Zach Woods, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch (HBO)

Richard Hendrix spends a lot of time in “Adult Content” being told he’s not a certain kind of person. Russ Hanneman tells him that he’s not paid to know things, he’s paid to produce content and do Russ’s bidding. Ron LaFlamme tells him that he’s not a guy who should be worried about suing people, he should be worried about paying his lawyers for the privilege of paying them more to fight off Gavin Belson’s attorneys. And most humiliatingly, he’s indirectly told that he doesn’t look like a CEO, first when the EndFrame receptionist assumes that Erlich is in charge and then later when she only partially corrects her assumption as he storms in: “Mr. Bachman is heading to see you.”

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Yet by the end of “Adult Content,” Richard proves he’s capable of being the sort of person that you wouldn’t have expected: a ruthless one. His journey to that point—and the multiple stumbles he makes along the way—delivers one of Silicon Valley’s best episodes this year and sets up a strong arc for the last three. The last couple of episodes haven’t landed with the full joke or narrative payoff that Silicon Valley does at its best moments, but everything lands this week from Richard’s business woes to Dinesh’s relationship stumbles to Gavin and Russ finally being put in their place.

“Adult Content” does a lot of work to show just how much of a disadvantage Pied Piper is compared to EndFrame, which has managed to skate under the radar of the Hooli/Pied Piper war to develop its compression technology and recruit a full sales force. There’s some terrific work from Thomas Middleditch as Richard tries to deal with this outrage, first as he storms into the office to object via stammers—taking about 30 seconds to formulate anything worth saying—and then still unable to curb his problem-solving impulses and almost writing improvements to EndFrame’s program alongside the photos of them stealing their work. It’s a more interesting conflict than the Hooli one, as rather than a Rebels vs. Empire dynamic this is one of equal footing—this team was simply smarter and less moral than Richard about securing their footing and funding.

It also comes at the worst possible time for Richard, as Russ has fallen from the three-comma club and landed in a state of depression due to some bad investments “that my money guy let me talk him into.” Despondent Russ quickly proves to be the best use of Russ, a total inability to see the $987 million still in his coffers in the face of the luxuries he’s had to strip himself of. “If you round down, that’s zero billion!” he bemoans to Richard, his second-best scene before an outraged visual illustration of how his doors opening normally is the worst thing ever. His push to have Pied Piper merge with EndFrame betrays both how little regard for Richard’s company he really has, as well as how manically desperate he feels despite all the advantages at his fingertips.

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Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr (HBO)

But in all the darkness there is salvation, and it comes from the one who worships darkness. Gilfoyle, whose flexible morals meant he had no problem taking the EndFrame CEO’s passwords during the disastrous meeting, logged into their system and snatched their ageement with the pornography provider InterSite. That realization widens the eyes and drops the jaws of every attendee of the meeting, but also provides a Hail Mary for the company’s survival. The entire scene is proof of how good the ensemble that Silicon Valley has assembled is, with everyone getting their moments: Dinesh’s “Fucking ninja” comment, Erlich observing that he increases the Internet’s total pornography use a full percentage point when he’s online, Monica insisting that she was “never here” but unable to move any further than the porch to chime in with the financial benefits of the adult industry. Yet it’s entirely Martin Starr’s moment here, his pointed delivery upending the game for the team and doing so in a ruthless in-character fashion. He views this as natural selection, and given the cutthroat way that this industry has been treating Pied Piper all season, he feels right to do so.

It’s no wonder that Richard is convinced to go to an adult entertainment conference and approach InterSite executive Molly Kendall (Romy Rosemont, a welcome addition to the Silicon Valley universe). And while it’s fun to see him stumble his way through the early stages—especially when nerves mean he’s babbling details of the EndFrame deal because numbers are his comfort zone—his genuine plea to Molly to save his business is the most in control of his fate he’s been in a long time. A flaw of the last two episodes has been that Richard was reacting to circumstance rather than being an active player, and didn’t get the moment of victory he needed against either his night sweats or the Erlich/AA feud. And the end result of Molly deciding to put Pied Piper and EndFrame in direct opposition, switching the surprise conference room positions, is both a glorious payoff to Russ’s earlier effort to link the two together and a good direction for the show as a whole. This isn’t a battle against an indomitable evil corporation, it’s a fight between equals with a clear goal in sight. And if Richard must sell his soul to get to this point, at least he’s doing it on his terms, not those of Russ Hanneman or Gavin Belson.

