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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Silicon Valley: “Runaway Devaluation”

Illustration for article titled Silicon Valley: “Runaway Devaluation”
Photo: Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, T.J. Miller, Thomas Middleditch (HBO)
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Normally in an episode of Silicon Valley, I expect the funniest moment to be a legendarily obscene T.J. Miller rant or a joke that blends profanity with business jargon so seamlessly it’s impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. “Runaway Devaluation,” however, breaks that mold with a closing moment that becomes one of the show’s best gags. Faced with the potential collapse of his company, Richard responds to a phone call from none other than Gavin Belson, who invites him to a Mexican restaurant and points out he could make all of this go away with a lucrative Hooli buyout. Richard opens his mouth to respond, but before the decision comes out, a mariachi band comes over to serenade them—a performance that runs over the entire end credits as the two CEOs sit in uncomfortable silence.

It’s the most awkward scene to take place in a Mexican restaurant since that time the Whites and the Schraders couldn’t settle their differences (even with the healing power of table-side guacamole), and a win in the absurdity column. Silicon Valley is such an assertive show in so many ways that it’s rewarding to see the show spend time on a joke that could have been made by simply cutting to the credits before Richard could give his answer. And the little details, like Richard finally grabbing a chip toward the end of the song, punctuates the glorious cringe comedy of the whole affair.

The moment is even more darkly funny for the way it caps off the downward spiral that comprises the whole of “Runaway Devaluation.” While “Sand Hill Shuffle” was an episode all about how Pied Piper’s star is ascendant and how success had given the team even more swagger than before, this week shows the fragility of their gains by stripping them away bit by bit. They were walking into meetings as “three-foot cocks covered in Elvis dust,” and now they’re watching their stack of term sheets become ever more pitiful, sabotaging Kickstarters to save money, and getting picked apart by intellectual vultures.

T.J. Miller (HBO)
T.J. Miller (HBO)

Triggering this downward spiral is Gavin’s lawsuit over who owns Pied Piper’s intellectual property. Last week in the comments there was a discussion about how feasible Hooli’s lawsuit was, and this week establishes that it succeeds by virtue of merely existing. Gavin doesn’t need to win his fight, he merely needs to bleed Pied Piper dry by forcing it to expend the resources to stay in that fight. And it’s working right off the bat, as Laurie puts funding on indefinite hold until the lawsuit resolves and sends Monica to be the bearer of bad news. Despite brief screen time for Laurie this week, the writers continue to do well by defining her in her interactions with Monica, first as she reels off her tips for interacting with other people—tips delivered while looking at both her phone and computer—and then by citing one of Monica’s outfits last week as the perfect unattractive ensemble to deflect anger.

The loss of Raviga’s funding turns out to be only the first domino in the chain of bad luck. Silicon Valley makes a brilliant decision here to depict Pied Piper’s fortunes falling in the exact same way they showed their ascent last week as the series of meetings with other venture capital firms go worse and worse as firms grow increasingly less eager to invest the more they’re rejected as a bad investment. And adding insult to injury, all of the VCs turning them down are more than eager to throw Erlich’s words back at him, the confidence draining from his face as every creative insult is called back. What makes Erlich such a fun part of the show is that there’s as much enjoyment in watching him fall as there in his success (see also last season’s terrific “Signaling Risk”) and there’s something deeply satisfying about the punchline where all he has left is a weak deployment of Richard’s boilerplate response.


The reversal of fortunes means that the rest of the Pied Piper team is also scrambling, which helps “Runaway Devaluation” recapture the ensemble feel that was muted in the premiere. Losing the Raviga investment means that the $50,000 from TechCrunch needs to go to company expenses, a revelation that horrifies Dinesh given that he’s pledged half his share to his cousin’s Kickstarter for an app called Bro. (Dinesh: “It’s a messaging app that lets you send the word ‘bro’ to everyone else who has the app.” Gilfoyle: “So it’s exactly like the Yo app.” Dinesh: “Exactly, but less original.) Season one proved that Jared, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle are a perfect triad, and the discussion of Bro and Dinesh’s role as the “cool cousin” maintains that vibe. This scene’s physical comedy is terrific, from the anticipatory way Gilfoyle flops down on the couch to hear Dinesh explain himself to Jared’s encouraging nods as Dinesh goes over all the ways his being responsible made him cool.

