Jimmy O. Yang, T.J. Miller (Image: HBO)

Despite being a show where constant upheaval is the norm, the core team of Silicon Valley has remained centralized since the beginning. Give or take a Big Head, all five of the core members remained focused on the same goals and worked together over the course of three seasons, motivated by some combination of greed, ambition, codependence, and friendship. (Okay, Jared might be the only one with that motivation.) Even through cataclysmic events like Gavin’s lawsuit, Richard’s firing, and the collapse of Raviga funding, something’s tied this group of malcontents and rejects together. Season four is the first instance where the show’s taking active steps to split them off into new combinations, and “Teambuilding Exercise” proves there’s a promising energy in that.

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The biggest development of the season is one of the heads of these new teams, as for the first time Gavin Belson is on the same side as our heroes. Richard’s pitch to license the patent from him goes over about as well as expected, as does his inability to negotiate without getting into technical minutiae and potentially giving away too much. Only this time, it doesn’t seem to backfire. Gavin remains as petty, egotistical, and mean-spirited as ever—from the destruction wrought on his home post-termination to calling Richard a bad person—but there’s something in Matt Ross’ eyes when he sees Richard’s calculations that’s different than what we’ve seen before. The two share a legitimate moment of realization, one that’s quickly destroyed by Richard setting fire to his couch in peak Silicon Valley fashion.

Pivoting Gavin into an alliance with Richard is fertile territory for a lot of reasons. After three seasons using him as a spiteful roadblock for the company was old hat, as was his jockeying to remain popular in the eyes of the Hooli board. We’ve never seen him have to do what Richard’s done for years and try to build something from the ground up. Having him go back to his roots opens up the door for new and varied interactions, full of conflict but in a different way than we’ve seen before. There’s signs of early tension in their meetings over staffing the new company, and those could either fester into more competitive roots or warp into an odd mentor-mentee relationship. Either way, it’s new material for Ross and Thomas Middleditch, and a promising use of both of their manic energies.

While Richard reassures the team that they don’t have to join him if they don’t want to, that promise doesn’t last long. Jared, simultaneously missing his connection with Richard and all too familiar with how dangerous Gavin can be to work with, talks his way back to his position as Richard’s right-hand man. It’s not a surprise at this point how good Zach Woods is as Jared, but between the woops of “Intellectual Property” (which I did not praise accordingly last week and for which I apologize) and the relieved laughter this week, he’s unlocking new levels of delighted mania in the character as he moves away from the abandoned puppy of the early episodes. And in the roster of scary things that Jared’s said, his plea to be rehired easily goes up into the top 10:

Jared: “You need me! The half-crazed, half-Apache who’ll do anything to have your back! I’ll scalp Gavin if I have to and all those those paleface sons of bitches! I’ll kill them with knives, I’ll kill them with guns, I’ll kill them with my bare hands, I’ll talk them into suicide.”

Richard: “Just to be clear, you’re not going to stab anyone, are you?”

Jared: “Oh, it feels good to laugh.”

The more surprising get for the new Pied Piper is Gilfoyle, who previously treated the idea of working for Hooli as ball-chortlingly stupid. “Teambuilding Exercise” finds the way to get him on their side by relying on one of Gilfoyle’s consistent character traits, that for all his distaste of humanity, appealing to his technical pride is the way to get results. Gilfoyle doesn’t truly want to work for Pied Piper again, he wants to ensure it’s done right, hence his dissection of the other applicants—and Jared’s surprising insight into what his uncreative insults means. (“When he writes a potential employee is a ‘pigfaced fucknose,’ what I hear is ‘I need to be needed.’”) Richard, Jared, Gavin, and Gilfoyle is a configuration Silicon Valley has never used before, and the interactions this episode prove it’s a smart one to take on.

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The other half of the cast breaks off into the SeeFood app, as Erlich, Monica, Dinesh, and Jian-Yang double down on trying to turn this bluff into reality. “Teambuilding Exercise” teases that as a possibility early on, bringing everyone up with a successful test of the app identifying food as “Hotdog” and then crashing things back down when it turns out that’s only one of the two things it can identify. This is less a melding of the minds than a marriage of convenience, and the interactions within the team are amusingly rocky, particularly Erlich’s rage at Jian-Yang’s total disinterest in the project culminating in a spiteful dick pic.

SeeFood also nicely dovetails with Big Head’s venture into academia, as once again Erlich identifies the hapless young man as an easily milked resource. And once again, it falls apart as soon as it gets into the public eye. Erlich can bullshit with the best of them, but his bullshit only works when it’s in service of something other than himself—hence why his few successes are when he’s championing Pied Piper. This time around, Big Head’s class (in an effort headed by Switched At Birth’s Vanessa Marano) figures out why they’re researching food images, steals the idea for a food ID app, and gets funded by the same VC where Erlich originally pitched it. And in a great joke payoff, they got the idea from Big Head showing them The Social Network in lieu of a lecture.

Here’s where “Teambuilding Exercise” goes the extra mile, as it could have ended as another failed Erlich venture but goes the opposite direction. Turns out that spiteful dick pic revealed an unforeseen classification ability with real-world applications in pornography filtering, and the company is now engorged with cash from Periscope. I don’t know if this classifies as a pantheon Silicon Valley dick joke in the ranks of mean jerk time, robot monkey arms, and aroused stallions, but it’s an inspired move on all narrative purposes. It saves Monica’s job (albeit Ed Chen gets most of the credit), proves Jian-Yang more character than caricature, once again cuts Erlich out right on the cusp of fortune, and humilates Dinesh with a sea of dick pics. Not a win for the characters, but a win in terms of comedy.

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While the team is likely to reunite professionally before the end of the season—Silicon Valley having a stubborn tendency to get back to formula—“Teambuilding Exercise” proves they shouldn’t be in a hurry to do so. There’s a lot of different ways to succeed or fail in this industry, and it’s refreshing that they’re willing to find new ways to do so.

Stray observations

  • This week’s closing track: “On My Own,” Old Man Saxon and Mount Cyanide.
  • Best interaction of the episode: Richard tries to explain why he’s been gone so long, and the entire team picks apart the truth of that statement. Gilfoyle: “We all leave the house during the day, Richard. That’s not weird.” Dinesh: “You know what? I just realized I haven’t left the house in six days.”
  • Erlich’s fascination with the palapa is evidently the running joke of the season, given that it’s been referenced every episode and is the one thing he’s more invested in than getting high.
  • It should surprise no one that Gavin has at least two large black-and-white photos of himself hanging in his mansion.
  • Despite working on different projects, Dinesh and Gilfoyle continue their bickering relationship with Gilfoyle introducing the idea that super-hacker Mia is using her skills for ultra-surveillance of Dinesh. It’s a good spin on Gilfoyle’s usual quiet sabotage of Dinesh’s happiness because it seems grounded in his actual concerns about security, the one thing that ever manages to rattle him. And Dinesh’s moment where he apologizes to a seemingly empty room is great.
  • Jared’s gleeful laughter is fantastic, yet somehow that one muted cackle of Gilfoyle’s when he realizes the limits of SeeFood is even funnier.
  • “Instead you spun pubic hair. With shit in it, and gravel and corn…”
    “When you don the skin of the beast, the man within dies! One of the boys in my group home always said that. He died.”
  • “Until we are dick-up and flat-broke, get to your life.”
  • “Last week, he referred to me as Frankenstein’s bulimic daughter.”
  • “I’ve read a number of disparaging articles about your generation, in the Atlantic and Slate.com summaries. And it’s all true. Trigger warning: Fuck you!”

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