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If this episode furthers Gilfoyle’s shady yet undeniable value to the Pied Piper team, it also furthers the the direction of showing just how contemptible of a person Dinesh has become. All season, he’s shown a streak of pettiness and insecurity that’s led him to do bad things, trying to sabotage his cousin’s Kickstarter in “Runaway Devaluation” and meddling catastrophically with the server in “Server Space.” Even last week in the SWOT exercise he was worse than Gilfoyle: Gilfoyle just wanted Blaine to die, Dinesh wanted to exploit that tragedy to get laid. In “Adult Content,” not only does he reveal that he was going on interviews with other companies during Pied Piper’s troubles, he’s lying his ass off to Karen, a woman he met on Tinder, to seem more “on the go.” He changes his email signature so all emails appear to be from his iPhone and passing off five-year-old’s art as exhibits at a gallery he visited. “Crimes against children. Really, so easy to get away with,” he says in his lowest moment. Suddenly, Gilfoyle’s distaste for him feels like the natural reaction.

And there’s no better sign of how far Dinesh has fallen than the fact that “Adult Content” creates a situation that makes Erlich Bachman the lesser of two evils. Karen decides to come over, forcing Dinesh to put on an even smarmier persona, until he sees that she’s able to log into the house’s wireless, meaning she’s been there before–“outed by wi-fi” in the same way Dinesh was in another amazing joke payoff. Dinesh’s horror at realizing she’s been with Erlich doesn’t even have a chance to sink in before the other man offers to help her look for the earrings she left over last time, and then hours later the seduction music Erlich suggested is still playing while Dinesh sits morosely at the table. It’s far more satisfying that it should be to see Gilfoyle rub it in, making it cathartic rather than pathetic.

Josh Brener (HBO)

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Similarly reaping the sour fruits of his labors is Gavin Belson. All season he’s been able to throw around the weight of his company with no limitations on what he can do, but “Adult Content” places him in front of the Hooli board firing squad. Matt Ross does a great job delivering his grandiose ideas about “making the world a better place,” and we see here he can pivot to save his own ass just as well as he tries to categorize the Nucleus disaster as a “stepping stone” and “pre-greatness.” Only this time, his audience isn’t buying it, meaning he has to throw a Hail Mary and promise the board a super-secret game-changing feature. In a great piece of editing, it cuts from the board to Hooli XYZ, and Gavin giving the exact same speech to Big Head and his team, this time letting the desperation sink in.

Unfortunately, here’s where an even bigger mistake comes and bites Gavin in the ass: Big Head’s team may be capable of a moonshot like controlling your phone via Hooli headphones, but any realistic implementation fled that team with Dr. Bannerchek. Gavin put a huge amount of faith in Big Head to win the compression lawsuit, and here we see that as time went on he started to believe the lies he was peddling, and the head-in-hands realization of how screwed he is pays off all the weeks of his heaping more and more import on this average soda-drinking boat owner. Gavin’s in a bad place while Richard is on the upswing, and after the way things have gone the last few weeks, that’s an encouraging move.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s closing track: “Rhythmeen,” ZZ Top.
  • Silicon Valley is amazing when it comes to the little details—witness the full span of the “Let Blaine Die” SWOT board last week—and “Adult Content” has another great instance of this visual humor with the adult entertainment conference attendees. Everyone’s buttoned-up and dressed for a professional setting, but the nametags tell a different story. Zoltbase, My Dirty Vagina, Fingered Teen, Let’s Try Fisting, Porn Hospise, Non Consensual Santa, Poop On My Wife, Blackmailed Into Gay, Ectopoint, and Brutalized Assholes.
  • We haven’t seen Laurie in four episodes, which makes sense given the way Raviga cut ties but is disappointing given how well that character was introduced. Hopefully Monica can talk Raviga into turning its attention back to Pied Piper and Suzanne Cryer can feel like the regular member of the cast the credits tell us she is.
  • Russ has now downgraded from using Lady to raise his son to pawning that responsibility off on Richard and Erlich. A little disappointing we didn’t get to see more of that effort.
  • Callback: Ron is strumming his guitar that’s signed by the founders of Google.
  • “I support you Richard, no matter how futile the effort.”
  • “They’ll put me on the close but no cigar list, which is ironic because I smoke a fuck-ton of cigars! Why the fuck do I buy so many cigars?!”
  • “You’ve basically done the deed. Which for you is ejaculating in your own pants all over your leg and then apologizing profusely.”
  • “We do have the kick-ass potato cannon! Although this one is broken. We tried to put a Mr. Potato Head in it… and it did not like that.”

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