Few things are funnier to me than a huge build-up to something big that's immediately squelched. It's why I laugh at the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when Indy shoots a guy who introduces himself as if they're going to have a long swordfight, and it's why I laughed at the scene in last night's "Silicon Valley," in which a great, season-spanning plan is torn to pieces by sheer dumb luck (well, sheer dumb luck and Jared being creepy).
"Meinertzhagen's Haversack" opens with the Pied Piper team boxed in, in more than one sense: Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) take a tour of the facility they'll be building a stupid security box for. There's a blue glow to the empty slot that a lackey takes the three to, with the Pied Piper team viewed from inside the box. Additionally, the guy takes them to yet another empty slot before showing them the pitiful desk they'll be stuck at, bound to turn into the "mole people" Gilfoyle notices boxed in the place. It's a horrible electronic labyrinth, and when their guide disappears, they're immediately lost, trapped in a hell of Jack Barker's (Stephen Tobolowsky) making and Richard's unwitting assistance. "Silicon Valley" isn't always the most overtly visual show (it has its flourishes but is mostly unobstrusive), but director Charlie McDowell gives a great image of the three racing through the rows and rows of servers, looking for a way out.
Jack isn't going to provide one, sticking to his spiel about the "conjoined triangles of success" that make up a box ("You can't make that s--- up!" Richard: "But you did make it up"). The gang handles it in their own ways: Gilfoyle immediately quits and starts taking offers from different headhunters as a way to get free swag, without ever turning up for a meeting. His frequent object of torture, Dinesh, decides that if they're going to make a piece of garbage for money, he might as well find a way to enjoy it. Unfortunately, he starts by purchasing a gold chain, which Gilfoyle immediately takes to mocking mercilessly ("you are too legit to quit, eh, MC Hamas?"). Erlich (T.J. Miller), being a self-important boob, convinces Richard to let him to talk to Jack, only for it to go extremely poorly (Tobolowsky's genuinely frightening as he calls Erlich's style "free-form jazz masturbatory b-------").
Richard, then, is left to take his complaint to Laurie (Suzanne Cryer), Pied Piper's stiff, Spock-like investor, who is on his side, to her credit, referring to the box idea as "uninspired" and promising to give Jack a call to demand Pied Piper work on Richard's platform (she's not as good at picking up on Richard's meaning for "I was never here," taking it literally). This backfires just as badly as Richard's past dealings with Jack, however, with him saying that she'd have to fire him (she can't, as she's already fired Richard from CEO and this would look like chaos). The way the two successive scenes play out is beautiful, starting with a long view of Barker getting the call in his office and Richard and Jared relishing it while Dinesh, stuck behind the giant monitors he bragged about last week, misses everything (a great delayed payoff for a joke). Better still is the blocking as Richard slinks out, defeated, and Jack, like a master of the universe, uses a remote to open, then close the glass sliding door to his office to stop Richard with one last threat. "If you're going to shoot the kind, you better be g------ sure you kill him" (Richard's nervous respose: "Yarrrrr"). Barker's gone from flatterer to dictator in the span of two weeks, a man who gladhands his way to total control.
Worse still, the former Nucleus team is gearing up to pass Pied Piper — something Gilfoyle finds out after finally taking a meeting and being welcomed in by Endframe, the same people who tried to steal the Pied Piper algorithm last season who've now hired ex-Nucleus people. They've got everything about their formula down to the last semicolon, per Richard, and Jack's refusal to let them move forward with their plan means they're left behind. The only comfort they can find is in mocking Dinesh, who takes off his chain to avoid being mocked. Per Gilfoyle: "You flinched. Now the pain will never end." Even Jared gets in on it, calling him Django..."Unchained!" They've got some comic relief, but they're doomed. They have to do what Jack wants.
"OR DO WE?," asks Erlich with typical grandiosity as he steps out of his room, as if he were waiting for a cue. T.J. Miller's ability to give over-simplified, modernized speeches about history ("George Washington founded a little startup we know as these United States of America..." with references to "Tommy Jefferson, Benny Franklin and Alex Hamilton") is worthy of John Belushi's rallying cry about Germans and Pearl Harbor in "Animal House," closer to actual facts but equally brash and goofy. There's a real plan here, a way to "Ocean's Eleven" their way into the platform by pretending to build a box while actually working on their dream. There are some setbacks — Alice Wetterlund's sarcastic programmer Carla returns, per Erlich's request, only to blackmail them rather than join their team — but they've got a way to get what they want. Dinesh even briefly finds a way out, agreeing to do it only if they stop mocking his chain (Gilfoyle: "This plan better f------ work with a sacrifice like this"). But Dinesh's joy is short-lived: upon hearing a comment of "looking forward to work," Jared realizes they have to pretend they're still miserable, citing "Meinertzhagen's Haversack." They have to pretend everything is normal, which means continuing to rip on Dinesh's chain (Gilfoyle's eyes light up like we've never seen before: "We have no other choice"). That chain is "poiiisooon," per Erlich and Bell Biv Devoe, but if they're smooth enough, they can get away with it and force Jack to accept it.
They are not smooth enough. Richard and Gilfoyle no doubt have some good zingers planned for Dinesh ("Have at it, a------," Dinesh says with defiance), but Jared gets at first, making an unprintably creepy joke that causes Richard to stop walking forward, turn around, and trip, dropping the files with evidence of their subterfuge...which Jack's loyal salespeople pick up. The idea was to shred them, which Richard can't do at home because he doesn't have one, but between the decision to do it at work, where they absolutely cannot be caught, Jared's creepy idea of a joke and Richard's usual clumsiness, their idea goes up in flames, going from a ballin' scene of the team exiting the elevator to Rick Ross' "You Know I Got It" (shades of the "Down for Whatever" scene in creator Mike Judge's "Office Space") to the team getting caught in the span of a few seconds, a switch that's as mortifying as it is funny. "In my office, now," Jack demands, and the drum machine to Bell Biv Devoe's "Poison" starts up. Jack's got their plan, and now the pain will never end.
-OK, it probably will, but I still yelled out "no!" when Richard tripped, followed by one of the biggest laughs I've had with the show yet.
-Gilfoyle's perks upon getting offers include 7 tubs of popcorn, which he does not want to share with Erlich. "You could be the mayor of Popcornopolis," Erlich says with disgust, but Gilfoyle still demands he take only the cheese popcorn, not the caramel. The best gag in this brief-lived subplot, though, is the Endframe messenger who comes to the door and offers some very fine alcohol, only to say that he can't give it to Gilfoyle until after he attends the meeting. "I respect your skills," says Gilfoyle in one of the few non-deadpan readings Starr gives in the show's history.
-Laurie's idea of a good piece of artwork for the office is a large question-mark made of human hair. Monica (Amanda Crew) has to look at it every day, to her vocal displeasure.
-Upon Erlich's plan that the team pulls an "Ocean's Eleven," Dinesh repeats the title in disbelief, which Jared interprets as a question. "It's a 2001 casino-heist movie starring Julia Roberts and 11 men."
-Something I never thought I'd see: Erlich and Jared teaming up to burn Dinesh. Erlich: "That chain is insane...and not in the membrane." Jared: "Sorry, Cypress Hillal."