Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

In my review of Silicon Valley’s fifth season premiere a few weeks ago, I argued that while the show continues to have issues in its advanced age, it’s still working off of a sturdy foundation with its talented cast and its perverse sense of humor. And as we approach the end of the season, that point has held up. Each week there’s a lingering discontent with the show’s narrative pace and untethered characters, but it’s assuaged by a steady stream of terrifying disclosures from Jared’s past or the recurring payoff of Gavin’s tumescent Box 3. Even if the pieces don’t all fit together the way they once did, they’re still sturdy enough pieces that they’ll accomplish what they need to do.

Most of those pieces are on deck for “Initial Coin Offering,” season five’s penultimate episode—and interestingly, an episode that’s all about abandoning some of the sturdy foundation in the narrative. For its entire life, Pied Piper has been driven by the quest for venture funding. Even more than their lofty aspirations of data compression or peer-to-peer Internet, they’ve focused on the bottom line, appeasing some master to fund their dreams. Now, they’re considering taking a chance on their own source of funding, the riskiest of moves for a company that’s never been short on risk.

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The major disruption to the status quo comes at the time it should be the strongest, with Bream-Hall about to provide Series B funding to Pied Piper to the tune of $30 million. And in an ironic twist, Laurie inadvertently sabotaged her own deal last week by selling off the access credits Richard gave her. Attempting to track those credits from GigglyBots to Smashub reveals that Richard’s gift has inflated in value to $1.6 million—a figure that sets off a Napalm Death track in Gilfoyle’s head. If a few credits can do that, multiple credits that the company controls under Pied Piper’s own form of cryptocurrency could match that Series B in no time, ending the need for VC funding altogether.

The logistics of this scheme will depend on your personal familiarity with bitcoin and cryptocurrency, as it skips over Gilfoyle’s well-documented slideshow and links the idea to Richard’s peer-to-peer internet in broad strokes. What’s more interesting is what it says about the relationship between Richard and Gilfoyle. A few weeks ago, Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone checked in on Silicon Valley mid-season and argued that with the departure of T.J. Miller, Gilfoyle has come even more into his own as “the only guy who’s a big enough misanthrope to appreciate what they’re doing.” It’s an accurate take, as Martin Starr’s best moments this season have come as his paranoia and misanthropy are in the driver’s seat, ripping fridges apart and having a walk-and-talk on the dangers of artificial intelligence.

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“Initial Coin Offering” continues that delightful trend, also reminds us how much influence Gilfoyle has had on Richard’s development. Jared taught him how to be a businessman and Erlich taught him how to be an asshole, but Gilfoyle is the one who set him on the “left-hand path” with the theft of the EndFrame login in “Adult Content,” a move I hold as one of the series’ most important steps in Richard’s development as a CEO. He may not be as visible as Richard’s other partners, but his worldview has arguably shaped Richard’s decisions the most. And even more than the other founders, he knows to appeal to Richard’s darker side, providing the closing argument when he points out this would allow him to sever connections to Laurie, who fired him the minute she had control of the company.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

Laurie’s partner, on the other hand, is having none of it. Monica intimidates Gilfoyle into silence (a trick Dinesh would dearly love to learn) and gives Richard a profane dressing-down for even bringing up the idea. It’s a welcome expression of frustration from Amanda Crew, her character so frequently pushed to the side and now getting a chance to outline exactly how much of Pied Piper would stop running if she wasn’t keeping an eye on it. Part of me also wonders how meta writer Clay Tarver is getting here, as Monica underlining how little Richard knows about her despite weakly calling her his friend also underlines how bad Silicon Valley is at utilizing its female characters.

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To get her point across, Monica steers him to one of Silicon Valley’s more polarizing characters, three-comma club member and asshole extraordinaire Russ Hanneman. After overdosing on Russ in season two the series has kept Chris Diamantopoulos to one or two appearances a season, a more judicious use where his ability to deliver a firehose of ego and AXE body spray pays the most dividends. Here, it’s a cautionary tale on the instability of cryptocurrency, filled with the best of Russ being unable to commit to anything halfway: he went 0-for-36 on successfully implementing it with his companies and lost $300 million thanks to a flash drive being in the wrong jeans pocket.

