“I actually don’t know what to do when things are going well,” Richard says breathlessly to Monica early in “Tethics” after a meeting with an AT&T executive that promises PiperNet’s access extended to hundreds of millions of consumers. And that’s an ethos that permeates most of Silicon Valley, a show that thrives on making things as hard for its main cast as possible. In six seasons every indignity that can be dumped on Richard Hendricks and company has been dumped, a series of personal and professional humiliations that have kept him from being the golden goose of Santa Clara Valley for more than a week at a time.
Those beats are often frustrating for the way they’ve kept the show at a static level between seasons, but Silicon Valley deserves credit for the fact that when these beats happen they do so organically. Mike Judge, Alec Berg, and their team never need to introduce a curve ball out of nowhere, as when the company fails it’s always a combination of the same proven factors. It’s an industry whose standards and favor mutate frequently. They have vindictive enemies who know how to play the game better than they do. And at their core, Richard and his team tend to let the uglier sides of their personalities get in the way of making smart decisions. It’s a combination of all three that leads to the latest hurdle in “Tethics,” a sturdy rebound from the lower points of last week.
The highest point of last week was Gavin’s search for meaning after his Hooli ouster, and somehow falling upward from self-published author to anti-tech evangelist. Now he’s taken that mentality one step further to establish his own code of conduct, a pledge for technology ethics—the erstwhile “Tethics”—that he’s pitching to the heads of industry. It understandably gets under Richard’s skin from the first interview he witnesses, and he takes to Twitter to rant about Gavin’s hypocrisy in circulating the pledge. And unfortunately, he does so in between his meeting with the AT&T executive and said executive signing the pledge, making Richard’s refusal to play Gavin’s game a series impediment to this game-changing deal. Best line of the episode goes to the AT&T executive assistant, urging Richard to swallow his pride: “We all have to fall in line, or we’ll be in PR hell. Or worse! We’ll face government regulation.”
It could feel excessive to draw the Richard/Gavin feud out past Richard’s victory in “Hooli Smokes!” but writer Pete Chatmon makes it work by adhering to the reasons why both the men in question want to drag this out. Introduced with the empty ethos of “making the world a better place” Gavin has absolutely no shame about claiming lofty ideals to sate his ego, and is deeply attuned to how the industry will jump on any trend if it makes them look or feel better. And as much as Richard genuinely believes in those ideals, his innate pettiness won’t let his arch-rival take public credit for them, and he can’t do the bigger or even smarter thing and just keep his mouth shut. (Another poor character trait of Richard’s, he gets pissy whenever people don’t think he’s funny. His irritation at no one laughing at “thumbass” is a clever runner through the episode.)
The importance of the AT&T deal also reverberates through the episode’s subplot, which renews a promising pairing from last season. Tracy is determined to drive up Pied Piper’s profile for the AT&T bigwigs, and part of that is providing strong employee satisfaction ratings. Unsurprisingly, Gilfoyle’s interpersonal numbers are dead last—but more surprisingly, Monica’s aren’t that far away. (Monica quick to blame Priyanka’s “witches’ nest” at Foxhole for that, furthering last week’s theory that the writers know she’s poorly suited to inspire women in the tech industry.) The two decide to enter into a competition for best scores, leading to some sturdy cringe comedy as Monica tries and fails to endear herself to the programmers fails on several occasions, up to and including a Princess Leia haircut that delivers the episode’s biggest laugh.
It’s a good expansion of the late-series discovery that Monica and Gilfoyle have a connection, furthering the good work done in in last season’s “Fifty-One Percent.” There’s nothing romantic or even all that friendly about it, it’s a pragmatic pairing since they both hate everyone else at Pied Piper and want to be left alone to do their jobs. And once Gilfoyle admits he’s just telling them what they want to hear so he can discover their passwords, it’s Monica who suggests they sink Tracy’s scores in retaliation and get the program killed entirely. It’s a coin-flip as to whether or not this is another of Tracy’s employee manipulation games until the end, but the win it gives to the two of them is ultimately more rewarding in the long run, down to a highly satisfying clinking of mugs.
