For the entirety of Silicon Valley to date, our heroes have been operating inside a safety net. It’s not the reliability of Peter Gregory’s money or the infallibility of Richard’s code—those factors have been proven tenuous many times over—it’s the comfort of the Silicon Valley culture. Yes, it’s a world full of empty ideas and too much money, but it’s also a world where everyone shares the same ideas and is grabbing for the same money. If Richard or any of his coworkers do something strange or find themselves caught in an awkward position, it’s a safe bet that Roger Sterling’s industry axiom applies: “Believe me, somewhere in this business this has happened before.”
“Proof Of Concept” takes the first step outside that bubble—admittedly a very small step given that it’s only going to San Francisco, but it’s still a change of pace for the sheltered residents of the Hacker Hostel. It’s difficult to evaluate the episode as a whole because it’s clearly the first half of a two-parter, setting the stage at TechCrunch for the final confrontation between Nucleus and Pied Piper. It’s also a somewhat disjoined episode after recent installments, eschewing the search for a major building block for the company in favor of turning the characters loose. At the same time, it proves the characters can remain funny outside their Palo Alto bubble, and as a stage-setting episode it does the job it’s supposed to by making you want to come back for the second act.
The largest success of “Proof Of Concept” is that it acknowledges one of the show’s most glaring omissions, its lack of female characters. Several publications (including this one) have criticized the show for its lack of gender diversity, a complaint that showrunners Mike Judge and Alec Berg have countered by saying it’s representative of the world they’re portraying. Both have also expressed a desire to satirize that trend, which Monica does by warning them that this isn’t the safety of Palo Alto: “Normally the tech world is 2 percent female. For the next three days? 15 percent.” (“It’s a goddamned meat market,” Gilfoyle observes.) While the show shouldn’t feel obligated to include more female cast members to satisfy criticisms, it also shouldn’t be tone-deaf that those criticisms exist, and an acknowledgment of this disparity is a step in the right direction.
Reflecting this changed dynamic, all of the episode’s plots revolve around the members of Pied Piper being thrown off their game by female company. Richard, who should be busy putting the finishing touches on the compression algorithm and making sure the presentation is in order, is distracted by a sighting of his ex-girlfriend Shelly. It turns out that she’s been telling everyone that Richard was obsessed with her, and her saying that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy as he combs social media and corporate profiles in an attempt to discredit her claims. (Dinesh: “I don’t care.” Richard: “Neither do I. That’s the entire point.”) It culminates in a bit of classic farce, as Richard’s research winds up on the projector for the entire TechCrunch conference room to see, and Shelly apologizes to her co-workers by explaining his obsession—another example of Richard making his problems worse.
It’s always fun to see Thomas Middleditch play flustered—and Richard relating to girls instead of business gives him a new flavor of flustered to play—but a large part of the plot feels like it could use more context. We never learn why Shelley felt he was obsessed in the first place, or whether her belief is grounded in any sort of truth, we’re just led to assume that’s merely the way Richard is in relationships. Instead, making Richard just to the left of John Hinckley Jr. reduces the character a bit, coming across as irrational as opposed to socially inept. Consequently, the hole he digs for himself is a bit less fun to watch than prior snafus, and makes him seem less likable than he usually is.
Surprisingly, Richard’s salvation in this matter comes from Jared, who spends most of the episode looking like he can’t help anyone. Some of you suggested in the “Third Party Insourcing” comments that it would be funny if Jared returned to Pied Piper and never mentioned his island experience again, and while the episode does open with him back in Palo Alto it doesn’t gloss over the fact that he spent four days stranded on Arallon. More to the point, it illustrates that he’s been so disconnected by the experience that Monica’s taken care of all the conference preparations, leaving him feeling entirely useless to the company. It’s a feeling that spreads out to him, as an app that tracks how important people are to the conference doesn’t even pick him up as a blip on the radar.
The plot is another great showcase for Zach Woods, particularly his sad-sack reaction to throwing out pages of printouts and being told that’s not a recycling bin—a moment that’s begging for sad Vince Guaraldi piano music to accompany it. However, it also works as a great character moment for Jared, who continues to have one of Silicon Valley’s most interesting arcs. He’s still so composed and polite that he’ll gently plead with a drone to stop buzzing around his head, but he’s also learning he needs to voice his concerns before he winds up in another shipping container. This voicing takes the form of a blowup to Monica, desperately talking about how he and Richard are building a “precious thing.” Not only is he sincere enough that she apologizes, it’s enough for Shelly to believe that their “partnership” is more than business. (Leading to further confusion once Richard identifies he has multiple partners.)
