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Silicon Valley rejects the long-term transfusion of new ideas

An industry full of leeches

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Graham Rogers, Matt Ross (Image: HBO)
Graham Rogers, Matt Ross (Image: HBO)
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Silicon Valley

"The Blood Boy"

Season 4 , Episode 5

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Despite being a show that’s set in a world of near-constant innovation and progress, where everyone’s trying to get ahead of the curve and be the first one to get to market, Silicon Valley seems almost comedically afraid of getting to that same point. For the second season in a row, we’re at the midway point and the new layout for Pied Piper has led us back to the original configuration of misfits, an ambitious project with no funding or support, and a messy living room of an office. Last year’s “The Empty Chair” threw out the fully funded and professionally managed company as a legit business, and now the uneasy partnership of Richard and Gavin is cast down as the latter boards his private jet for parts unknown.

A tendency to stick to formula isn’t a deal-breaker for television comedies, which all rely on some sort of weekly equilibrium to succeed. What’s frustrating about Silicon Valley’s midseason resets is that they’re never done at a point where it needs to happen. It’s interesting to see the team have to function in a new environment or with new partners, having to shape their viewpoints from iconoclast to mainstream and the tension that results from that. When it moves away from these conflicts, it’s an unnecessary retreat that keeps the comedy from taking on a more interesting form.

Said retreat makes “The Blood Boy” a frustrating step, as it’s the first episode to fully explore the divide between Richard’s and Gavin’s viewpoints on running their new company. Richard wants to play it safe, offering a retooled version of the platform that will gradually build a user base. Gavin is all about spectacle, arguing for a flashy launch where that user base will flock to them based on name recognition. It’s a moment where both sides have a point, and the hackles come up on both: Richard’s natural prickliness is riled by suggestions his ideas aren’t right, and Gavin smugly assumes he’ll win the argument because of who he is.

However, the conflict gets largely subsumed early on with the involvement of Bryce, Gavin’s “transfusion assistant.” One offhand comment about considering Gavin’s idea turns Richard’s indignation on another target, and Bryce finds himself inserted into the debate. The joke turns to a personal conflict with Bryce, who argues his attractiveness is what keeps him from succeeding in this industry. (Given the great many other problems the tech industry has with being judgmental, it’s odd that this is the one Silicon Valley decided to make a joke out of.) It’s less about Richard and Gavin than it is about Richard and Bryce, which defangs its efficacy in terms of the rest of the show.

Where Richard’s fight with Bryce works is the way that Richard thrives in conflict, regardless of the end results. After three seasons, Silicon Valley has established Richard as capable of social success and failure in equal measure, from his disastrous efforts to shame Aaron Anderson in “Homicide” to the ambush of the next-door neighbor in “Server Space.” Here, he gets both sides of the argument, first when Bryce shames Richard for making judgments based on his looks and then when Richard learns he’s not as clean-cut or well-educated as he presented himself. Thomas Middleditch is great at splitting the difference, and his speech to Bryce makes him both righteous in his anger and come off as the same kind of exclusionary asshole he’d normally rail against. (Also, his gradually increased intensity over the seasons leads me to believe Middleditch might have a full-blown Nicolas Cage freakout in him if things reach their ultimate nadir.)

But if he’s right about Bryce being a fraud, Gavin’s right about his public profile, as Bryce’s promise to write a tell-all book sends Gavin back into another spiral of property destruction and depression. Richard tries to bring him out of it by leaking a story to CodeRag about the partnership, yet it’s too little too late as Gavin heads off on a journey of self-discovery and leaves Richard holding the bag. Removing Gavin from the show at this stage feels like an unwise decision, as the interactions of “The Blood Boy” show both men’s approaches have merit and interesting ways to clash. Instead, now all we have is Richard at the head of a company that’s not even successful in theory, and devoid of his oft necessary foil.

