Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The caper movie is embraced and subverted in a glorious Silicon Valley

T.J. Miller (HBO)
T.J. Miller (HBO)
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There are no words for how agonizing the ending of “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” is. After spending so much time transforming Silicon Valley into a caper movie and giving our erstwhile heroes a position in which they could truly thrive and be cheered on—rebels against what was once their own rebellion—the entire thing is undermined by one ill-placed hose and the lack of a paper shredder in Erlich’s house. A potential arc for the rest of the season is beaten to death within five agonizing seconds, every worst-case scenario suddenly coming true for our heroes. Richard and company spent so long trying to undermine Jack’s authority, and now he can justifiably exile them to the oubliette of a data center.

And yet despite the fact that it throws our heroes even deeper into the fire, it also manages to be a moment somehow even more glorious than everything that’s preceded it. “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” is Silicon Valley is operating at top speed, its satire at its most cutting and its characters at their sharpest as they try to return to their outlaw start-up days in the wake of Jack’s box stratagem. It understands the high points its audience wants everyone to reach, and then takes a pleasure so perverse in subverting those high points that it’s impossible not to respect and appreciate.

The return to this point is one that comes out of necessity, as Richard’s offhand comment to the sales department in “Two In The Box” has now mushroomed into the new Pied Piper’s full business strategy. Earlier this week, former TV Clubber and current Atlantic editor David Sims wrote a piece on the incurable cynicism of Silicon Valley as to the soulless nature of the tech industry, and this season is doing an incredible job of forcing these people who considered themselves to be on the edge farther away from said edge. Richard can’t get any results talking to Jack so he goes over him to Laurie, and despite Laurie’s agreement with his ideas she can’t push Jack because two CEOs in a month is a dead-end move. It’s a bind that’s even more painful for how much sense it makes—small wonder that Gilfoyle opts to resign and bathe in the recruiter swag that comes with one LinkedIn status update.

But as is the norm on Silicon Valley, the solution comes from the most unlikely of sources. One of the great things about the show is that while Erlich has no reason to be there, not a productive member of Pied Piper nor a reliably source of wisdom, the narrative is entirely in on the joke because it loves what that irrelevance does to T.J. Miller’s performance. He forces Richard to ask for his help with Jack in a bizarrely convoluted speech (Erlich: “Was that so hard?” Richard: “Actually, yes it was very difficult”), waxes poetic to Gilfoyle in a speech the other man can’t hear through his headphones, and when he tries to interject a dramatic entrance to Richard’s sad speech the other team doesn’t even register it. A grand nonsensical speech that relates to the Founding Fathers only seems to indicate that Erlich listened to the Hamilton soundtrack, caught up in more of Erlich’s desire to be a uniter than any real ideas.

Yet in all his bullshit there is an idea that makes a lot of sense: the idea to just go ahead and build the platform, and do it so well that Jack’s only choice will be to accept it. It perfectly turns Silicon Valley into a caper film on the scale of Ocean’s Elevenas Jared summarizes in a perfect character moment, a 2001 casino heist film starring Julia Roberts and eleven men.” So much of this show is built on the energy of this ragtag group coming together to succeed against the odds, and this is the ideal framework for that kind of story. It creates a wonderful team vibe—and ensuing montage—as they scheme. Jared offers to doctor up sales reports to get them resources, Gilfoyle decides to resurrect his beloved server Anton, and we even get the triumphant return of Alice Wetterlund’s Carla as their support engineer. (Her tenure is short as she’s more interested in blackmail to get her back pay and payback, which is disappointing but also completely in keeping for the character.)

The plan also introduces a terrific eleventh hour twist via Jared, who cites Meinertzhagen’s Haversack to point out that they can’t show any of their joy and need to behave as if nothing’s going on. It adds the layer of having to play it cool to the plan, a dimension that at least 50 percent of the team is incapable of maintaining. The caper becomes even more complicated than previously expected, adding potential layers of double dealing and miscommunication—further setup and planning that’s immediately rendered moot once Richard trips and the damning evidence goes straight to Jack. It’s glorious tragicomedy, and one that underlines the essential truth that doomed this plan from the beginning: Hendrix’s Five is in no way qualified to be Ocean’s Eleven.


