'Silicon Valley'

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

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"Silicon Valley" season 3 has seen the Pied Piper crew wriggling out from under one Sword of Damocles and under another, from the nightmare of Richard (Thomas Middleditch) being ousted as CEO to Jack Barker's (Stephen Tobolowsky) reign of terror, from Erlich's (T.J. Miller) financial ruin nearly destroying the company's reputation to Jared's (Zach Woods) attempts to save the company by purchasing fake users. Through it all we've seen even the most selfish members of the team (Erlich) able to throw in a helping hand if it meant saving everyone else. It's all brought us fairly close to being back to square one, with Pied Piper operating, again, in Erlich's incubator by the end of the season finale "The Uptick," but in greater fortune and a renewed sense of optimism about the future.

That's far from where they start after Jared tries to reveal to Richard that their thousands of users are actually people in Bangladesh being paid to be on the platform. "Tries to reveal" is the operative phrase here, as A) Jared, always stiff and nervous when he has bad news, dithers and offers to make Richard tea (and a snack, if "the spiders didn't get to them"), and B) Richard already knows, since everyone using it is uploading a single photo, taking it out and re-uploading it every day, just enough to qualify as a daily active user.  Jared's still trying to make it up to Richard ("Would it make you feel better to strike me?"), but Richard sees his good intentions and the end approaching anyway, so they'll keep it quiet for now. "Richard, we have a secret," Jared says in his sweetly creepy way.

Richard and Jared's secret isn't kept for long: Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) figure things out very quickly in a very funny scene as Dinesh sneaks up behind Richard and points out that they have a lot of unreal users ("unreal has so many meanings: fake, paid for, one person in Bangladesh pretending to be 6,000"), Gilfoyle sneaks up behind Richard as he thinks the conversation with Dinesh is over, then Dinesh sneaks up on Richard yet again even though Richard already knew he was there. Middleditch plays Richard's eternal state of terror very well, with episode writer/director Alec Berg cutting the scene to take us by surprise when framing it to show how we really should have expected the other two actors to pop up.

These two have figured out Richard and Jared's game, but Erlich hasn't, and he has great news: a new investor, ready to give them $6 million with a $60 million valuation. Jared does that nervous air-punch he did last episode, signifying that he knows they're doomed. Erlich tells the story with dozens of irrelevant details, from the dish someone else in a restaurant was eating as he played investors against each other to his own masturbation habits while he was waiting for the big kahuna. They have a chance to keep it going, but it would involve getting money from people for something they know is fraudulent. Dinesh and Gilfoyle know how to hide fake users from VCs and regulatory bodies with a zombie script and are all too happy to do so. Jared is more hesitant, happy to buy fake users and time for Pied Piper but not so eager to commit fraud. Errlich is in the dark. Richard looks at the flash drive with Dinesh's zombie script on the cracked ground, where he left it, as if the earth is going to open up and swallow it and him with it if he makes the wrong move. "Every time I try to do the right thing I get f-----," he says to Jared, who watches him like a small, sad child as he and Erlich head to a meeting, ready to commit fraud.

Fraud is the least of Gavin Belson's (Matt Ross) crimes. His penchant for live animal demonstrations has gone terribly awry, with the elephant he brought the roof dying, draped in a tarp as he tries to figure out how this happened (his assistant's answer: "He was very old and depressed," but Gavin was talking about himself, naturally) and how to get it out of there. His security guy suggests they cut it up and take it out in pieces. As his assistant appeals to his nonexistent better nature and suggests that he just use Hooli search for future zoological comparisons, he claims to appreciate her honesty. "I will repay you with mine: I honestly never want to see you in my office again." His assistant takes her revenge out on Gavin by leaking the info to tech blogger C.J. Cantwell, but Gavin's able to keep the elephant news from hitting the streets by buying the blog from Erlich for $2 million, giving both Erlich and Bighead money to start over (albeit not with each other, as Bighead's dad will get "very Italian on me" if Erlich has any more financial dealings with him) and Gavin a chance to get away with everything.

