Zach Woods, Thomas Middleditch (Image: HBO)

On the surface “Intellectual Property” is a largely disconnected episode of Silicon Valley: The action bounces between no fewer than six different narratives, characters operating out of each others’ orbits and only intersecting occasionally. Yet it’s also exactly the episode that Silicon Valley needs at this stage. While the meteoric rise and fall of PiperChat made for some exciting TV last week, wiping it out meant the direction of the rest of the season was left unclear—and also unclear, what most of these people were even doing anymore beyond hanging out in Erlich’s living room. “Intellectual Property” is the necessary reshuffling of the deck, setting up both new professional directions for the season and new character pairings, yet unspoiled by professional failures.

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The biggest development of the episode is the fall of the house of Gavin Belson, the disastrous acquisition of PiperChat leading the Hooli board to consider the camel and the straw that broke its back. The Hooli board’s wanted Gavin out since the disastrous lawsuit against Pied Piper, and he’s only held onto his position by a combination of buck-passing and last-minute successes. Now, not only has Gavin inflicted another fatal wound on himself, he’s also done so in the most delightfully ironic way: His paranoia that Jack was going to betray him led him on a path that gave the other man all the leverage he needed to do so. The sense of doom is framed perfectly, between the almost Walking Dead atmosphere as Gavin stalks through the Hooli campus and the implacable framing of the board as he walks in.

It’s a testament to the work that both the writers and Matt Ross have done to make Gavin as despicable as he is, so much so that they can devote a chunk of the episode to humiliating him in his walk to exile. Not one person stands up to ask him a question in his closing address, and the ones that do stand up are doing so to walk away. He’s stripped of his badge, parking pass, and parking space within minutes, and the previously loyal-to-a-fault Hoover can now barely look him in the eye. (Gavin almost going in for a hug is the best part of said interaction.) It’s a stark reminder of the impermanence of the industry, his imprint at Hooli scrubbed away as quickly as an update to one of their interfaces removes a bug.

Gavin’s departure leaves a void in the tech world—a void that Erlich swiftly decides is his to fill. While they are left in a despondent position at the end of “Terms Of Service” due to the pointlessness of Jian-Yang’s app, the confusion of the venture capitalists fuels inspiration and Erlich redirects the conversation to a hypothetical “Shazam for food” app. The new pitch is a return to swaggering form for Erlich, his vicious confidence humbled at the start of the season and now recharged with a chance for some primo bullshit. It’s a shame that it’s immediately sabotaged by the worst part of the episode, Erlich speaking faux Mandarin in the Coleman Blair meeting and later pushing Big Head out of the project by claiming Jian-Yang’s culture won’t let him accept help. Jian-Yang-related humor always has a casually racist quality about it; this takes the action to full-on racist.

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If the episode can’t be forgiven for that, it does manage to score some points for the way Erlich’s aims nicely dovetails with Monica’s. I’ve constantly complained in these reviews about Silicon Valley failing to use Monica for anything more than an abandoned romantic connection with Richard, and “Intellectual Property” finally manages to give her a narrative more interesting than a smoking habit. Learning about Erlich’s latest bluff, she pulls one of her own, using her proximity to the men’s room to talk about his new hot app in earshot of Ed Chen. Last season saw Monica take increasingly bold steps to stand behind Pied Piper; it’s nice to see she can take similar steps when it comes to her own career.

Unfortunately, that career is now held back by one of the ugly truths for women in the tech industry: No matter their skills and qualifications, there’s always a less talented man willing to sacrifice them for his own gain. Ed successfully convinces Laurie that Monica should take point on this due to her familiarity with Erlich, pulling that toxic asset into her portfolio. Shackling Monica with the disastrous team of Erlich and Jian-Yang is an approach Silicon Valley tried a couple seasons ago in “White Hat/Black Hat,” and doing so again under these new circumstances is a smart move for the show. Both characters are hungry for a win, and both are now forced to work with the next-to-nothing of Jian-Yang’s octopus recipe app.

Big Head is similarly working with next to nothing and decides to go back to school to get his father off his back, using a resume full of Cs and incompletes. (“A lot of those classes were at 11 a.m.,” he explains.) However, an offhand comment about the “Bachmanity Insanity” party changes the admissions officer’s tone completely, proving we’re not done with stories about Big Head’s unjustified success. While Gavin Belson is no longer lifting him up out of obscurity to obscure his own shortcomings, the damage has already been done: He’s been on the cover of WIRED (inside it, too!) and Stanford assumes he’s come to lecture classes rather than attend them. Excursions with BamBot aside, academia is a target that Silicon Valley hasn’t touched yet, and there’s a lot of potential for a target that seems equally insular and self-important.

