In the final moments of “The Uptick,” a sense of peace settles over the founders of Pied Piper. Everyone is gathered around their workspace in Erlich’s house, playing with a Hoberman Switch Pitch and confident in the next step for their fledgling company. And if that feels familiar to regular viewers, it’s because it is. Not only is this exactly where they were at the end “Two Days Of The Condor” before Richard was fired, it’s also where they were at the end of the pilot “Minimum Viable Product.” Once again, our team has gone through their industry’s bizarre obstacle course and wound up right back where they started, drinking beers and looking at a supposedly rosy future.
Given the multiple times that I’ve chided Silicon Valley this season for its seeming reluctance to move forward, this final confluence of events should lead me to bemoan the show’s commitment to status quo. And yet, I can’t condemn the way anything turns out here. This is a finale that pays off virtually all of the season’s running threads and character connections, and despite the “everything old is new again” shading of events, it feels like exactly the place the show needs to be.
Upon consideration, the reason why this finale works so well despite getting back to the norms is the way that it makes clear it’s not the comfort level for the writers, it’s the comfort level for the characters. If seasons one and two were about the struggle to legitimize Pied Piper, season three was their realization that legitimacy isn’t the right destination for them. Richard and company got the big offices with the on-site waffle chef, the millions of dollars in funding, and the space to build their platform—and in the end none of it worked for them. The happiest we’ve seen them is working against business norms, setting up a skunkworks or building their platform remotely. These guys aren’t going to change their industry, and they’re never really going to fit into it, so why should they keep trying to bend over for it?
Especially given that after Jared’s decision to pay for daily users at the end of last week, their legitimacy is shakier than ever. Showrunner Alec Berg wrote the finale and he smartly sidesteps the overused comedy tropes of a lie spiraling out of control, and he does so in ways that make perfect character sense. Richard is smart enough to figure out what Jared did but he’s past caring, ready to let his company wither and die away. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are also smart enough to figure it out, however they do still care—at least about the money involved—and their post-R.I.G.B.Y. mindset means they’re without compunction in leading Richard further down the left-hand path with the tools to disguise the fraudulent users. Berg also directed the finale, and his framing of the ways Dinesh and Gilfoyle sneak up on and bracket Richard only heightens how much this company has turned into his prison.
The one person who doesn’t know the truth about the users is Erlich, and that turns out to be the best/worst thing for the company as he takes to his role as head of PR with gusto. For the umpteenth time Silicon Valley proves that when T.J. Miller gets into a groove he can’t be touched, the episode stepping back to let Erlich spin an odyssey of bullshit about the mind games he’s playing on the investors he crosses paths with. It’s the perfect mix of what makes Silicon Valley great, the highbrow and the profane, best summed up by Erlich’s self-evaluation: “It’s like I was Bobby Fisher if he could really fuck!” After the losses he’s been handed this season, it’s a welcome reminder that he does in fact know how to play the game when the right objective is in sight.
The fact that Erlich is so good at what he does only makes the moment where Richard can’t take the leap and elevate Pied Piper on a new scale all the more crushing. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that there’s legitimate friendship between the two despite all the bullshit and business decisions, so it makes complete sense Erlich would be more infuriated by not being told the truth than he would be about blowing the deal. The venom drips from Miller’s voice as he curses Richard for not giving him the information he needed to do his, and Thomas Middleditch’s always expressive face betrays how much he knows he screwed up. (And since Silicon Valley never passes up a chance to kick Richard while he’s down, he’s reminded that it’s bad policy to snub your Uber driver.)
But while the friendship collapses, the company might have found a way to survive. This season has been fairly rough on Dinesh, a move that I’ve supported given that as I’ve said many times, Dinesh is an awful person. (Shoutout to last week’s commenter neurozach who compared him to George Costanza for the way he brings misfortune on himself.) But he gets a deserved win here when the video chat app he cobbled together starts to take off outside their beta user group, and it seems like they’ll finally have something worth marketing to a broad audience. It’s a smart storytelling decision for the company to pivot in this way, as terms like “algorithm” and “platform” kept Richard’s technology in a vague place where it could do anything. Narrowing its benefits to video chat software creates an instantly accessible concept for any audience, one that’s free of Terminator concerns.
That sense of b-story salvation is also why the eventual recovery of Pied Piper feels so satisfying, as it takes every one of the minor narratives that’s been percolating this season and pays them off. Gavin’s increasing obsession with using animals to get his point across in board meetings leads to a dead elephant, Code/Rag’s muckraking posts and Gavin’s petty need to control things combine to put Bachmanity in the black once again, and Big Head’s unassuming ability to be in the right place at the right time means they’re able to swoop in and outbid Hooli for the company. (Adding insult to injury, the subtext is that Gavin’s outbid with his own money, the most karmically satisfying financial rescue since R.J. Fletcher inadvertently saved Channel 62 on UHF.) It’s a perfect game of subplot dominos, and another instance of how few comedies have as sharp attention to detail as Silicon Valley.