The Dinesh/Gilfoyle plot is, like most of the plots involving the two, a largely comedic one. Both men are attracted to Charlotte, a blonde representative of a cupcake-related app who attracts both of their attention by asking for help with Java. There’s a fun subversion of expectation here, as you would expect she’d take advantage of both men’s technical expertise and leave them both dumbfounded at being played. Instead, it turns into a weirdly sexual thing as Dinesh is more turned on by the code than he is by Charlotte, giving Gilfoyle yet another moment of discomfort to take pleasure in. It would be good to see both characters function outside of this toxic relationship, but the results continue to be reliably funny, particularly the way Martin Starr smirks in reaction to every freakout. He also gets the best line of the episode: “Would you like to masturbate to the subroutine I just wrote?”
Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s adventures in flirtation are only dangerous to themselves, yet Erlich’s experiences could potentially sink the entire company. The name of one of the judges gives Erlich pause, because it turns out the two men have history—or more to the point, Erlich slept with his wife. (The moment where everyone stops in their tracks at this revelation is a wonderful moment of comedic timing.) Silicon Valley continues to expertly shuffle between showing how Erlich is valuable and dangerous to the company for the same reasons, as his outgoing nature makes him the ideal spokesperson but also far less inclined that also makes him less inclined to curb his appetites. Case in point: while it turns out that the judge isn’t married to that wife anymore, that doesn’t stop Erlich from sleeping with the new one too. But it’s okay, because he asked if she would tell him and if she was crazy, and the answer was no both times.
With the relationship issues all sorted out, the Disrupt presentations are allowed to progress. These presentations continue Silicon Valley’s exhibition of the emptiness surrounding its characters’ ideas, as every single one has to find a way to incorporate the idea of “making the world a better place,” empty phrases like consensus protocols and canonical data models, and some combination of the words “local, mobile, social.” After so much time in the Palo Alto echo chamber, it’s almost a relief to see judges willing to tear down these ideas, and to do so in the plainest possible language: “I don’t trust you, and it can’t be safe” one judge reasonably responds to a microwave human heating program. Against this competition, Pied Piper stands a good chance. Sure, there’s some issues with the algorithm’s ability to compress 3-D videos, but Erlich can make anything sound good, right?
Nope. Turns out that you can’t make sleeping with two different wives sound good, and Erlich’s tackled to the floor before finishing the first paragraph of his faux Jobs speech. At the very least, Pied Piper’s making an impression on the conference early on.
Huge thanks to Vikram for covering last week’s episode while I was on vacation. My quick thoughts on “Third Party Insourcing”: I liked a bit more than he did (the “Ejaculation” card on Dinesh’s pro/con board was enough to push it up half a grade) but I do agree it lacked the third-act payoff to tie everything together, and that Jared’s trip was a standout arc for Woods.
As Christopher Evan Welch had died at the time this episode was shot, Peter’s absence is explained by putting him on safari with Lorne Michaels and Kanye West.
Big Head returns, now far more committed to the “rest and vest” lifestyle. He’s getting a boat! And a boat guy! (You have to have a boat guy.)
Also returning this week, Dr. Andy Daly pushing his “Panic A-Tech” app at TechCrunch. “You wear this all day on your finger and it tracks your vitals. If that’s too embarrassing, there’s also a Bluetooth suppository! And that goes... right where you think it goes. And that comes with a retrieval kit.”
This Week In Apps Erlich Owns Part Of: “Spinder. It’s like Tinder but for spinsters. Old people looking for sex.”
“I’m gonna go network. Don’t approach me.”
“The look was right between ‘Bro, you’re my bro’ and ‘I want to shoot you in the face and watch you bleed out all over the stage because you fucked my wife, you cocksuck.’”
“She invited me to her room to watch Cloud Atlas tonight!” “Yeah, that means she wants you to lay her.” “Is that definitive?”
“How many times did you fuck this wife?” “The old wife or the new wife?” “The new wife!” “Last night or this morning?”
HBO is taking Memorial Day weekend off, so I’ll be back on June 1 for the season finale “Optimal Tip-To-Tip Efficiency.”