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Silicon Valley: “The Lady”

Alice Wetterlund (HBO)
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The creative team of Silicon Valley take great pains to make sure that everything they do is accurate to the culture they’re portraying, which means it doesn’t come as a surprise that the show shares one of the industry’s major problems: a lack of female representation. In the first season, Amanda Crew’s Monica was the only female character with anything approximating a narrative—and a weak approximation at that—serving chiefly as Peter Gregory’s mouthpiece and a halfhearted attempt at romantic tension with Richard. And minor roles, like Gilfoyle’s girlfriend and the cupcake app designer, were less actual characters than they were narrative devices, there to facilitate another way for Dinesh and Gilfoyle to push each other’s buttons.


I’m not saying that Silicon Valley needs to turn into a forum where the issues of gender disparity are debated on a weekly basis, as I don’t want the show to be something it’s not. But given that it’s depicting an industry whose discrimination issues are front-page news, to not even address the issue in some context makes it seem deliberately tone-deaf and insular, two qualities that shouldn’t be attributed to any show worth watching. And from a practical standpoint, it limits the show’s opportunities for humor, as the instances where they do call attention to it—as Monica did in “Proof Of Concept”—only highlight how infrequently it notices that aspect of the world.

Thankfully, Silicon Valley is proving early on this season that it’s smarter than it was. It scored a big win with the introduction of Laurie Breem, and that trend continues in “The Lady” as Pied Piper hires its first female employee. New programmer Carla Walton, played by Upright Citizens Brigade alum Alice Wetterlund, is cast from the same mold as Halt And Catch Fire’s Cameron Howe, from her long blue-tipped hair to her punk outfit to a fierce intelligence that impresses everyone who listens to her. (“Her code is fucking tight,” Gilfoyle says, the closest he’s come to respecting anyone.) She feels like an actual character, not a token addition or geek girl caricature, and Wetterlund imbues her with a straightforward attitude that cuts nicely through the show’s buzzword double-talk. Plus, she has this line in her first scene, which is a dynamite moment that proves they’re on the right track here:

Where Carla shines most is in the way that she interacts with the rest of the team. She’s established early on in the episode as having history with Dinesh and Gilfoyle, meaning that there’s no immediate sexual tension or gripes about breaking up the boys’ club that would be expected in a story like this. Instead, she’s layering on another level of competition between the two, flashing faux designer purses and talking about Mercedes in a deliberate attempt to get the two worked up about whether or not a new hire is exceeding their founder salaries. Carla’s fully aware of both of their egos and knows how to poke them, and is willing to step back when Richard tells her she’s gone too far, all of which say good things about her.


Similarly interesting interactions come from Jared, who’s excited by the positive impact of hiring a woman on the team. While the Silicon Valley writers don’t come across as a particularly meta group, it’s easy to see Jared serving as their representation of critics who pointed out the gender disparity last season, producing some truly cringe-worthy moments as he tries to find a way to explain why diversity is important without calling attention to it. (Dinesh summed it up brilliantly: “But it would be better if that someone was a woman, even though the ‘woman’ part of that statement is irrelevant?” Jared: “Exactly!”) It’s material that works because it’s impossible to get mad at Jared for anything, and Carla isn’t rattled by his tone-deaf approach and decides to tease him about it in good-natured and obscene fashion, a friend’s nickname uttered a dozen times in a minute making him paler than even his usual alabaster tone.

As encouraging as Carla’s introduction to the show is, it’s a shame that the rest “The Lady” doesn’t hold up as well. With the bigger narrative question of how Pied Piper is going to survive solved for the time being, the show steps back for some focus on the day-to-day operations of the company, and the end result is a scattered episode that lacks the cohesion and momentum of earlier installments that have done the same thing. It’s an episode that’s rehashing conflicts left over from the first season, as well as working to move things into position for payoff in future episodes—not bad per se, but disappointing given how assured the show returned last month.