Similarly satisfying is the way that Richard finds a way out of bending the knee to Gavin Belson. Jared starts reading through the Tethics language and Richard realizes that a lot of its platitudes are more than just generic. With as little regard as Gavin has for other people, it’s no surprise that not only has he plagiarized the entire Tethics mission statement, he’s been plagiarizing it from takeout menus. It’s about as scathing an indictment of the industry’s commitment to change as you can get, where no one cares enough about doing the right thing to double-check if Applebee’s did it first.
Richard pushes Gavin to back off and let him have this one thing, and Gavin does—and then some. Matt Ross is making a case for MVP of the final season as Gavin grasps for relevance and revenge, and his speech here is fine form as he sacrifices Tethics publicly and throws Richard’s insult back in his face a minute later. Gavin’s total lack of shame in embracing the mantle of Tethics also extends to a total lack of shame in destroying his new reputation, welcoming any and all scrutiny of his business practices—especially given he doesn’t have the business anymore. It’s the exact same problem that got Gavin in so much trouble in “Terms Of Service,” so eager to acquire a competitor in full he didn’t take the time to detoxify its assets. Small wonder Ron has to take his hat off to Gavin, because it’s both a brilliant scheme and a brilliant twist to Pied Piper’s fortunes.
What’s going to save Richard? The only figure in the valley with less shame than Gavin. After being listed in the main cast all season, Chris Diamantopoulos makes his triumphant return in “Tethics” as Russ Hanneman’s back to ask for a favor. Silicon Valley is killing it with cold opens in its final season, and this is possibly one of the best as Russ pitches a three-day festival devoted to his lifestyle in a Mad Max: Fury Road-inspired video that allows the show to go to a special effects extreme it doesn’t often indulge in. (Mike Judge and company must have seen The A.V. Club’s pick for best film of the last decade coming and decided to get that bump.) Diamatopoulos is top-notch here, gushing over the potential in the festival and then flipping to anger on a dime once Richard sensibly decides not to enter this ego trip:
Richard: “We appreciate the interest...”
Russ: “I like where this is going.”
Bookending the episode neatly, once more history repeats itself. We’re back to where we were the first time we met Russ all the way back in season two’s “Bad Money,” where right at the moment Richard was ready to admit defeat Russ offered him a devil’s bargain to save Pied Piper. Now, it’s offering to blackmail the California attorney general with the information that Russ bribed that same AG—a staggering degree of arrogance and disregard for consequences—all if Richard lends his support to RussFest. Richard’s traded one monster for another, and once again, there’s no one to blame but himself.
- Dinesh’s narrative is a minor part of the episode, but it fits into the theme of bringing misfortune on yourself. At maximum insufferable levels heading to Hawaii for a Pied Piper pilot program (of course he’s saying “Aloha” to everyone on the plane) he insists on a lei made with real flowers and triggers an allergic reaction that costs him any chance of sightseeing. You’d hate to see it happen to anyone other than him.
- Jared’s returned to his role as COO with no fanfare, but a conflict with Holden is brewing as now each man sees the other as a threat to their relationship with Richard. You have to feel for Holden here, who may be a crazier man now but is nowhere near qualified to wage psychological war against Jared—his self-declared new best friend. Holden: “Are you fucking with me?!” Jared: “Why would I do that to my best friend?”
- Russ’s dynamic with the Pied Piper team remains a great constant. No “This guy fucks!” to Jared, but his reaction to Gilfoyle remain on point. Gilfoyle, on Russ’s desire to have a Burning Man for profit: “So, Earning Man?” Russ: “... I literally love you, you spooky fuck.”
- Gilfoyle’s feedback: - He’s unapproachable. - RUDE. Rude. Rude. Rude. Rude. - Bertram Gilfoyle is capable of great hurt with an unsettling stare. Monica’s feedback: - She’s aloof and cold. - I don’t think she likes me. I don’t think she likes any of us here. - Every time I see her, she seems bothered that I’m even there.
- “You see the chick in the Racism car? I banged her in the Famine truck.”
- “The Verge referred to you as ‘notable Tethics holdout’ and ‘amateur insult comedian.’”
- “It’s like you have a non-evil twin. It’s very weird.”
- “I saw a yeti one time and forgot for a couple of years.”
- “Jesus, look at that.” “... Is that you?” “Yeah, so’s this, and this. That’s portrait mode. There’s a panoramic in here somewhere.”
- This week’s closing track: “Zen Drums/Dada Drums,” Bibio. Thanks to @kisszem on Twitter for succeeding where Shazam failed.