Erlich, then, is riding high as he and Richard stroll into a new meeting, only for Monica (Amanda Crew) to call and demand that they walk out and for Richard to blow up the meeting, first by pitching Dinesh's video chat idea instead of Pied Piper's platform, then admitting that the numbers are fake. Erlich storms out, furious that he nearly committed fraud (or at least that Richard just revealed that they nearly committed fraud) and that Richard has likely screwed things up for everyone ("you grew a girthy conscience and f----- me with it"). Jared and Richard are sad-eyed when they regroup, and Monica, though appreciative that they did the right thing, she tells them that Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) is probably going to sellt he company for next to nothing while Erlich kicks Richard out. There's some good news as Gilfoyle discovers that Dinesh's video chat is actually pretty great, something Richard lets slip to Bighead as he's prepared to take Bighead's couch space (Bighead is moving back with his dad to get a job and "learn the value of a hard day's night, or something like that"), but Richard and Jared seem doomed as they enter the last Pied Piper board meeting to sell the platform back to Gavin Belson (who made an insulting offer to Laurie with Jack in tow).

They need only three votes to sell Pied Piper, but Monica, for the second time, goes against Laurie. "If we're not going to adhere to the values Peter Gregory held, I don't think I should be here." Laurie agrees, fires Monica and brings in a worker from the hallway as the new board member, though he admits this is his first day at Raviga ("everybody's been super nice"). They're ready to vote yes...until another Raviga board member confesses his love for Monica and votes no (Laurie loses her cool for the first time that I can remember: "Oh for f---'s sake, do I have to pull a receptionist in here"). Richard, who just wants it to be over, votes yes, and the company is officially sold...to Bachmaneti. Bighead convinced Erlich to buy the company after seeing the video chat skyrocketing in popularity in a day's time.

He claims that it's strictly business, and that it's going to take a long time for Richard to regain his trust, but a smash cut from a furious Erlich asking "are we cl-" to the whole team laughing, drinking, smoking pot and throwing food at each other sees things mended pretty quickly. It's a great edit, both for its comic timing and for how it communicates the closeness of the Pied Piper team. Ego, bad luck and bad choices frequently screw things up for the group, but as often as they blow up at each other or give each other grief, the team functions because they are all genuinely good friends, emphasis on "good." Jared makes a bad choice to save the company only to have his faith in Richard repaid after he does the right thing; Erlich took measures all season to swallow his pride and save Richard, Bighead and the whole crew, often at his own expense. Monica jeopardized her own future at Raviga to give Pied Piper a second, third and fourth life, and now she's fully a member of the group, starting a new gig with Pied Piper now that Raviga's out of the picture. There's less money and a smaller team, but it's the right team, and there's a brighter future ahead for all of them...assuming that Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), calling from the future as Erlich "as an old man...I'm ugly and I'm dead," isn't immediately prophetic. 

Stray thoughts:

-Monica has been one of the weakest aspects of the series from season 1, not because of Amanda Crew's performance but because she was rarely given anything to do. Putting her in the middle of Pied Piper will hopefully fix that problem next year: even if she's still the straight man, so to speak, to all of these knuckleheads, she could take a more active role in the thick of it.

-I'll be sorry to see Laurie's role reduced, given that there's no real reason to keep her around at the moment, but she does have a great final bit aside from her finally snapping under the illogical weight of Monica's actions: she refers to the new buyer as "contemptible," setting all of us up to believe that it's Gavin, only for it to turn out to be Erlich. Upon realizing that they figured she must have been referring to the Hooli CEO: "Oh. I see. No."

-Best Jared moment: either his admission that he's been crying, but "for ordinary reasons" (I'm surprised Gilfoyle didn't yell "LIE" right there like he did last week), or him following Richard's lead and falling back on the bunk bed, only to hit his head on a beam. His sycophancy during the Pied Piper board meeting is pretty great, too ("Even thought it's sessentially meaningless, thank you for letting me be a part of it, it's an honor." Richard: "You don't have to keep saying that").

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-I love the way Gilfoyle and Dinesh's actions (and Dinesh's whole video chat endeavor this season) seem like a C-plot for the longest time, only to save the day. Even then, Gilfoyle can't give Dinesh credit, saying that he has to get into the video chat later on to fix something that has Dinesh all over it.

-Gilfoyle did get a lot of the users by asking his girlfriend to give the Pied Piper video chat to their 400 fellow Satanist friends in Boston ("She knows 400 Satanists in Boston?" "The Catholic Church did a number on that town"). Eep.

-Dinesh and Gilfoyle ganging up on Richard is perfect because it illustrates both how perfect they are together and how much worse Dinesh is at intimidating someone, as he continues toying with Richard after Gilfoyle is ready to leave ("Hey Gilfoyle, want to help me find a new flash drive on www.staples.com?" "I think we're done with the ruse").

-They have to keep the Pied Piper name for the new video chat platform. Jared: "We do already have the jackets."

-See you next season, where I'm sure things at Pied Piper will be running just as smoothly as always (read: not very).

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