'Silicon Valley'

Mike Judge's "Silicon Valley," now in its third season, is back on HBO.


Selling something unprecedented isn't easy, especially if the people selling it have no idea what it is and no interest in learning. That's a hard lesson Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) learns in "Two in the Box," in which "Action" Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) turns out not to be the benevolent overlord he was hoping for. 

For a while, he seems like it, at least to Richard's crew: Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) is amazed that he can mess around and play solitaire at work with a motion-sensor glove that makes him look like Tom Cruise in "Minority Report;" Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) rolls with it as well, while Jared (Zach Woods) is just happy to be there, as always, while straddling his usual optimistic/worried divide trying to boot someone out of his condo, which he learns may take a full year. Erlich (T.J. Miller), meanwhile, doesn't have much to do anymore now that the Pied Piper team isn't working in his house, so he stocks up on the office's coconut water and tries to kick Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) out of his house, with about as much success as Jared (read: none).

But Richard's struggle is trying to explain how Pied Piper should work vs. how Jack and his people want it to work. Jack has experience and a tried-and-true method called "The Conjoined Triangles of Success," which he follows to a T; he's successfully overhauled the Pied Piper logo (it was "a little phallic," he says, something the Pied Piper team noticed in season 1 but didn't change) and given them a spectacular office to work in. But he has a habit of talking over and steamrolling Richard with a mix of avuncular charm and condescension, telling him that, unlike Richard, he wasn't in diapers during the last tech bubble (Richard, nervously: "I was 11, I wasn't either"). His salespeople are equally uninterested in what Richard actually has to say, and their meetings are a pair of comic highlights for the episode. In both, the salespeople never break from their annoying habit of introducing themselves over and over again by name and company ("Keith, Northwest Regional," "Jan, Inside Sales...they call me Jan the Man") to a first tolerant, then nervous, then exasperated Richard as they inform him that Jack made it clear that Pied Piper's current business model — file compression and storage, peer-to-peer sharing — would be scuttled in favor of premium services that Richard had in his 4 year plan. 

Jack, for his part, isn't present during any of the meetings, leaving Richard to twitch, jerk his arms and turn into the rapid-fire angry Richard (Full Eisenberg/Zuckerberg, if you will) hiding beneath the timid exterior. He's aspirational when he talks about what Pied Piper can be — an actual way to change the world, to make the lives of people rich and poor easier with an easier way to share information. He's openly frustrated that none of the salespeople are even remotely interested in that, instead seeking easier things to sell. "We can't cut everything that makes the platform revolutionary and jam it into a metal f------ box," he says angrily, which the salespeople take literally as a pitch for a new information security box. "It was a rhetorical example of a bad idea," he says before storming off to find wherever Jack is.

Where Jack is is...not something I expected to see on the show. Say what you will about the deaths and other Big MomentsTM that come with every episode of "Game of Thrones," nothing last night had me (or Richard) doing a double-take quite like Stephen Tobolowsky watching his prize horses in the middle of some vigorous lovemaking, uncensored. Series creator Mike Judge has always thrived on mixing lowbrow humor with wit and technical jargon, and he and writer Ron Weiner (man oh man) get quite a shock from the mix of Richard's technical know-how and Jack's half-interested-at-best dismissal, with the CEO more interested in watching, um, something else that he's paying for (Tobolowsky's disappointed face when Richard pulls him away is priceless).

"You promised you would never compromise the product," Richard says, but Jack jumps back into cheerful condescension, saying that the product isn't Pied Piper's platform or algorithm but its stock (before laughing in Richard's face when he interprets "I don't think you know what the product is" as "I am the product"). What's going to make the stock rise, then, is that stupid metal box that Richard selected as a rhetorical example of a bad idea, with the salespeople watching an alarmingly quickly-made commercial for it with a warm glow on their faces as Richard's falls. Dinesh and Gilfoyle enter, playcated by the chef serving them watermelon Jell-O served in watermelon rinds, and see some dumb-looking VCR-thing on the screen, mocking without realizing that their specialties are getting marginalized. The horse isn't the only thing that's...well, I'll let you put two and two together.

Stray thoughts:

-The B storylines this week weren't as well-integrated into the episode as they were last week, but Jared's woes are consistently funny, especially as Woods continues to straddle the creepy/sad line with his trick for finding a home: "I simply imagine that my skeleton is me and my body is my house, and in that way, I'm always home." Richard chooses to ignore it and pivot the conversation to tech woes.

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-Erlich's story is less amusing, as I'll admit I've never really found Jian-Yang to be more than a one-note racial caricature. His anger at Erlich kicking him out and smug pleasure at finding a loophole gives him a bit more to do than usual, and T.J. Miller's expression when he learns he can't kick him out is funny, but I really hope this isn't his primary subplot this season.

-Funny opening with "Review's" Andy Daly returning as Richard's cheerfully creepy doctor, who finds Richard so healthy that if he didn't know better, he'd think he was pregnant...leading to a tangent about his mistaking his own girlfriend for being pregnant ("I sure was wrong about that. 'Gimme that ring back!'...Oh what a mess that was").

-While Dinesh and Gilfoyle do Rock, Paper, Scissors for a larger monitor (moot when Gilfoyle learns he can just request a larger one anyway), Jared is happy with his laptop, describing himself as "BYOC."

-There's also some rumbling of a subplot at Hooli with the soon-to-be-unemployed Nucleus division fixing the code and deciding to sell it to another company. Not much happened yet, so I'll save that for next week.

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