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Silicon Valley: “White Hat/Black Hat”

Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani (HBO)
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With in-depth analyses and charity drives for pediatric cancer and so much more in recent days leading up to the movie that became our lives and then looped around to become the movie again once Vince was doing it, I’ve found myself revisiting the comparison that floated around Silicon Valley in its earliest days, viewing it as a tech startup version of Entourage. Since those initial episodes, the show has thankfully shed the bulk of those parallels and in done so in ways that have been to its benefit. It’s maintained its status as a parody rather than a celebration of this culture, not idolizing Gavin Belson or Russ Hanneman for their bad behaviors. It’s introduced multiple female characters who are realized individuals as opposed to obstacles or eye candy. And its marriage of highbrow and lowbrow keep it one of the most fiendishly smart comedies on TV, whereas Entourage got lazier and lazier over time.


“White Hat/Black Hat” is an episode that illustrates the biggest difference between Silicon Valley and Entourage: this is not a show where everything contrives to work out for anyone. If anything, season two of Silicon Valley has been continuing to drive Richard and company into the dirt, yanking away their advantages and finding ways to sabotage their plans for digging out of a hole. That failure is contagious this week, as Pied Piper, Gavin, and Intersite are all faced with massive losses undoing any of the steps forward made in recent weeks.

As the title suggests, “White Hat/Black Hat” contains a lot of material dealing with Richard’s moral crisis about the choices made last week in “Adult Content.” While it’s put them in position to secure so lucrative a contract that Russ is positively giddy—showing up with a bottle of his Tres Comas tequila—Richard’s still feeling uncomfortable on the left-hand path, especially when he sees that EndFrame canned their network security guy Seth in the face of what they assume was a breach. (Gilfoyle and Dinesh, for their part, couldn’t care less. “He probably is ripping his hair out somewhere. I wish I could see it. Piece of shit.”) It continues season two’s exploration of how much Richard needs to compromise to succeed in this world, and how despite making these decisions he doesn’t yield his soul along with it.


Unfortunately, Richard’s desire to find the right thing to do in this circumstance turns out to just be throwing gasoline on a fire. His two interactions with Seth follow the exact same pattern: send a message without anyone seeing him, try to calm Seth down, inadvertently make Seth more furious at Gilfoyle, lots of obscenities shouted near children, Dinesh and Gilfoyle telling him he’s being an idiot in delightfully mathematic fashion. They’re comedically solid moments—especially when Richard tries to reassure the birthday party that he’s watching them alone—but the second one in particular speaks of Richard being even more inept than usual and rings hollow given the point the character has reached.

Thomas Middleditch, Chris Diamantopoulos (HBO)

All of Richard’s efforts do build to the feeling that something terrible is going to happen by the end of the episode, and the way it comes up is an excellent bit of misdirection by the writers. Rather than having it come via Seth’s hacking or manically crashing a car into the Pied Piper garage (my bet for what was going to happen) it’s a misplaced bottle of tequila by Russ on a delete key that spells the company’s downfall. There’s a lot of jerking around of the audience’s sympathies for Russ this week, from Richard finally calling him an asshole to his face—creating a similar excruciating pin-drop silence to when he used the term in “Homicide”—to his buying another McLaren Spider that seems to be a gift for Richard only to be revealed as a gift for him. It’s oddly fitting for him to be the unintentional engine of the company’s failure, his egotism and belief that he’s doing everyone a service backfiring in everyone else’s face horribly.

The result of all of this means that the feud that felt like it was going to drive the rest of the season is evidently settled by the end of the episode. (No decision is announced by Intersite, but the twitching in Romy Rosemont’s jaw speaks volumes about how poorly this all went for Pied Piper.) At this point, Richard and company appear to have burned every bridge that they had to make their company a success, and leaves the direction of the last two episodes uncertain. Going back to Entourage, Silicon Valley has now steered so dramatically in the other direction: nothing’s working out for their team, and they become less and less a viable investment option with every mishap.


It’s a shame that Richard isn’t privy to anything that’s happening behind Hooli’s doors, because it would be the best news he could get in these dark times. With the failure of his Hooli XYZ Hail Mary, Gavin’s running out of ways to keep the extent of the Nucleus disaster hidden from the board, so much so that he’s turning toward finding a scapegoat. Patrick Fischler’s comparatively short screen time for an actor of his credentials felt wrong in earlier episodes, so it’s a pleasure to see Bannerchek return when Gavin shows up at his house and beg for his return to spearhead the Nucleus project. That turns into even more of a pleasure when he gets his first look at the Nucleus beta and heads right for the door after less than an hour in charge. (Gavin’s assistant: “Three minutes later he was clocked at 73 in a 25 zone. Going past our daycare center!”)

Gavin’s gradual downfall in the last few episodes of Silicon Valley is one of the more interesting things happening this season. Hooli has been cast all this time as this massive corporation that’s an indomitable force against Pied Piper, but Gavin now feels increasingly distinct from his company, the personal vendetta against Richard eroding the ground he stands on with the Hooli board. Silicon Valley loved channeling Steve Jobs in their initial ads, might Gavin be heading for a similar fate and be ousted by his own board of directors? And if so, how much will his successors care about his petty conflict and decide to jettison the lawsuits in the interest of saving face? There’s some interesting questions being raised, and ones that will hopefully start to overlap again with the activities of Pied Piper.


The Erlich and Jian-Yang scenes lack the import of either the Pied Piper or the Hooli scenes, but they are a good excuse to give more screen time to some of the less exposed members of the cast. Erlich takes Jian-Yang to pitch a new app to Raviga, one that parents can use to locate nearly empty playgrounds. It provides a new entry into Silicon Valley’s long list of ill-conceived apps, and also introduces some interaction between Erlich, Monica, and Laurie, a triad that’s had little reason to interact this season. Erlich teasing Monica about her cigarette use—and then using that information to win Laurie’s favor in a meeting—is a good demonstration of that character’s resourcefulness, and Amanda Crew pulls out some razor-sharp stink-eyes when he unintentionally throws her under the bus.

All of that ends in tears as well, as much like Russ’s tequila mishap sinks the deal, Jian-Yang grabbing a cigarette (from Monica’s purse no less) tanks his chances of a term sheet. Once again, through no fault of their own, these characters continue to be the architects of their own destruction.


Stray observations:

  • This week’s closing track: Bassnectar & Jansen, “Lost In The Crowd.”
  • Excellent pacing in the scene where Intersite’s data is getting devoured by the delete key, particularly when the score starts and stops depending on if Russ is holding the bottle.
  • I loved seeing that the condor egg cam from “Homicide” is still going on one of Richard’s browser windows.
  • Suzanne Cryer returning after a few weeks is as good a reason as any to encourage you to read LaToya Ferguson’s excellent TV Club 10 on Cryer’s former network TV home Two Guys, A Girl, And A Pizza Place.
  • The head of the Tres Comas tequila bottle is a comma, because of course it is.
  • Russ’s treatment of the Pied Piper team in his moment of heartbreak is a great callback to “Bad Money.” Gilfoyle: “This guy.” Dinesh: “Bin Laden.” Jared: “This guy fucks.” Erlich: No comment.
  • “Drink to rebillionizing!”
  • “I’m here because I believe in you! And I believe that we didn’t believe in you enough before.”
  • “By the transitive property, he is also a piece of shit.”
  • “Yes, and pedophiles are not typically early adopters.”
  • “Had EndFrame accidentally put a bottle of tequila on their delete key, they would have struggled to delete half of the files that we did. At best. Or worst.”

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