Looking back over the first season of Silicon Valley, it’s clear that a large part of the show’s success comes from the fact that it manages to draw equally from both parts of creator Mike Judge’s brain. On the one hand, there’s the show that clearly comes from the creator of Office Space and Idiocracy, the skewering of our business and technology culture through grand events of empty corporate speech. And on the other hand, there’s the crude sophomoric humor to be expected from the man that brought you Beavis And Butt-head, where corporate logos can be mocked as looking like a man with “snack dicks” and a whole plot can revolve around a mural depicting the anal penetration of the Statue of Liberty. Silicon Valley is a show that manages to be stupid and smart at the same time, and is fairly shrewd about making sure that balance doesn’t tip too far in favor of one of the two.
That balance is on full display in the title of the first season finale, “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency,” deploying the buzzwords of the previous episode titles and building them around an obvious dick joke. And that spirit carries through the rest of the season finale, which finds a way to be simultaneously crude and technical in a way that encapsulates the full energy of the show. It’s not a finale that upends the world order—if anything it assertively pushes back to status quo in the final minutes—but it’s an episode that shows off the entire cast’s comedic gifts and even manages to build in some legitimate drama towards the end.
“Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency” opens immediately after the fracas at the end of “Proof Of Concept,” and shows that all involved parties want it swept under the rug as quickly as possible. After some quick off-camera maneuvering by attorney Ron LaFlemme (hopefully without the threat of nipple removal), Pied Piper’s not only able to advance directly to the finals but also talks their way into a much larger suite at the hotel. The success of Richard and company has been 10 percent perspiration, 10 percent inspiration and 80 percent bullshit, and it’s good to see that trend continue to the end.
Unfortunately, it turns out that skipping the first round of the presentation means they’re also skipping the chance for a first impression, and Gavin Belson definitively swats that advantage away from them with the unveiling of Nucleus. As much as Silicon Valley has played up how Pied Piper are the underdogs in this competition, it’s never been more apparent than it is here when their corporate rival brings the full weight of its resources to bear. Not only has the Hooli team been able to match the Weissman score of Pied Piper’s compression, Gavin has the resources to craft a vast multimedia presentation and back up his claims with an entire spectrum of product offerings the new product fits into. And to add insult to injury (as well as emphasize this world’s random excesses), he can bring Shakira up as a closing act to sing a few bars and drive a nail into Pied Piper’s coffin with each one.
The reveal that their horse is crippled immediately out of the gate throws everyone on the Pied Piper team into survival mode, except that most of them are out for their own survival first. A large part of what makes the Pied Piper ensemble so engaging is that these are people whose affection for each other is minimal, and that Richard’s decision to make these people his partners was largely spur-of-the-moment. Erlich’s only productive idea is to try to destroy Gavin, ambushing him in the post-presentation scrum with a deluge of false rumors: “The alcoholism, the sexual impropriety at work, the falling stock… Guilty or not Gavin, I stand with you.” And Dinesh and Gilfoyle prove their lack of scruples by preparing to leave the sinking ship for a competitor, only for the competitor to confide that his business has two weeks left tops and inquire if Pied Piper’s got any room for him.
Jared’s approach is a more proactive one, except every ounce of his execution is flawed. Once again, the gradual disintegration of Jared (Donald) Dunn’s sanity has proven to be one of the most comedically rewarding parts of the season, and the fact that this company he sacrificed everything for could be smothered in its cradle pushes him to desperate ends. He decides that the company needs to “pivot”—repeating the word in the most hilariously desperate way since Ross Gellar needed to move a couch—and starts crowdsourcing various TechCrunch attendees for their reaction to new company ideas. Zach Woods wears desperation well, particularly when Jared’s logic circuits are so broken that he can only fixate on the company name and not the product to determine new ideas: attracting rodents, determining if you’re going to hell, and tracking your child all over the place. He entered Pied Piper as its most competent employee, now he’s the one who needs bail money.
For Richard’s part, he’s just walking around and hoping for a moment of peace, an opportunity that he loses when he runs into Monica heading out on Peter Gregory’s orders. I’ve griped about the gender disparity on the show before, but Amanda Crew has done a fine job filling the narrative void left by the departure of Peter Gregory, presenting Monica as a smart and capable employee who knows how to function in this world. This makes her offer to get a drink with Richard after this all blows over all the more frustrating, as it’s a rote course of action for a show to pair its male and female leads despite an utter lack of romantic chemistry between the two—a lack that’s been apparent in their various interactions this season.