More important than the direction the show is going is the direction it chooses not to go. Erlich gets nasty with Richard once the news gets out (““You want a number? The percentage of a fuck I give about you. Zero. Trending steady”) and it seems like we’re heading for the next coming of Peter Gregory and Gavin Belson, a working relationship where personal trust can never be restored. Cut to Erlich giving Richard a noogie and half-seriously saying he’s not getting his full shares back, and the camaraderie is back to normal. It’s a relieving sidestep, as Erlich being spiteful and nasty to Richard and Richard having to grovel doesn’t feel like a good use of either character. Erlich owning Richard’s company, trying to shape the business and Richard dealing with the attendant headaches? That’s got potential.
Potential is the key word, because while some things don’t change—discussion of changing the name Pied Piper despite having the jackets, Gilfoyle promising to “scrape all the Dinesh” off the video chat code—some things are and for the better. After consistently being on the outside of Pied Piper, Erlich and Big Head are now the ones who own it, and the early results of the Bachmanity venture prove that the company’s new leadership is anything but consistent. That energy is bound to clash with Monica, whose constant cheerleading of the company will undergo its greatest test now that she’s working with them directly in an environment she’s far from used to. (Bravo as well for Silicon Valley finding a reason for Amanda Crew to be more involved with the rest of the cast on a regular basis.)
There’s a definite air of finality to the way “The Uptick” closes out, and it’s feasible that this could have been written as a series finale in the incredibly unlikely chance that Silicon Valley wasn’t renewed for a fourth season. However, with a renewal already assured (and assured very early on) it pulls off a different trick by both resetting and reorienting the action of the series. It’s the same and yet different, a version of the show that might be back to formula but cognizant of how far they can get on said formula.
Episode grade: A
Season grade: A-
- This week’s closing track: “Rise Up,” Cypress Hill featuring Tom Morello.
- I praised Miller’s work above, but Zach Woods wins the season’s MVP award for making Jared such a wonderfully pathetic, sincere, unsettling, and surprising (this guy does indeed fuck) individual. His best moment this week was the dog-left-at-the-kennel stare at Richard, and second place is the way he says “Richard, don’t weaponize my faith in you against me.”
- Normally I don’t feel bad about missing details in previous episodes—that’s what I rely on you delightful commenters for—but I was chagrined to realize I didn’t pick up on the fact that Bill Hader provided the voice of Pipey last week. Hader’s developing a hit man comedy for HBO with Alec Berg, so it makes sense he made the time to throw a few chirpy lines out for his new partner’s behalf.
- Out of curiosity I went back to season two to see if Coleman Blair Partners was part of their original funding hunt. While not featured in Erlich’s grand negging crusade, Coleman Blair was the first firm to shoot them down in “Runaway Devaluation,” although none of the VCs present in the previous meeting were around the table this time. They must have decided that despite financial considerations, one meeting with Erlich Bachman was enough.
- Great to see that Deng landed on his feet, now designing boxes for Hooli/Endframe. And that Gavin is receptive to his mood music approach to presentations.
- So, who’s the proposed casting for Nelson Baghetti Sr., never glimpsed this episode but promising to go “very Italian” on Erlich if he had any more financial dealings with his son? One idea: HBO’s always been fond of Bobby Cannavale, and he’s looking for work these days.
- Sad that we didn’t get any more of Matt McCoy this season, but it makes sense from a narrative perspective. (“My lawyer’s in jail,” Richard explains to the befuddlement of Coleman Blair.) Also sad that Ron LaFlamme only showed up for one episode, but that makes sense from a real-world perspective thanks to Ben Feldman’s day job on Superstore.
- Gavin’s assistant on the elephant: “He was very old. And depressed. He’d recently been rescued for the circus, but as it turns out, he actually really liked performing.”
- “Jared, have you been crying?” “Yes, but for ordinary reasons.”
- “I’m jacking off, but I don’t need to ejaculate.”
- Dinesh on Tara’s assistance in getting them more users: “She knows 400 Satanists in Boston?” Gilfoyle: “Yeah. Catholic Church really did a number on that town.”
- “That’s ironic, isn’t it. No, for real, I’m asking: is it? Feels ironic.”
- That’s it for the season! As always, thanks to everyone for following along with me and sharing in the conversation about this excellent series. I’ll see you when we reboot in season four.