After four episodes of high-stakes corporate intrigue, Silicon Valley downshifted into a routine episode last week. Though “The Empty Chair” featured a potentially damning narrative turn—Richard blowing his chance at a CEO job because his hubris caused him to tank an interview with a tech writer—it eventually ties up the loose end with a neat, but carefully plotted out save involving Big Head and his knowledge of insider shenanigans at Hooli. The episode was certainly funny with plenty of stand out moments from the cast, but it couldn’t help but feel slight after weeks of confident storytelling that deftly weaved in laugh-out-loud satire. Is Silicon Valley better when it has a driving plot on which to hang its comedy? Possibly, but that much narrative gamesmanship can just as easily codify into formula as low-stakes farce. It’s ultimately good that Silicon Valley can shift into different gears because its adaptability makes it less difficult to pin down, even if it can cause some whiplash.
Following last week’s lead, “Bachmanity Insanity” is another minor episode that features some choice lines and funny moments as well as some table setting for the next few weeks. The episode takes a hard look at the group’s relationships with women and Erlich’s relationship with Big Head and his company, which he slowly bleeds dry with poor business decisions. At a bar, Richard meets Winnie (Bridey Elliott), a Facebook employee who seems to genuinely like him in spite of Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s insistence that she’s a “Founder Hounder,” i.e. a person attracted to founders of tech startups. Unfortunately, she formats her code with spaces instead of tabs, and when Gilfoyle lets slip that Richard finds this practice abhorrent, it’s only a matter of time before Richard’s arrogance brings their burgeoning relationship. Meanwhile, Dinesh flirts with Estonian coder Elisabet (Sigrid Owen) over a low-resolution video chat, Gilfoyle snarks from the sidelines, and Jared fucks, as Russ predicted so long ago.
None of these stories are bad per se, but there’s a certain amount of limp unoriginality that’s difficult to ignore. It’s very easy to predict exactly where each plot is going after a certain detail slips: For Richard’s story, it’s when Jared and Dinesh discuss how anal he is about tabs over spaces; for Dinesh’s story, it’s when Gilfoyle calmly observes that he has no idea if Elisabet is attractive because of the poor resolution, etc. It nevertheless makes for some compelling, albeit predictable scenes, such as when Richard grossly lashes out at Winnie for choosing spaces over tabs (and Vim over Emacs). This is the second week in a row that Richard has acted abominably condescending, and though some might find his behavior to be too much to bear, I think it’s a welcome change of pace. It’s only natural for someone like Richard who clawed his way to respectability to embrace his inner asshole and act like he knows best. It doesn’t excuse how he treats Winnie (“We’re gonna bring kids into this world with that hanging over their heads? That’s not really fair to them, don’t you think?” he snidely says on his way out the door only for Winnie to inform him that they haven’t even slept together yet), but to pretend that his behavior wouldn’t change with success wouldn’t be fair to the character. Plus, the Silicon Valley writers don’t constantly reward Richard just because of his superior knowledge and technology. For all the success his pride has brought him, Richard still falls down a flight of stairs and loses a girl who’s genuinely interested in him by the end of the episode.
But for every good scene like that, there’s another that mostly exist to take up time until landing at an obvious conclusion. The Bachman-Big Head storyline in this episode frequently falls into this category. With unlimited access to Big Head’s wealth, Erlich completely screws the pooch by spending half a million dollars on a tech blog along with lavish amounts of money on a Hawaiian-themed party at Alcatraz. Though T.J. Miller frequently shines in the series (his epiphanic coughing fit in “Maleant Data System Solutions” is Erlich’s finest hour), Erlich’s unchecked obnoxiousness only allows him to play in one mode and sort of stunts the comedy. By the end, Bachmanity is financially insolvent and Erlich finds this news out from Big Head’s business manager (the wonderful Ken Lerner) just before he’s about to take the stage and bask in glory in front of his peers. Ultimately, it’s a better look for Erlich when he’s struggling rather than when he’s succeeding.
As Bachmanity collapses and Richard’s platform moving ahead smoothly, it’s almost time Silicon Valley kicks back into gear and throws more wrenches into the plot. The series works best when its characters are in a rut and are beset on all sides by a ruthless industry, indifferent CEOs, and a narrow-minded tech culture. When Silicon Valley takes a break from all that and operates in a much lower register, it’s diverting and mildly funny but never showcases the series’ talents at their best. Some comedies can wear their routine well; Silicon Valley wears chaos and instability better.
- Gavin Belson makes a brief, hilarious appearance this week after news that he changed his search engine algorithm broke out. As he gets attacked by protestors, he wonders aloud to his lawyers why titans of industry such as himself can’t kill people like them. “You think captains of industry like Andrew Carnegie or Cornelius Vanderbilt would have batted an eyelid? Please.”
- Gilfoyle gets all the funny lines this week, but my all-time favorite is his bartender runner. “Are you a bartender?” “I work at Facebook.” “As a bartender?”
- Dinesh makes a good point: “Any time you’re near a woman, it’s important to explain why. Otherwise, they get nervous.”
- Of course Jared has plenty of success with women, much to the shock of his roommates. Maybe his uncomfortable childhood gives him the edge. As a kid, his stuffed animal was a Ziploc bag stuffed with old newspaper on which he drew a smile.
- “What’s your end game here? You think after your tired rap, she’s gonna hop on a plane, fly halfway across the world, and fuck you?”
- “Either she froze time, met and married the man of her dreams, unfroze time and hopped back onto vid chat with you, or you’re the dogface. Which do you think it is? I’m on the fence.”