In this context, it’s not surprising that Richard would decide to stay with Bream-Hall for funding. But more importantly, it’s also not surprising that Monica would change her tune once she learned how much control Laurie plans to enforce on the new Internet. Looking all the way back to the pilot, it was Monica who made the argument that Richard could use this algorithm for real societal good, and who pushed back (rightly, as it turned out) when it didn’t seem to be used for anything that made sense. And going back to the idea of stable foundations, Monica’s partnership with Laurie has always stood on shaky ground, Monica struggling to build the rapport she had with Peter Gregory and never managing to crack Laurie’s emotionless focus. There’s always been an optimism to her actions, and it makes sense that if Pied Piper was going to take this risk she’d eventually decide to take it as well. True, it comes two seasons too late after an offer was teed up in “The Uptick,” but better late than never I suppose.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

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Other plots this week similarly show people trying to hold onto what’s theirs at any cost. Dinesh was the one Pied Piper founder I didn’t mention above as an influence on Richard, which is good for Richard because Dinesh is—as I’ve said many times—a terrible person. “Initial Coin Offering,” however, makes his awfulness seem pitiable as he doubles down on his self-proclaimed role as the office “Tesla guy.” It’s gone from being his gloating point over Gilfoyle to a part of his identity, and a sadness starts to set in when you see it appears to be his only point of identity amidst a staff that doesn’t like or respect him. As ever though, the innate likability of Kumail Nanjiani and the fact that whatever happens to Dinesh is his own fault means it’s still not too painful to witness.

Back at Hooli, Gavin is reeling from the disclosure that Yao is cutting off his production, and the rise of labor protection across the previously lawless Asia threatens the short turnaround time the Box badly needs. What follows is a particularly topical series of events as Hooli decides to invest in an American factory, casting the benefits of such an investment to a community versus the demands that community is forced to accede to. And it does so in particularly ruthless fashion, the mayor’s face and tone changing rapidly as Gavin blithely threatens and reassures in equal measure. The final sequence where Hoover walks through the ramification of every forced reduction in public works is an excellent joke escalation, in addition to being a clip all mayors clamoring for an Amazon HQ should consider.

But for all his expense-cutting, Gavin’s right to be worried. Now that Laurie is freed from her obligations to Pied Piper, she’s forging an alliance with its suddenly potent Chinese rival—and knowing what we do about her, she wouldn’t be doing that if she didn’t think it was a smart move. The final shot of the episode sets up a great cliffhanger for the finale, a sudden immovable threat that could render Pied Piper obsolete before their vision comes to life. Let’s see if there’s enough foundation left for them to grab hold onto in the finale.

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Stray observations:

  • Re: Silicon Valley and its poor track record with female characters, I found it hilarious that T.J. Miller’s sole comment about this season to date is throwing shade at that very point. In the same tweet he praised the premiere and linked to a Refinery 29 article that laid its failures bare.
  • Silicon Valley has been on point with its cold opens this season. This week, Monica tries to treat the team to a $500 bottle of champagne, and the results are about as awkward as the moment in The Wire season four when Colvin tried to take the corner kids to a Ruth’s Chris Steakouse. Much like the original launch party of Pied Piper, the instant the team is celebrating, they decide they’d rather just be doing what they’d do normally.
  • Jared’s plot is comparatively light, but the slasher movie vibe to his monitoring of Holden is some great direction from Alec Berg.
  • Tesla’s latest development is an acceleration upgrade from “Ludicrous” to “Plaid.” Maybe Pied Piper should follow the Spaceballs of it all and go back to swag and branded jackets, because merchandising is where the real money from the algorithm is made!
  • Gilfoyle’s true areas of passion: “Medical marijuana, the Biblical Satan as a metaphor for rebellion against tyranny, and motherfucking goddamned cryptocurrency.”
  • “Well, the only person we don’t spend 20 hours a day with just left.”
  • “I tend to hold my breath when I’m around him. It’s aggravating my asthma.”
  • “I don’t want to sound selfish, but sometimes I wish only I made money.”
  • “I said a thumb drive! That’s an actual thumb.”
  • “So, no hard feelings?” “No feelings at all, Monica.”
  • This week’s closing track: “Metalstorm,” Cut Chemist featuring Edan & Mr. Lif.

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