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Silicon Valley: “Bad Money”

Chris Diamantopoulos (HBO)
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One of the things that makes Silicon Valley such a successful comedy is that it has the force of personality behind it. As much as the narrative is driven by the show’s take on business and technology, it’s first and foremost about the people who get into this industry and the certain kind of person you have to become to succeed in it. There’s Jared, a savvy business mind yet so repressed and insular his go-to analogies are old Julia Roberts movies; Gavin, who has become so egocentric that he can blithely compare his perceived persecution as a billionaire to Nazi Germany and not see the problem; and Erlich, who’ll make dramatic statements about walking away from a deal but still expect the money he’s owed from said deal. The writers and the actors have perfectly tailored these characters, making them individuals without being caricatures.


By extension, the majority of my concerns about “Bad Money” are driven by personality—more to the point, a very loud and obnoxious one. No one would ever accuse Silicon Valley of being a wildly subtle comedy, but the introduction of überdouche Russ Hanneman cranks the volume right up past 11. Played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Russ is an extension of the psychotic network boss Castor Sotto he portrayed on season three of Episodes. It’s another character living in his own reality, only this one’s built on a fortune made from putting “radio on the internet” and two decades of life as a billionaire. Every one of his appearances is an explosion of ego not seen on HBO since Entourage was on the air, a bulldozer of shit-eating grins, casual racism and sexism, and blatant disregard for others.

Why is he around? Well, it turns out that he’s the only hope for keeping Pied Piper alive. Richard is on his way to accept the offer that Gavin handed him at the end of “Runaway Devaluation,” only to be intercepted at the last minute by Russ in an assertively expensive car. Russ is prepared to foot the bill for Pied Piper’s seed funding, hungry for a major payoff and with absolutely no fear of Gavin’s lawsuit: “I’ve got three nannies suing me. One of them for no reason.” That bravado travels to Richard via osmosis, a move that illustrates one of his tragic flaws: despite his growing business instincts his confidence levels plummet easily, and when confronted with someone to whom it comes effortlessly, he latches on tight. (That suggestibility also makes up a great running gag: Richard stumbles when trying to quote both Gavin and Russ to convey the spirit of their offers, and then later Monica similarly stumbles when trying to use a Peter Gregory quote to put a positive spin on things to Laurie.)


Despite his obnoxiousness, Russ manages to feasibly exist on the show by virtue of bringing something interesting out of the rest of the Pied Piper team. Erlich clearly admires his swagger and success, although Russ doesn’t even appear to register his interest or even his existence, which means that every one of their interactions results in Erlich shuffling off Charlie Brown-style. By contrast, Jared’s identified as Russ’s clear favorite (“This guy fucks!” he proclaims on their first meeting), continuing the boosts of confidence his use of Bro2Bro started last week. And while Gilfoyle normally conveys contempt for others—witness his excellent efforts to compete with Dinesh for employees—the looks he gives Russ in every instance indicate he’d love to sew the man into a horse while he’s still alive. Russ is indeed “the worst man in America” as Dinesh aptly puts it, but no one on the show pretends otherwise, which makes his wretchedness easier to swallow in this universe.

And despite his promise of being a hands-off partner in the company, he proves himself to be anything but, chiming in over every one of Richard’s efforts to hold a meeting (“I’m sorry, do you really talk like that?”), writing checks the group’s not allowed to cash (“That was the show check!”), and then making the executive decision to spend most of their first payment on billboards from a company he owns. That last decision is the best one from a comedic perspective, the billboards of an Asian woman playing guitar and the slogan “I Am Pied Piper” echoing the discussion of generic branding that happened in “Signaling Risk.” It says nothing despite Russ’s insistence it can say everything—more to the point, the 15 billboards between Gavin’s house and Hooli say they’re not going anywhere.


The move gets the desired reaction from Gavin. “This crosses every line of decency,” he moans to his lawyers with a degree of emotion entirely absent from his Holocaust kerfuffle. While the scenes of Gavin putting his foot in his mouth at the code conference and subsequent fallout feel superfluous to the rest of the episode, his interpretation of the billboard foreshadow how bad things between the two companies is going to be. In business he’s unflappable, but he can’t take insults anything but personally and opts for the nuclear option in that case. We saw it last season when Peter Gregory’s involvement turned compression software into his battlefield, we saw it in the premiere with his bruised ego post-Tech Crunch, and we’re seeing it now with the billboard.

Thomas Middleditch, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Martin Starr, T.J. Miller, Chris Diamantopoulos (HBO)

The solution to the lawsuit lies in casting a shadow of doubt that Pied Piper was created inside Hooli’s walls, which leads Gavin to find the Pied Piper employee he was able to snag and leads us to our first sighting of Big Head this season. Going back to my earlier argument about personality, Big Head is an anomaly in the Silicon Valley cast because he has no personality to speak of—no disrespect to Josh Brener, as blankness is clearly what he’s being told to convey. He lucked out with his proximity to Pied Piper and lucked out with his comfortable Hooli job, an average uninteresting guy whose averageness is illustrated by a montage of stumbling through an average day at Hooli. And he’s lucking out again with Gavin’s decision to paint Big Head as the algorithm’s architect, propping him up as the figurehead with a Big Gulp serving as the totem of his brilliance.

“Bad Money” doesn’t strike the comedic highs of the last two episodes, though it does help further draw the lines between Pied Piper and Hooli and suggest where the conflict between the two companies is going. This is a declaration of war, and both sides have picked their weapons: a bullshit engine versus a blank slate. And for the moment, both are on equal footing with each other, the earlier questions of money now answered—an interesting parallel to Russ’s dismissal of revenue as a gauge for success—and it’s going to come down to a clash of personality. We’ll have to see which one wins out.


Stray observations:

  • Richard’s best moment of the episode comes when Russ invites him to “do the math” about how he’s gone from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion over the last 20 years, and he does. Unsurprisingly, Russ doesn’t seem to be that competent of a manger.
  • Dinesh and Gilfoyle return to their app development with the apparent death of Pied Piper, though it’s not a smooth return to form. Gilfoyle’s app has been supplanted by 10 others and Dinesh’s cousin was right last week when he said his app was a bad idea. (Erlich: “But I bought your pitch!” Dinesh: “Yeah, you fucked up too.”)
  • The way Jared smiles when he informs Richard that he “celebrated” earlier that morning is infinitely creepier than any of the team’s efforts to emulate Russ’s smile. Richard is smart not to ask any further questions.
  • Google search results on Russ’s name: “Russ Hanneman douchebag,” “Russ Hanneman sexual harassment lawsuit,” “Russ Hanneman billionaire,” “Russ Hanneman misogynist.”
  • Laurie declares Russ is a vulgar human being and she will not interact with him under any circumstances. Based on my experience with comedies, that means they will be forced into the same room before the season’s over.
  • Gavin’s whole arc with the code conference gaffe is a lightweight part of the episode, but does yield the good moment of his guru proclaiming him an “anti-anti-Semite.”
  • Jared, looking out for his future: “If I use you as references, can I count on you to say nice things about me? Be honest.” Gilfoyle: “Do you want me to be honest, or nice?”
  • “I will listen to the sound of you chortling on my balls.”
  • “Sorry.” “Same for me, except the part about being sorry.”
  • “They kept saying that if I didn’t waste so much time at the butthole doctor we’d have more funding.”
  • “I’m having a scale replica of the Hall of Names constructed right next to the bike shop.”
  • “Synergy, bitches!”

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