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Also embarking on an unfamiliar venture is Dinesh, whose role in the downfall of Gavin has earned him a fan in Mia (Phoebe Neidhardt of Scandal). It’s sort of remarkable that he brings her back to the house after the last time he did that, but doing so introduces an actual talking point to take them out of awkward first date mode: They both hate Gilfoyle. Dinesh having terrible luck with women has worn out its welcome; putting him in a relationship with immediate potential to destroy his life is more promising. And their mutual loathing fits into the true romance of this series, which we all know is the one between Dinesh and Gilfoyle.

While many characters are looking to the future, the past of Silicon Valley introduces the potential game-changer. A conversation with Monica reveals that Richard’s ideas about peer-to-peer internet was also a project the late Peter Gregory had an interest in, but abandoned for unrelated reasons. He persuades Monica to let him into the Raviga vaults with all of Peter’s personal effects, a move that provides a reel of the best Peter Gregory-related memories: the mini-car from when we first met the character, a jar of sesame seeds to remind the audience of his unorthodox brilliance, the self-driving car to give Jared some PTSD flashbacks. Losing Christopher Evan Welch was a blow to the show in its early going, and it’s good that seasons later the show remembers how great and weird he was.

Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani (Photo: HBO)

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Richard finds what he’s been looking for in the records, but also something entirely unexpected: a patent registration against the idea, filed years ago by Gavin to keep his partner on track with the ventures that would eventually become Hooli. It’s an exciting revelation, as Silicon Valley reopens the one vital piece of its backstory that Christopher Evan Welch’s death meant we never got to explore, the nature of the connection between Peter Gregory and Gavin Belson. If Richard wants to get anything done on his next big thing, he’s going to have to find a way to work with the man who’s spent the better part of three seasons trying to destroy him.

That revelation goes a long way to destroying Richard as well. Thomas Middleditch ramps up Richard’s usual twitchiness to full-blown mania this week, the pursuit of his dream depriving him of sleep and making him all the more set in his convictions. He’s drawing on the paper of medical examination benches, walking into the pool and pacing, and eventually kicking his way through the closet door in a beautifully executed bit of physical comedy. He’s progressively made worse and worse deals as his dreams become more ambitious—putting Erlich on the board, taking Russ Hanneman’s money—and now he’s walking into the lion’s den with mismatched shoes. The world is shifting after the events of “Intellectual Properties”; let’s see if this is enough for Richard to make his stand.

Stray observations

  • This week’s closing track: “Blue Flowers,” Dr. Octagon.
  • Andy Daly’s terrible doctor makes his ever-welcome return to give Richard yet another checkup, though this time Richard turns the discomfort tables on him via sleep-deprived mania. “You know, after Alan Turing was chemically castrated, he became much less annoying,” is one of those positive/dark lines that only Daly can truly sell.
  • Also in callbacks, that’s the blog Code/Rag where Dinesh reads the news of Gavin’s ouster.
  • Jared once saw Gavin throw a sloth down a flight of stairs after an unsuccessful presentation to the board. Looks like his love of animal metaphors (and his disregard for the animals themselves) was not a new trait.
  • Best visual gag of the episode: Monica and Richard are the only people in the grocery store not working for Instacart, Postmates, or one of its equivalents.
  • There’s still a box of Pied Piper foam fingers in Erlich’s hallway closet.
  • “I can talk that broad into anything.” If his framed Tom Brady jersey didn’t prove it beforehand, Ed Chen is the fucking worst.
  • “It’s run by Bachman and the one who smoked in the offices.” Again, the way Laurie says Erlich’s last name with contempt oozing off each syllable is one of my favorite parts of the character.
  • “I think you might be the first Pakistani man killed by a drone inside the United States.”
  • “Is that my vintage Corona Club beach towel? That’s a beach towel, not a pool towel.”
  • “I love water. I do. Oceans, rivers, lakes. When does a pond become a lake? I wonder if it’s depth.”
  • “How was school?” “Not great. They made me teach.”
  • “Richard, you’ve got to let me in. I have your shoe.”

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