This arc pushes Dinesh into the spotlight, and further illustrates what separates him from the rest of the Pied Piper team. Compared to the more laid-back Erlich and Gilfoyle or the tightly wound Jared and Richard, he’s been firmly established as the prickliest member of the team, the one who’s quickest to respond to insult and one of the more proactive at getting himself into or trying to get himself out of trouble. There’s a lot of that tendency on display here, first when his efforts to get his cousin to shut down the Kickstarter are thwarted by his own indignant feelings at insults to his own app, and then at the fundraiser party where he tries to cast the word “bro” in the most negative light. (The latter in particular is a great scene for Kumail Nanjiani, and has the feel of being transcribed straight from a brainstorming session in the writers’ room.) And as it must when Dinesh is involved, everything goes south—unsurprisingly due to Gilfoyle, who helps push the Kickstarter over the edge.

Illustration for article titled Silicon Valley: “Runaway Devaluation”

If anything good comes out of the Bro app, it’s the injection of confidence it gives Jared after he downloads it. Last year got a lot of mileage out of the continual devolution of Jared’s confidence and sanity, and here it begins putting him back together as he finds satisfaction in being someone’s “bro” for once in his life. (“The only people who’ve ever used that term were assailants!”) He’s such a sad-sack of a character that it’s hard not to feel touched as he embraces the language of bro-dom, even as his pedantic tendencies push him to find the most technically accurate way to use the term:

Jared: “I’ll go find some hos to prioritize behind you.”

Erlich: “Are you trying to say bros before hos?”’

Jared: “It’s sexist, but it’s about friendship.”

Jared’s newfound bro life even appears to save the company at one point with one last VC connection, but like every other promising lead in this episode, it turns out to be a red herring. The firm is not interested in funding Richard, only in “brain raping” him to pick up all the best details and steal them. (Richard: “Like what happened with Yelp!”) It creates an unlikely team in Erlich and Jared by making them the only people on the team savvy enough to read what’s really happening in the meeting, as well as exposing the weaknesses in the other three by showing how once they start talking technical, they lose all perspective.


And given how bad things look for the team right now, perspective is going to be vital. “Runaway Devaluation” makes for a strong second installment this year, as well as full reassurance that success isn’t going to spoil the show because there’s always something to screw it up. We’ll have to see if an uncomfortable Mexican restaurant rendezvous is enough to save the business, or if the mariachi tune turns out to be Pied Piper’s funeral dirge.

Stray observations:

  • Troubles abound for Pied Piper, but there’s no such worry for Silicon Valley: Last week’s premiere received series-high ratings and HBO’s already picked it up for a third season. Send HBO your Bros in response.
  • HBO is also updating the Pied Piper fake website on a regular basis, complete with blog entries written by Jared.
  • Great to see Ben Feldman return as Pied Piper attorney Ron LaFlamme this week, simultaneously helpful and useless as he gives a wink and a nod to Richard’s assertion he didn’t steal Pied Piper and immediately distances himself from the hard work of the lawsuit. His double-talk role in the litigation: “I’m part of the team that team is on.”
  • Monica’s decision to take Laurie’s advice about the beige ensemble made for the best sight gag of the episode, and it was compounded by the team seeing right through her ruse. (Even Jared can tell. “Beige is a good color for you. You’re a true autumn.”)
  • Thumbs up to all the commenters last week who identified that Erlich’s T-shirt in the early part of the episode read “bitcoin” in binary.
  • Gavin brings his own fresh fruit to the Mexican restaurant, because of course he does.
  • Favorite one of Dinesh’s translations? Mine was “fecal eclipse.” (It loses something in translation. We don’t have a word for it, they do.)
  • Erlich on the final VC’s demonstration of superiority by reciprocating the balls-on-table move: “At least I had the common decency to shave mine.”
  • “You can find the way out. With one of your two faces.”
  • “Is that a yes folder?” “No.”
  • “Apparently Erlich used some pretty assertive vaginal metaphors last round, so it’s been a bit of an uphill climb.”
  • “You know what they say: Bros disclose.”
  • “You can make Bros angry?” “Well, he made this bro angry. But technically, no.”