And yet, even if all of the caper threads were dismissed, “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” would still be one of Silicon Valley’s best episodes for many reasons. There’s the episode’s cold open, a scene that owes more to Star Trek: The Next Generation than it does to Office Space when the team visits a data storage center where the box would go. Every minute of the opening skirts on the edge of sci-fi horror, the monotone nature of the facility mirrored in its “mole people” workers who need a moment to pick their favorite of sixteen staircases. The idea of being exiled here for 24-hour support is nothing less than a prison sentence to Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle, and when their guide vanishes, it becomes a labyrinth where the threat of no escape becomes literal.

Then there’s the continual crushing it that Steven Tobolowsky is bringing to the show, now going from reassurances to bludgeoning them with his experience and authority. (On the Conjoined Triangles: “You can’t make that shit up!” Richard: “You literally did make it up.” Jack: “Yes I did, and they teach it at business schools.”) Early efforts to assuage Erlich’s considerable ego are now replaced with ruthless insight, Jack perfectly summing the other man’s tactic as a “freeform jazz odyssey of masturbatory bullshit.” And once Richard’s strategy to go around authority backfires, Jack gets to try out his best Omar Little, if Omar used automated glass doors rather than shotguns to make his point. Jack turns into a better and more layered antagonist every week for the show, backing up his position with decades of know-how and increasingly fewer fucks to give for their shenanigans.


And of course, there’s Dinesh’s decision to buy a gold chain. As observed last season Dinesh has gotten increasingly easy to mock for his self-centered decisions, and this one triggers an amazing sequence of burns from the rest of the Pied Piper team. “You are too legit to quit, MC Hamas.” “Later, Chain the Virgin.” “That chain is insane! And not in the membrane.” “Pakistani Mr. T.” “You’re making it worse, Django. … Unchained!” (It’s incredibly hard not to cheer for Jared in that moment, especially as Dinesh realizes how low he’s slid on the pecking order.) Kumail Nanjiani perfectly conveys Dinesh’s increasingly petulant reactions to this mockery, as he makes the dismissal of that teasing a point of order in his allegiance to the plan—and displays weary resignation when he can’t get it to go away.

Of course, all of this could be reverted at the start of next week: Richard manages to roll a natural 20 on his Bluff check and convinces Jack they’re not undertaking this plan, Jack could be impressed enough with their efforts that he decides their talents could be better used, or Dinesh could trade his golden chain for leniency. That’s all in the future though, and in the present their pain is our pleasure. The plot may have failed, but “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” is a complete success.


Stray observations:

  • This week’s closing track: “Poison,” Bell Biv DeVoe.
  • The sped-up planning sequence also contains many great visual gags as they plot and scheme their way through the night, with the best being Erlich’s periodic bong hits and naps.
  • It’s an interesting parallel to last season that Jared knows all about Meinertzhagen’s Haversack, but knew nothing about Schrödinger’s cat. I like to imagine that after the trauma of what happened to the repair guy he spent a lot of time researching theorems and thought experiments so as not to be caught off guard again.
  • Laurie has purchased a new piece of artwork for the Raviga offices: “It is a question mark made of human hair, apparently from dead people in India. It’s a pun. It says that at Raviga they ask the big hairy questions.” This moment more than any makes Laurie feel like the true heir to Peter Gregory, a glorious disconnect in the way she views the world compared to other people.
  • The episode also explains that Hooli’s Nucleus team has fled to EndFrame to bring their piece of the data compression algorithm, which neatly consolidates the anti-Pied Piper forces in one place as well as further legitimizing them as a competitor down the road.
  • Dinesh’s hubris also comes back to bite him as his obsessive monitor acquisition last week means he’s incapable of seeing any of Jack’s reactions to Laurie’s phone call.
  • Erlich’s reactions to Jian-Yang have now deteriorated to the point of snapping at the younger man the way one would a stray dog trying to root through your garbage.
  • As a whiskey aficionado, it hurt to see Erlich slam his shot, Richard spit out, and Jared pour it back into the bottle. Pappy Van Winkle is a glorious bourbon and that bottle is worth $500 at bare minimum.
  • “Once you’ve seen one space in a rack, you’ve seen them all.” “That’s what I used to think. Until I saw them all.”
  • “Gloria? Can you call the fish guy and see what kind of warranty we have?”
  • “I’m gonna go ask Action Jack how Laurie’s dick tastes. … Yeah, I’m not going to say that.”
  • “When George Washington founded his own startup known as these United States of America…”