This season, Silicon Valley has excelled by shifting its focus towards episodic narratives over a strong seasonal arc. The backbone of the fourth season has so far been loose enough to allow individual episodes to embody their own identities, generally creating more opportunities for comedy. Think “Terms of Service,” about Dinesh’s brief but doomed run as CEO of PiperChat, or “The Blood Boy,” which followed Richard’s run-in with Gavin’s young athletic blood donor. The episodic A-plots have been so strong this season that the macro imperatives have largely become irrelevant. Richard and the team could theoretically work on their “new Internet” for years to come if each episode works on their own as well as they have this year.

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“The Patent Troll” isn’t Silicon Valley at its best—in fact, it’s probably the most scattered episode this season—but Mike Judge, credited writer Andrew Law, and director Jamie Babbit are so good at crafting individual moments that the dull spots easily fade into the background. Unfortunately, the A-plot this week—Richard faces off against a patent troll (Allan Miller) who tries to shake him down for $20,000—sags more than usual, not because the dramatic expectations are low but because it felt mechanical from the get-go. Richard doesn’t want to settle without a fight even though the smart move is to just pay the troll. After failing to band together with other storage companies, he eventually finds a copyright loophole that maintains his dignity, flatters his ego, and allows him to keep the 20 grand. But he soon discovers that his legal filing fees cost $22,000, rendering his principled stance more expensive than simply settling. Richard’s myopic worldview and warped sense of self strikes again, but not in an especially compelling way.

Fortunately, the other plots this week fare much better even if they’re more inane than Richard’s patent problems. They are as follows: Gilfoyle vs. Jian-Yang’s smart fridge; Erlich vs. an amateur venture capitalist basketball team; and Jared vs. Jared, or more accurately Jared vs. Jared’s impression of Ed Chen, which takes on “real” proportions because of Jared’s investment in the character. Given that Zach Woods casually provides a master class in comedic acting every single week, it’s no surprise that his B-plot, however minor, stands as the funniest of the week. Woods adopts a traditional bro voice in order to negotiate lower cloud storage rates with big companies. It works until he naturally takes it too far, albeit off-screen and involving a story about having sex with Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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As for the Gilfoyle and Erlich plots, the former is mostly negligible while the latter has its moments. Gilfoyle goes to great lengths to hack into Jian-Yang’s smart fridge because he finds the technology unnecessary. As one can surmise, Gilfoyle succeeds. Meanwhile, Erlich tries to hang with the more masculine VCs but he finds excuses when he realizes that he actually has to play basketball with them. Though the sight gag of Erlich falling off the roof scores the usual points, Miller’s best scene involves him, Monica, and Laurie at the beginning of the episode. So desperate for something to do, Erlich swallows his pride, rejects a lucrative finders fee from Bream Hall, and all but begs Monica and Laurie for employment. It features some subtle notes from Miller, something for which he never received much credit during his tenure on the series, and serves as yet another reminder of what audiences will miss when he departs at the end of the season.

All in all, “The Patent Troll” isn’t a bad episode of Silicon Valley, but it’s one that doesn’t feature the best qualities of the show this season. Episodic storytelling has always been the series’ strong suit, and this week, it mostly limped along without contributing much. But if this turns out to be the weakest episode of the season, Silicon Valley is having quite a year.

Stray observations

  • This week featured the return of two very funny recurring characters: Andy Daly as Richard’s doctor, and Ben Feldman as Richard’s lawyer Ron LaFlamme. Daly informs Richard that he’s shrinking and balks at the idea that he’ll ever have sex again. Ron explains a “limp biscuit” to Richard and Jared.
  • Erlich promises to get a selfie with Steph Curry, “if she’s there.”
  • “Did that pussy Jared keep you on hold long? I eat that motherfucker’s lunch every day. No, man, I literally eat his food.”
  • “I believe that the future is female, and anyone who says otherwise can suck my fat dick.”

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