades’ old feud. Instead of going for a Gates/Allen or Jobs/Wozniak parallel however, the conflicts of the show turned into the old versus new dynamic, Gavin’s position as an elder statesman of the Valley threatened by this young upstart. Despite some narrative hiccups, Thomas Middleditch and Matt Ross have grown into that dynamic, and their weary conversation on the park bench is packed with history and weary resignation.
Yet as they air grievances, it turns out they still have something to learn from each other. What was a bit of a throwaway plot last week turns out to be another instance of Silicon Valley playing the long game, as Richard realizes how Gavin’s problem could become his solution. If Pied Piper took purchased Foxhole from Hooli, they’d also take on the CFIUS blacklist—a blacklist that would force a foreign investor like Maximo to divest his entire stake in the company. It’s a perfect mutual benefit for their companies, and a chance to even the karma from the PiperChat/COPPA debacle from “Terms Of Service” a few years ago. It’s so perfect that of course Gavin says no to it, mutual understanding not giving way to years of spite and competition. And it’s a moment that oddly goes a long way to redeeming Richard his awfulness from last week: the man who cracked middle-out compression still believes in a middle ground.
But Gavin’s attitude does remove any doubts about another option: if you can’t join them, beat them. Once again, Gavin’s the architect of his own destruction as he decides to buy out Gwart on Richard’s offhand mention, doing so in Hooli shares—shares that the business-savvy Jared observes are worth a lot less than they used to be. It’s a reveal that comes in peak caper movie form of getting the team together, as Monica gestures out the window to reveal Jared returning to Pied Piper with his intelligence and list of demands. (I don’t know if Jared’s wearing those sunglasses because he thinks they’re cool, make him incognito, or he just had an eye exam that day, but it’s the best eyewear fashion choice on the show since Gilfoyle’s contact lenses.) The cost is so low Pied Piper could buy its long-time nemesis outright, a move that calls into focus just how much fortunes have shifted since the beginning.
The effort to purchase the company under Gavin’s nose forms the spine of the latest Silicon Valley caper. It’s well constructed by both Walker’s script and Liza Johnson’s direction, the action splicing between Gavin cheating his way through various stages of the triathlon and Pied Piper working to negotiate with Hooli’s board. Walker and company manage to brilliantly subvert the Chekov’s gun of Maximo’s e-signable term sheet last episode by giving Richard and company the exact opposite problem, forcing a scramble across the Valley to collect old-fashioned signatures from old-fashioned investors. And Johnson brings the same nervous energy that she brought to Barry earlier this year, a race-against-the-clock energy that leaves you increasingly worried they’re not going to pull it off—especially when Gavin swaps for a body double and checks his messages, racing to cancel the deal.
The time is ripe for salvation, and it comes from the last corner you’d expect. As I’ve argued for a few seasons now, Dinesh Chugtai is the worst person on a show full of terrible people, craven and spiteful and becoming even worse the instant he gets a modicum of power (the aforementioned “Terms Of Service” being the clearest illustration of that). Much as “Artificial Lack Of Intelligence” did for the repetitive nature of the Dinesh/Gilfoyle feud, “Hooli Smokes!” makes the subtext text as Dinesh starts to feel like the universe is punishing him for bad behavior. First there’s return of his cousin from season two’s “Runaway Devaluation,” whose maligned Bro app migrated across a couple of buyouts and led to an eventual $60 million payout. And then when it looks like his cousin might be the golden goose to buy Hooli, Dinesh hesitates to tell him it’ll cost him everything—until non-stop gushing about his Hawaii estate leads Dinesh to push the papers right back in his face.
Is that acknowledgement of his terribleness heading toward some sort of redemption? No, in the cynical world of Silicon Valley, it’s exactly the opposite. Gavin is throwing all of his awfulness to the investor as evidence that he’s the guy who’ll do whatever it takes to win, and when Richard can’t bring himself to get into it, Dinesh steps up to lay his horrible reputation on the line. With how nice of a person Kumail Nanjiani is in real life, it’s remarkable how contemptible he’s been able to make Dinesh over the years, and the presentation of Dinesh owning his awfulness is a fun reminder of just how low he’s gone:
Dinesh: “Did you know that instead of breaking up with a girl who scared me I called the FBI and sent her to prison? I pressured my direct reports to buy Teslas they couldn’t afford because I wanted better wheels than a guy named Danny. And when I was eight years old, I stole my friend’s jump rope and tied it to the back of a truck that drove away. And then I told him I had no idea what happened to it. And when he cried himself to sleep, I ate his British candy and told him God took it because he hated him.”
And somehow, that manages to swing the deal in Pied Piper’s favor, as the investor makes the same decision anyone would: all of these people deserve each other. Gavin is sent limping out of the office wrapped in a space blanket Chuck McGill-style, and Richard now finds himself owning the company that’s spent years trying to destroy his achievements. Along with all the employees who may have been complicit in that approach, further increasing the number of people whose livelihoods depend on his actions. It’s a rewarding close to the episode and the Pied Piper/Hooli arc, and—in peak Silicon Valley fashion—introduces a whole new series of problems.
- We also get the welcome return of Ben Feldman as Pied Piper attorney Ron LaFlamme this week, arguing that Richard’s smartest move may be to cut his losses and sell out to Maximo, and equating any other decision to Thelma and Louise going over the cliff. “That was a mint ‘66 T-Bird! They didn’t need that car to get off the cliff, why’d that car have to die?”
- Jian-Yang has evidently revised the Hacker Hostel’s business practices to include sheltering illegal immigrants from China. He says it’s better for everyone if Big Head doesn’t know what’s going on, and you have to agree with him on that.
- Jared makes his cooperation contingent on Qwart being released from her Hooli contract, and Richard turns around to offer the two office space and acknowledging he misses Jared. Those tears streaming from under the aviators say it all.
- Another great episode for Amanda Crew, between her masterful exploitation of a Hooli board member’s sexism and the way Monica can keep up with her new company’s profane streak. (Gilfoyle on hacking Gavin’s Fitbit: “I can even see where he is in his menstrual cycle.” Monica: “Looks like a good time to fuck him.”)
- Jared communicating with Richard via only Bitmojis is a moment so in character I had to pause the episode to reflect on it.
- Dinesh theorizes Richard’s constant failures to make them rich stem from an addiction to failure. “Are you just chasing that dragon, you sick junkie fuck?!”
- “All your blathering could have made us $2.32.”
- “It’s kombucha with ginseng and lemongrass, Richard. I’m not a fucking hobo.”
- “All I wanted was to be a golden millionaire.” “A millionaire that gets peed on? I could see you making half of that happen.”
- “And for what? Computers?”
- “She doesn’t have your savvy or your ruthlessness, Richard! Hell, she has to wear earplugs when hiking because the forest is too loud!”
- “And then I fucked over World Poker Tour over there, just for the spite of it!”
- “Just be yoursel... keep it short. Keep it short.”
- This week’s closing track: “Comin’ Thru,” Chali 2na.