A similar shift occurs within Raviga, as Erlich sees the seeds of a coup against Laurie buried in the benign facade of a baby shower. Once again, Erlich proves himself prescient on issues that don’t directly concern him, and he offers Monica sage advice to keep her job (“Unfortunately in this climate Monica, you either bro down or you go down”). Monica’s allegiances waver but she eventually goes to Laurie, who reveals that she’s well aware of the coup and is making the move to start a new agency. It’s a move that hopefully augurs more of both characters in future episodes, though it sidesteps having any sort of interesting confrontation play out between Raviga board members.

The move is also more frustrating in that despite being a story about Monica, she has almost no agency of her own in the narrative. It’s Erlich who identifies what’s really going on at the baby shower, Erlich who advises her she may have backed the wrong horse, and Laurie who informs her that she’s got the entire thing well in hand. Rather than letting us see what she can do to keep her job, manipulate circumstances to her advantage, or even get high on one of Erlich’s potent strains and go on a series of adventures, all Monica gets to do this episode is wryly recount her experiences bro-ing down with Ed and offer a series of dumbfounded expressions to Laurie. Once again, Silicon Valley is unable to move forward, even by doing something as simple as come up with substantive material for Amanda Crew.

Elsewhere, another new direction gets dismissed as Dinesh’s relationship with Mia comes to an end. While Gilfoyle did his job to cast the relationship in a potentially hazardous light for Dinesh, none of those things are proving true, their interactions and his descriptions of their time together appearing to be a real and functional relationship. (Sure, she did hack his phone when he was in the bathroom, but to be fair he was in there a real long time.) Even when he confesses the mix of cowardice and gross incompetence that led to Gavin’s downfall, she’s only glad that she trusts him enough to confide his secrets. He’s found a unicorn, someone who wants to spend time with him, supports the terrible job he’s stuck in, and likes him as he is. So of course he has to ruin it, and does so in the worst way possible: calling the FBI on her and having her arrested at her sister’s wedding. It’s a moment that strikes an odd equilibrium—pity at Dinesh throwing away his relationship, disgust at the cowardice he displays, and glee at seeing an agent punch him in the face all acting in harmony.

And from this Dinesh returns to the equilibrium of the Pied Piper fold, excitedly quitting his dick pic scouring job right before learning that Gavin’s cut their purse strings. Even with the patent in their possession, the reconstituted team’s back to their status as the industry’s black sheep—a move that may be easier for the writers, but doesn’t break the unpleasant sense of repetition.

Stray observations:

  • This week’s closing track: “Too Many Rappers,” Beastie Boys featuring Nas.
  • Bryce is played by Graham Rogers, leading to a few moments of PTSD from my Revolution reviewing days where Danny Matheson worked tirelessly to suck the life out of the show.
  • The New Yorker ran a terrific profile on Kumail Nanjiani earlier this month, which made it slightly harder to see Dinesh as an awful person. Though his actions this week were deplorable enough to keep it on the normal level.
  • Gavin’s interest in blood transfusions is a clear reference to Peter Thiel, who in between using his coffers to crush Gawker and backing our whiny toddler president believes that injecting himself with young blood will allow him to live forever.
  • Richard’s teammates have similarly fun reactions to their new circumstances: Gilfoyle snarks his way through the model of the proposed new Pied Piper campus, and Jared jumps into the role of Richard’s attack dog. Zach Woods saying “You dick!” deserves to be a ringtone.
  • Erlich’s stash includes Bubba Kush, Chocolate Thunder, Barbara Bush, Barbra Streisand, Barbara Bush Jr., a strand for his stigmatism, and something in case of emergency only: “I’ll need it if an earthquake occurs.”
  • Monica’s reaction to Laurie being on her fourth pregnancy is one of her best reactions to her boss’s numerous contradictions.
  • “He has a yacht with a pool on it, and a pool with a yacht in it.”
  • Erlich: “You said it yourself, there’s more dick in here than a synthetic pussy convention.” Monica: “I didn’t say anything close to that.”
  • “Fucking kill me and send me to the horrors of heaven, it’d be better than this shit.”
  • Monica: “Holy shit, you’re a fucking ninja.” Laurie: “... No.”
  • “At this rate I’ll be dead by the age of 120!”
  • “I once slept with the head of an assisted living home to get my friend Muriel moved up the wait list. Am I proud of it? No. Do I regret it? No.”