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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Silicon Valley: “Fiduciary Duties”

Illustration for article titled Silicon Valley: “Fiduciary Duties”
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In the first episode of Silicon Valley, before Pied Piper was the compression algorithm that everyone wanted a piece of, it was just another unsuccessful app with an unsexy premise, ammunition for Erlich Bachman to berate Richard Hendrix with in regular arguments. Case in point, their first discussion: Erlich told him he needed to think more like “Steve,” and after an awkward pause Richard asked which one, to which Erlich replied “Jobs” as if Richard had asked him the name of a mediocre Ashton Kutcher biopic. Richard tried countering with the argument that Jobs didn’t write his own code, and Erlich gave him a look like he’d just shit in the sink. It left a definite feeling that neither one respected the other much: Richard clearly thought Erlich was as much of a poseur as he saw Jobs as, while Erlich was prepared to write Richard off as someone who’d never make it in the industry.

The Jobs/Wozniak parallels, as well as the friction between Erlich and Richard over their expectations for this new company, forms the spine of “Fiduciary Duties.” Like “The Cap Table,” it asks the question of whom Richard should and shouldn’t surround himself with in this new business; except this time it asks Richard if it’s worth keeping around someone who’s a colossal pain in his ass.

After the growing pains of the last few weeks, Pied Piper appears to be finally on the right track—initial capital acquired, head of business development hired, company legally named. Peter’s happy enough with their progress that he invites them to a toga party at his house and wants to sit down for a big picture meeting. Unfortunately, it turns out that a big picture is something Richard still hasn’t developed, as once he describes the first sentence of what his algorithm does, he devolves into babbling about its technical specs. One of the smartest decisions Silicon Valley made was to make Richard not into a visionary, but someone who stumbled into success and proves drastically ill-equipped to handle it. It’s richer fruit for comedy, as well as making it easier to treat Richard as our hero.

Our disjointed hero and company make their way to Peter’s toga party, better known as the Fourth Annual Orgy of Caring. (“The first three were… fine,” according to the host.) If the party from the pilot was all about showing off new money with liquid shrimp and a bored-to-tears Kid Rock, the Orgy of Caring is a focused exercise in hedonism, everything decked out in the trappings of ancient Rome. People are painted as inert statues (a la David Caruso in Hudson Hawk), there are actresses hired to make small talk and their small talk is about how they’re hired actresses, and Flo Rida is acting as master of ceremonies. The show continues to ramp up how excessive and tone-deaf so many people are in this world, and it succeeds because it doesn’t lose sight of the characters trying to deal with the onslaught (Richard: “You know, I wish this was Roman times.” Dinesh: “I would have been a slave!” Gilfoyle: “There’s still time.”)

An already bitter Richard goes deep into his cups, and like so many of us, he wakes up with a hangover to face the consequences of the night before. Except this time, to go along with the humiliating video there’s a legally binding document adding Erlich to the board of Pied Piper, a move which—as Dinesh helpfully points out—could put Erlich and Peter in a place where they could ally to oust him from his own company. (“I half-jokingly said to Gilfoyle last night it looks like Richard’s gonna suck Erlich’s dick. But that would be reasonable compared to this.”) The decision inflates Erlich’s already massive ego to bursting levels, as he starts sporting a Steve Jobs turtleneck and chooses to wear sandals for the company photo shoot for a bit of “iconoclasting.”

The subsequent arguments bring Erlich to the forefront of the episode, which is a good place for the character to be. Four episodes in, Erlich has been an outlier from the residents of his Hacker Hostel, all of whom shy away from social contact and discomfort while he revels in it. For all his talk of succeeding on Aviato, there’s no sign he’s smart enough to write a program worth millions, and he seems to be play-acting the role of startup success story. (And as many of you have noted in the comments, he creates some tonal issues for the show, as T.J. Miller’s comedic style is loud to begin with and feels even louder next to the subdued trio of Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods.) With the stakes getting higher for Richard all the time, his patience with the other man is nonexistent, and the fight the two have is uglier than any interaction to date—even if the tension is broken by Erlich’s inability to remove his turtleneck.


