Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

“You can be openly polyamorous and people will call you brave. You can put micro-doses of LSD in your cereal and people will call you a pioneer. But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian.”

There’s no shortage of hypocrisy in Silicon Valley. While men like Richard, Gavin, Jack, and Russ may take public stances about being good people, more often than not their actions turn out to be selfish and vindictive. Their companies talk a big game about changing the world and trying to create a utopian culture, but it’s all grounded on shady business practices and approaches that tend to separate people between the haves and have nots. And then there’s the fact that while everyone talks about interconnectivity and a world that’s open to everyone, they live in a bubble where they don’t have to address their real problems and can just throw money or technology at them.

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That level of hypocrisy gets turned on another famously hypocritical institution in “Tech Evangelist,” as Silicon Valley tackles the question of religion. It’s a potentially heavy topic for the show to cover, which makes it more disappointing that this feels like the lightest episode of season five to date. While the show is growing comfortable in its new office setting and new breed of crises, there’s a sense that it might be growing a little bit too comfortable, losing some of its satirical edge and finding quicker solutions for its problems than it would in earlier seasons.

It’s easy for Pied Piper to feel comfortable, given that its new internet continues to chug along and has now developed its own messaging system. (The first two messages are “hit her” and “Hi there Hitler,” both of which unfortunately feel like they could easily apply to modern Silicon Valley culture.) It’s also moving along with multiple alliances, signing exclusive contracts with eight promising startups and even approaching a partnership with a major video game developer. Unfortunately, while trying to demonstrate how diverse his team is, Richard goes a bridge too far and inadvertently discloses that the founder of gay dating site 1stSight is in fact a Christian—a faith that’s too taboo for the supposedly open minds of the Valley.

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“Tech Evangelist” is clearly working to subvert tropes here, treating the “outing” of DD’s faith in the same way another show would treat outing a homosexual character. The problem is that it’s obvious from the beginning what its aims are, and once that becomes apparent the action drags. It goes through all the usual beats of a Very Special Episode: the shame of the character who did the outing realizing what he did, the relief on the part of the character being outed, and a speech of unity at the end of it. All of those aspects are done with the Silicon Valley twist—Richard’s woefully inadequate speech about true openness in particular—but it’s done with little depth.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

The biggest problem with this approach is that Silicon Valley fails to take any sort of cogent position on the issue. It steers away from any particularly focused jokes or specifics, only using “Christian” as a buzzword that everyone’s reacting to with shock and awe. And while that may be the aim of the episode—illustrating just how flimsy everyone’s prejudices are, especially considering the silliness of their own AI/computer simulation view points—there’s a flimsiness to the presentation itself as if the writers are too hesitant to really engage with ideas of faith or belief. Clearly, Silicon Valley doesn’t need to make that engagement if it doesn’t want to, but this half-hearted approach to the concept doesn’t do anyone any favors.

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The rest of “Tech Evangelist” is funny enough, but there’s still a lightness running through most of the actions. Gavin’s phallic signature box is turning into a comedic slow burn as it approaches its release, each glimpse of his presentation all the better for the disaster it forecasts. However, after this week’s glimpse Gavin disappears immediately afterward, ceding his time to a plot about his team trying to interpret an offhand remark. While Gavin’s team of yes-men have been part of Silicon Valley since the beginning, they’re not realized characters in any way beyond their obsequiousness, and—again—once the joke is made, the episode spins its wheels until it gets to the resolution. (Though to the episode’s credit, their eventual solution is perfectly logical given our history with Gavin.)

Similarly quick resolutions come to other problems that felt more consequential to the rest of the series. After Pied Piper learns about the mole, Jeff is identified in short order thanks to some diligence from Jared and techno-wizardry from Gilfoyle. Confronting him with dismissal and imprisonment, they obtain his services as a potential double agent and proceed to make his working life hell. Gilfoyle tormenting Jeff with a nail gun is nothing unexpected, but what rings hollow is the way Dinesh follows suit. There’s no depth to his feelings of betrayal or any sign he’s in trouble for inadvertently leaking data; he’s just treating his very presence as a punishment, a move that feels too self-aware for Dinesh.

Photo: Ali Page Goldstein (HBO)

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Jared manages to solve another problem for Richard this week, as the increasingly demanding Jian-Yang keeps flooding Richard’s phone with obscene messages. Focused on hiring a towing company to haul Jian-Yang’s Corvette out of their garage, Jared inadvertently learns Big Head’s name is still on the lease and viewers learn Big Head is still on the show. Josh Brener has yet to take advantage of the T.J. Miller-shaped hole in the new Silicon Valley, and “Tech Evangelist” finds yet another way for his character to fail upward when it turns out the Bachmanity partnership remains solvent and he has the more legitimate claim to Erlich’s estate. It’s another clean solution to a problem that could have gone on for a while, and also raises the potential to bring Big Head back into the fold.

Further room is made for Big Head with the departure of Jian-Yang. In the closing moments of the episode, it’s revealed that not only is he moving forward with his plan to make a “new Pied Piper,” but he’s also stripped Erlich’s house to the bones and departed to make it in China. This continues the villain trend for the character that Silicon Valley has established and sets up a potential three-way split in the fight for supremacy, Jian-Yang serving as a new player in the Hendrix v. Belson war. Here’s hoping if things go that way, it keeps Silicon Valley out of its typical midseason slump.

Stray observations

  • HBO announced last week that Silicon Valley was renewed for a sixth season. No word yet on whether it’ll be the final season, as Mike Judge previously hinted.
  • In the latest piece of evidence that T.J. Miller leaving Silicon Valley was the best thing that could happen to Silicon Valley, Miller was arrested last week for calling in a drunken fake bomb threat on an Amtrak train. The odds that Erlich ever returns to reclaim his home and share of Pied Piper plummet every week.
  • Some good callbacks this week: Richard uses Russ’s list of gay subtypes from “Success Failure” to prove his progressive bona fides to DD, Big Head now has possession of the previously submerged Easter Island head from “Bachmanity Insanity,” and the one thing Jian-Yang leaves behind in the house along with fake Erlich’s ashes is “The Empty Chair.”
  • Zach Woods continues to deliver with his horrific improvised backstories. There’s no way that befuddled look on Amanda Crew’s face after the male prostitute story was acting.
  • It’s fun to see that however much Richard may grow, he’ll never stop taking pride in the dumb names he selects for his pet projects. He’s going to make Octopiper stick if it kills him.
  • Between Dinesh invoking the word “Bazinga” and the collection of geek collectibles in Jeff’s house, it feels like there’s a jab at The Big Bang Theory nestled in their cohabitation. Like the rest of the episode though, it’s not quite there.
  • Laurie knows K-Hole’s CEO Colin (Neil Casey of Ghostbusters: Answer The Call and Making History) through their shared sessions taking medically prescribed and supervised MDMA. “I’m taking it for severe postpartum depression. I do not know why he is taking it.”
  • “Yeah, they’re all so old… and they look so happy.” “I don’t understand it either.”
  • “I can’t hold this smile forever, Jared, get to the point.”
  • “You Judas! You cow-handed poltroon!”
  • “Allowing you to speak less. Good strategy.”
  • “Would you want to go from being a rock band to being a Christian rock band?” “…Oh shit.”
  • “Why does every home I’ve ever loved get stripped?”
  • No hits on Shazam for this week’s closing track. If you can identify it, let me know. UPDATE: This week’s closing track: “I Want (Remix)” from After Journey Feat. BooM. Thanks to commenter LeeLuMuliPass for being the first one to locate it.

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