Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

I may have come across as a bit harsh on Silicon Valley in my review of last week’s premiere, but I feel it’s important to clarify that my judgments come from a place of love. When this show is firing on all cylinders, it’s frequently one of the best comedies on television, and it bothers me when it comes across as insecure about its ability to step outside of its established boundaries. It should trust itself to try something different and that its audience will follow along with whatever new version itself it becomes, not continually retrogressing and leading the audience to trust it’ll never be more than it is.

That belief is also based on the fact that when it does trust itself to think different (not “think different,” that’s Apple), it often leads to better things. “Reorientation” is a great example of that, as it applies a breadth of new issues to Pied Piper as a professional company and proves that Silicon Valley can branch out without abandoning the its signature comedic approach. And by doubling down on a few of the developments from last week’s premiere, it moves over some of the initial concerns that we’re heading for another reset by the season’s halfway point.

Chief of those new developments is the fact that thanks to Richard’s drive to beat out the team of Sliceline and Optimoji, Pied Piper now has a new workforce of over 50 employees—most of whom were still fresh from their company’s merger and haven’t learned to work together. (“These are conquered soldiers wearing their old uniforms,” Jared helpfully explains.) They need a leader to pull them together, and Richard continues to struggle with any sort of position of authority. It’s a roadblock that makes sense, as despite Richard’s growing prominence in the industry over the years he’s been sheltered from large-scale management by hired gun CEOs or by Pied Piper’s previous reliance on remote contractors.

Now he’s the face of the company, and his face is getting planted in every “inspirational” speech he makes. An early highlight of the episode is Richard recounting his latest failure to Dinesh and Gilfoyle, a surprisingly effective reversal of the “show, don’t tell” rule. Somehow, the combination of Richard talking through a bloody towel as Jared diligently cleans hand smudges off the glass in the background is worlds funnier than if they’d simply gone through the beats of the physical comedy. Dinesh and Gilfoyle also heighten the mood, somehow still managing to be surprised by their boss’s inability to keep his cool and empathizing in their own twisted way. (Dinesh: “If you’re going to shit yourself, you’d rather be crouching than standing. ... I hate to say this, but I follow you.”)

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Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

While Jared lays out a full plan for employee orientation, complete with “safe space charades” and a “noncompetitive talent show,” Richard decides that maybe he’s better off letting the status quo take care of itself. This moves “Reorientation” into beats of classic farce, as Richard’s unable to say no to one group and then has to give into the other group’s demands in the name of fairness. While predictable in its results, it nicely escalates in a chaotic fashion, producing such moments as Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay Kumail Nanjiani flipping off an adorable pug and Martin Starr approaching rare emotions for another person when a “stallion” has an allergic reaction.

Faced with this failure, Richard tries to step into the role of CEO again—and when that fails, he goes back to his purest comfort zone and decides to code the entire thing himself. This whole episode is a great showcase for Thomas Middleditch, allowed to be genuine and sincere in his speech to the team and then go into near-psychotic marionette mode when he stays awake for two days straight to complete four days worth of tasks. There’s also some excellent payoff to his earlier narrated breakdown, as not seeing the first disastrous speech only makes seeing the sequel all the more fantastic. He goes through that same horrified chain of thought in real-time, and then makes it even worse when this time the glass doesn’t stop him.

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In the context of Silicon Valley, the reaction by the rest of the team is entirely believable. What’s kept Pied Piper afloat throughout all of the run of the series is the fact that for all his flaws and neuroses, Richard truly is a genius who’s put together something special. Think all the way back to the season one finale, when Richard’s team saw him coding in a moment of crisis and left him alone without saying a word. It’s entirely plausible that respect and admiration for his abilities can keep a larger team around him—even without the post-commit cheers Jared pretends they’re giving—and he can grow the company without the writers needing to give up the things that make him a fun character.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

The theme of core behaviors carrying into a new environment runs through the rest of the Pied Piper team, as Dinesh and Gilfoyle find the next front on their war: the employee parking lot. Dinesh has spent his windfall on a Tesla and can’t help himself from rubbing it in Gilfoyle’s face, to which Gilfoyle responds by purchasing an post-apocalyptic electric recumbent bike and making it to work first. Again it’s all predictable—the minute Dinesh bragged about the Insane mode you knew things would end poorly for that Tesla—but no less funny for its inevitability. And it’s oddly comforting in its familiarity, the idea that things are allowed to change but the pure hatred nurtured over previous seasons will always prevail: “Wait, do I really hate someone so much that humiliating them is worth more than money? Is that what I’ve become? ... Yes, it is.”