Richard could use a friend in this circumstance, except his friend makes it even worse. After being absent last week, Big Head returns, and we learn he’s as superfluous to Hooli’s Nucleus project as he was to Pied Piper. However, Gavin’s various New Age techniques have created a loophole where staffers can be unassigned but still employed, and those employees have formed a “Rest and Vest” commune on the roof, where they count the days until they can cash out their stock options. Big Head’s confused by this and tries to get Richard’s feedback, but his easy life now sits in stark contrast to Richard’s turmoil, a turmoil that gets raised to higher levels the longer Big Head obliviously trolls his best friend next to him. It’s more intertwined with the action than Peter’s Burger King research project last week (a smart move because Big Head’s too passive of a character to drive a subplot on his own) and offers a good illustration of how Richard’s continually haunted by the decision he made.

Richard seems to pull himself together for the meeting, except that a loose bit of food in his teeth turns into a splinter in his brain. He has yet another panic attack, and this one is accompanied by a psychotic break as he convinces himself he needs to overcompensate for a water stain on his pants and ends up scrubbing them in the sink. It’s unclear how much mileage the show can get out of Richard not knowing what he’s doing, but Thomas Middleditch continues to commit wholeheartedly to the act, left mewling on the carpet as Jared softly tries to talk him through this. (Between this interaction and his badly hidden disappointment at not being invited to the party, Woods continues to score endless points with poor Jared’s lot in life.)


While the circumstances that save him are a bit of a stretch—I don’t entirely buy that Erlich would come to Richard hat in hand, or that Richard even in desperation would hand the meeting over to him completely—the decision does answer the question of why Erlich matters. Richard has overwhelming technical knowledge and is learning how to make the right choices in business, but he is completely, utterly incapable of bullshit. For Erlich however, that’s all he’s capable of, and in an utterly improvised speech, he coaxes a laugh from Peter Gregory and reassures him all is on the right track. In this moment, Erlich’s success becomes a lot more explicable, and even the nearly broken Richard is encouraged enough to honor his promise and put Erlich on the board.

And Richard’s in a position where an alliance might turn out to be important. Halfway into the season, Silicon Valley’s moving past the growing pains of the company and giving indications that Pied Piper may not be as special as everyone thinks. As his new lawyer offhandedly tells him, it’s only one of several compression-focused startups Peter’s funding, making Richard’s journey seem a lot less special. And the reveal that Peter and Gavin were partners once upon a time creates the uneasy feeling that pursuit of this technology may be less about profit and more about an old grudge, reducing Richard to a pawn on the billionaires’ chessboard. And yes, Erlich and Richard appear to have come to an understanding about the former’s place in Pied Piper, but how long before Dinesh’s prediction turns out to be true and Erlich’s ego decides that 10 percent doesn’t sound like enough?


Still, Richard can take heart. Whatever happened between Gavin and Peter—or Wozniak and Jobs for that matter—he’s already assured that history isn’t going to repeat itself. After all, it’s a safe bet Wozniak never projectile-vomited on his partner.

Stray observations:

  • Good news for fans of Pied Piper and/or Hooli: Silicon Valley got picked up for a second season last week.
  • Yes, that was Mad Men’s Michael Ginsberg as Pied Piper’s new lawyer Ron. As if Sunday TV wasn’t complicated enough, now it turns out that when Ginsberg shaves his mustache, he leaps forward in time. (In all seriousness, Ben Feldman’s energy is a good addition to the Silicon Valley universe, with his fist-bump approach to legal contracts, his guitar signed by both of the founders of Google, and his love for enemas.)
  • Omission from last week: shout-out to eagle-eyed commenter adam farrar for catching that Strickland Propane from King Of The Hill was one of the corporate logos surrounding Erlich on his disastrous vision quest.
  • I can’t get over how hilariously uncomfortable Peter is at his own party. “There is a second bar in back where the line is much smaller. Thank you, I’m finished.”
  • Drunk Richard is a great flavor of Richard, one capable of far-reaching rants. “I always knew I was missing something, and then when someone explained the concept of ‘game’ I remember very distinctly thinking ‘That’s what I don’t have.’”
  • “This is the type of evening that requires free-balling.”
  • “Pretty much everyone who’s a seven is paid to be here, and anyone three and under is a guest.”
  • “…for which I forwent—yes that’s a real word—one million dollars!” (I looked it up—wonder of wonders, he’s right.)
  • “I’m gonna stay out here, because I look absurd.”