With none of their plans working and facing a presentation devoid of hope, Erlich tries to muster the troops with a motivational speech: “We’re going to win even if I have to go in there and jerk off everyone in the audience!” And that random thought breaks through all the concern to activate everyone’s problem-solving instincts, as they wonder how long it would take him to do so. For as good as Silicon Valley has been when it’s jabbing at the daffiness of this world’s culture, its finest moments have been when it’s letting its insanely talented cast riff off each other, and this may be the best example of it. What makes it click so well is the genuinely serious way that Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and even Erlich all apply themselves to this hypothetical scenario. There’s not a trace of mockery or innuendo as they concoct such terms as the “dick-to-floor” ratio (“Call it D2F”) and weigh exactly how level or how quick his arms need to be to achieve maximum ejaculation potential. (And in terms of visual gags, seeing T.J. Miller, Martin Starr, and Kumail Nanjiani pantomime stroking parallel bar-style is a pantheon moment.)
In keeping with the show’s alchemy, this 80 percent bullshit flicks a switch somewhere in Richard’s brain, talk of ratios and reduction making him seem happy for the first time all season. Much of Silicon Valley has been about how this introverted programmer has to learn to be a player in a cutthroat industry—often at the cost of his sanity—so to see him suddenly become charged with a new idea and secure himself away with his work is rewarding after seven episodes of his trying not to be swallowed up. There’s even something oddly moving about the moment when the entire team breaks into his room to see if he’s killed himself, only for Erlich to shoo the rest of them out when they see him ensconced in his noise-canceling headphones. Loyalty may be in short supply, but everyone in that company respects Richard’s skills and is willing to give him the space to exercise them.
The sense of anticipation over what Richard’s done carries through the entire last act of the show, particularly as Richard’s incapable of explaining what he’s done and has to replace Erlich to give the presentation. After the series of buzzword-packed empty presentations Richard’s is stunningly low-key, in-depth PowerPoint slides replaced with scribbled notes and Richard stammering his way through every other sentence. It’s great showcase for Thomas Middleditch’s unique skill set as Richard finally finds his groove and explains how he was able to strip everything out and get to the core of the algorithm. The entire affair is also wrought with tension in a way that Silicon Valley usually isn’t, particularly when Chekhov’s 3D Video File from last week rears its ugly head when one of the judges produces it as the test case. Everyone in the real and fictional audience is holding their breath to see if he can back it up, and the results leave everyone floored. Not only does he move past the Weissman score that the original Pied Piper and Nucleus set, he shatters his own record to hit a 5.2—moving the company past any projections and easily taking the TechCrunch Disrupt win.
It’s a fairly terrific moment for Richard and Pied Piper as a whole, which makes the closing moments of the episode feel disappointing in how they douse the energy. Monica lets Richard know that despite the victory this only makes things harder for him, offering up a list of problems that sound like a season two writer’s room whiteboard: new offices and employees, negotiating with a flood of investors, Gavin seeking revenge for the embarrassment. (And there’s also the reveal that despite any embers of attraction they can’t date because they work together, which became annoying as it progressed on Parks And Recreation and doesn’t seem like a better idea here.) For a show that spent a lot of its run showing us how Richard’s had to change, it’s a bit underwhelming to see him falling back on his default response of projectile vomiting in response to stress, and undoes some of the work that’s been done on the character.
Then again, an ending that was ambiguously happy would undermine what Silicon Valley is all about. Silicon Valley isn’t a largely optimistic show, all about the effort of keeping ones head above water in a world that’s simultaneously cutthroat and absurd, and how you have to be a certain kind of crazy to succeed in it. And despite a few bumps here and there this has been an incredibly assured start for a new sitcom, with sharp writing and even sharper performances that a second season is sure to make even better use of. Mike Judge and company, bring on version 2.0.
Episode grade: B+
Season grade: B+
The biggest question going into season two is what will happen with Peter Gregory. The final episodes were rewritten to adjust for Christopher Evan Welch’s death, but do not write the character out entirely—Monica even says that he is “not unpleased” with the presentation and will take a more hands-on involvement in the company. Judge has given no hints in interviews on his direction, but sounds largely adverse to recasting given how much Welch’s performance defined what that character became. Perhaps he’ll join the ranks of characters who died after their performers did, or perhaps he’ll become another Vera or Maris and become an unseen influence acting through his avatars.
Speaking of, my biggest hope for season two is that we get more of Ben Feldman’s Ron LaFlemme. His attitude plays well off Richard’s reservations, and as Pied Piper’s lawyer he’s primed to be closely involved with their expansion.
In a nice moment of continuity, Jared discovers that he still has the Adderall he bought in “Third Party Insourcing” and makes things exponentially worse for himself with his entirely true explanation to a police officer: “It’s for an underage kid I brought to my house.”
Dinesh to Erlich on their cushy hotel room: “I was already happy you got punched in the face, but now I’m super happy!”
“We need to do what every animal in nature does when it’s cornered. Act out blindly and lash out at anything that comes near us.”
“Every day it feels like I’ve died and gone to hell.” “Oh?” “He’s a Satanist. It’s a good thing.”
“Let me ask you. How fast do you think you could jerk off every guy in this room?”
Thanks everyone for following along! It’s been a great discussion every week, looking forward to doing it again next year.