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In that moment, Dinesh also provides inspiration to Jian-Yang at the worst possible time. Thanks to his corrupt uncle and a five-gallon bucket of pig ashes, Jian-Yang manages to convince a court that Erlich Bachman has shuffled off this mortal coil and he’s the only next of kin. This gives him the house and the company, and also an extensive pile of debt that includes mortgages and seven different credit cards that didn’t even offer miles. My early skepticism about Jian-Yang is still there, but his scenes this week are a more encouraging step forward, glimmers of an actual character emerging with each hateful kick and tapped ashes he takes towards Erlich’s memory.

And his character growth has serious repercussions for the Pied Piper team, when they return home and find out that Jian-Yang has changed the locks on them. Last week I jabbed at Jian-Yang for being a wholly unlikable character, and the writers are smartly leaning into this with an apparent pivot into an outright villain. Here, his thinly drawn persona works in the story’s favor. Erlich’s 10 percent ownership of Pied Piper was always an obstacle for Richard to navigate around, but his interference with the company was an egotistical one that they could find ways to pacify and work around. Jian-Yang, however, is a cipher with even less loyalty or affection for his housemates, dubbing them “racist” and “ugly” without a moment’s notice. What sort of trouble could he cause for them, and what lengths would they have to go to keep him from being their biggest threat? (Their other biggest threat that is, given that we learn Hoover’s installed a mole in their team.)

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

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Most importantly, Jian-Yang declaring the end of Erlich’s administration means that the team can’t go back to the house that’s been their base of operations since the beginning of the series. “Reorientation” does a lot to prove that Silicon Valley can try to move ahead permanently, and the best thing it does in that regard is shutting the door to their comfort zone and forcing them to look ahead.

Stray observations:

  • Last week I asked you commenters to point out any changes in the opening titles I may have missed, and you were up to the challenge. Shout-outs to JDDuVall for spotting the Facebook billboard flickering to Russian and and Rupert Giles catching Uber throwing money off the building.
  • Gavin’s plot this week is also a familiar one, caught up in his egomaniacal need to brand the newest version of the Box as his “Signature” version. Each of the scenes has their own payoff: the way Gavin’s own signature is dissected as textbook sociopathic, Gavin missing the forest for the trees when he refuses to use a Banksy-provided signature, and another addition to the show’s dick joke pantheon when the employee-suggested signature he goes with looks like it came from Dylan Maxwell.
  • Silicon Valley has at this point conditioned me to see the time bombs planted in the way of our heroes. Jian-Yang controlling 10 percent of Pied Piper is the most obvious looming disaster, but the detector beeped even louder when Richard’s motivational speech ended with the promise of Pied Piper covering employee severance until their next job. Yes, the bulk of the team returned, but how long before enough people take him up on that and bulldoze the rest of their funding?
  • Always great to see Andy Daly return, and his terrible doctor now gets a name: Dr. Crawford, who “died heroically in the Great Water Wars of 2020” and truly hates when people get pedantic about the difference between Dr. Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster.
  • Jian-Yang’s comparison of Erlich to a giant pig corpse: indicative of his loathing of the man, or the Silicon Valley writers working out some of their T.J. Miller frustrations?
  • Gilfoyle now only refers to Richard as “Dick.” I support this adjustment.
  • Jared on the other creator of a new Internet, Al Gore: “He talked like a narcoleptic plantation owner so he lost the presidency to a fake cowboy and now he makes apocalypse porn.”
  • “Okay, then my ‘or flight’ reflex kick in.”
  • “Something’s wrong with your frunk. It’s all frunked up!”
  • “It’s a great time. I just fired Banksy.”
  • “I wish he had your fecal fortitude.”
  • “I felt like Mary Magdalene on resurrection day!”
  • “Why does the whole neighborhood smell like bacon?”
  • This week’s closing track: “Down The Road,” C2C.

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