The biggest way “The Lady” feels like a repeat is how it returns to the conflict between Richard and Erlich. When Richard suggests hiring a self-proclaimed “cyborg” named Jared Patakian, a move that leads the team to brand Jared as “Other Jared” rather than learning his name, Erlich tries to shut that move down due to a bad experience with Patakian. Richard rejects this decision, which rubs Erlich the wrong way (“I must get dings! Like a jury, or Whose Line Is It Anyway”) and activates his pissiest instincts. On a domestic level, he’s griping about the lack of appropriate spoons to stir up his yogurt; and on a business level, he’s signing away $30,000 by breaking ranks in a board meeting and siding with Russ’s decision that they need more swag. (A word that Russ has infinite pronunciations for, five or six of which make no sense.)

The personality clash between these two is a part of Silicon Valley’s structure, but in this instance the conflict feels more forced than it typically does. Richard and Erlich have already had the fight about Richard showing spine in these instances, so to see them feud about employees is a rehashing of points both characters have moved past. Similarly, we know that Erlich’s ego is more fragile than his bluster lets on, but the scene at the charity event and the subsequent reveal that he cried in the middle of Taco Bell lacks the direction of his VC shaming two episodes ago. It’s not bad, it’s just something that we’ve seen before, although still watchable by virtue of how good these two actors are together.


On the Hooli side of the story, Big Head (or Bag Head, as it were) continues his completely unintentional rise to power, as Gavin recognizes his “contributions” to the creation of Pied Piper with a new promotion. The more scenes we get of Hooli the less connected to reality it seems, as Gavin opens Hooli’s new brainstorming division Hooli XYZ with words like “moonshot” and “lead brainstormer” and the audience regards it without an ounce of skepticism. It’s a plot that’s still developing past Big Head’s dumbfounded reactions to things, but given the rapidity of its escalation—and that his co-lead brainstormer Professor Bannerchek is played by veteran character actor Patrick Fischler—it’s a plot that will hopefully be developing some connections going forward.

In the end, that’s what ultimately hurts “The Lady” the most, the fact that there’s no thematic connectivity between the plots. In other episodes, the final congregation at the house by the various Pied Piper team members neatly ties everything together; here, it’s just a reveal of a bunch of merchandise using their old snack dick logo and a payoff to the joke about Jian-Yang burning trash. Funny in spots—particularly Dinesh’s dumbfounded reaction to the foam finger—but without a sense of completion or punchline that Silicon Valley is frequently capable of. Hopefully with some establishing work done this week, it’ll be able to pick up the pace moving forward.


Stray observations:

  • As this is something a lot of you are curious about week to week, this episode’s end credit music was Dizzie Rascal’s “I Don’t Need A Reason.”
  • Fun bit of life imitating art today at New York’s Disrupt NY Hackathon, as Peter Ma and Nancy Ghaly created their own lossless compression algorithm inspired by Richard’s work, which they’ve dubbed Piper Pied. You can read about it on the TechCrunch website here.
  • Also re: life imitating art, thanks to everyone who pointed out that the generic “I Am Pied Piper” billboards are popping up all over the real Silicon Valley.
  • We get a glimpse at Russ’s palatial mansion this week, as well as more examples of his awfulness: he’s using an electronic voice to parent his son Aspen, he has a painting of three commas to symbolize his wealth, and he openly berates his girlfriend (who has “some ideas” about the Jews).
  • Richard’s literalness remains the one thing to rattle Russ. “You know what has three commas in it, Richard?” “A sentence with two appositive phrases in it?”
  • Silicon Valley thrives in its montages, and the opening sequence of potential employees contains some great moments. “I don’t work before noon. Or after 2 pm.” “Is there a lifeguard? My dog can’t swim.” “That’s an old resume. It should read that I crushed it from 2013 to present.”
  • Gilfoyle on Jared’s new nickname, which replaces such monikers as retarded Frankenstein, AIDS lady, or effeminate k.d. lang: “You should be flattered. OJ Simpson is one of the most recognizable people on the planet.” Jared’s retconned it to mean “Original Jared,” so he’s fine with it now.
  • “You can do what you want.” “That’s what I do now!” “But starting now, you can do it in a much more significant way”
  • “What I used to do to fuck with them involved gay porn and Photoshop, which I didn’t think would be cool after OJ’s big harassment speech.” “Huh. So in effect, the policy works!”
  • “Are you happy?” “Not really.”

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