Mike Judge has never been one for sentimentality, exactly, but his works have all had key moments stressing the importance of friendship. Peter from "Office Space" had Michael and Samir, Hank Hill had his family and the neighborhood dudes, even Beavis had Butt-Head to snicker at MTV videos with. His celebration of individualism also recognizes its limits (and idiocies) and sees how someone else being there makes things...well, maybe not easier, but at least a lot more interesting. That's central in "To Build a Better Beta," last night's terrific episode of "Silicon Valley," in which several of the least warm-and-fuzzy characters get a moment to see what they have, even if they reject it.
It starts, hilariously, with the choice to send the beta version of Pied Piper to a select handful of friends, with Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) disclosing that, by choice, he doesn't have any friends and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) discovering, after mocking his co-worker and bitter rival, that he doesn't really have any friends, either. Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is initially reluctant, answering Jared's (Zach Woods) opinion that they'll have released too late if they're not mortally embarrassed by the beta version with "I am mortally embarrassed." The team does send it out to glowing reception from everyone but Monica (Amanda Crew), who avoids saying anything about it all while Dinesh sends a code to Richard's friend...actually Gavin (Matt Ross) and his new security guy posing as Richard's old pal and trying to get a look at what Pied Piper has cooked up. Erlich (T.J. Miller), meanwhile, has bankrupted Bachmanity and Bighead (Josh Brener), and sees a possible way out of responsibility for paying people they owe when Jared notices that Bighead's business manager ripped them off.
Gilfoyle's admission that he doesn't have friends isn't terribly shocking, nor is his attempt to then shove it in Dinesh's face when he makes a new friend (even hugging him at the door!) in a day. Gilfoyle only ever seems truly happy when Dinesh is miserable, either when he realizes he'll have to keep making fun of his dumb gold chain or, in this case, as he shoots a joyful look over his new pal's shoulder as Dinesh struggles to think of one close friend, pathetically telling Richard that he can "squeeze in" a few of his boss' friends onto his ten-person list of beta testers. Richard lets the positive feedback from those testers get to his head, leaning back in his chair arrogantly (c'mon, man, don't you remember how you fell out of it a few episodes ago?) as Monica walks in to tell him not to let feedback "get to your head" ("go to my head," he corrects). For someone who worries as much as he does, he sure does let his perceived successes spackle over his insecurities without much thought, and without noticing his friend's crossed arms or halting body language as she lies, claiming she hasn't tried the beta yet.
Erlich, meanwhile, is at least pretending to be a good friend to Bighead (the guy he once called "more useless than a bag of d---- without a handle," as we're reminded in the Previously On montage), taking his usual bravado to meetings and pushing to get the money he thinks they deserve back. It's funny watching Miller and Brener play off of each other, one leaning back while he shouts baseless threats, the other leaning forward as he apologizes for asking for the money that was stolen from him, then apologizes to the former after he yells at him for apologizing. The two take it to the DA, but she's uninterested, pointing out that they could pay back all of the money they owe if Erlich sells his shares in Pied Piper, the potential billion-dollar company that he's been with from the beginning. Fat chance, even if she's threatening to expose him as an entitled white boy who doesn't pay the people he owes (caterers, people who rented Alcatraz to him, a tiki-head owner whose head is not lost, Erlich stresses, but at the bottom of the bay, and why isn't he Coast Guard helping find it?).
Dinesh is exposed quickly, but it does at least it does lead to the discovery of Gavin, who's spying on them and on his own employees, reading their emails illegally on his personal computer (justifying it by saying that the employees broke the spirit of trust by not telling him Pied Piper was in beta..."It makes you wonder if the word 'Hooli' has any meaning for these people whatsoever"). As Gavin arrogantly tells his workers that "Here at Hooli we make the impossible possible" when they tell him they can't rebuild their platform and beat Pied Piper to market, he finds a problem with Pied Piper...or rather, his version. Gilfoyle drops a zip bomb (complete with "s--- emojis") that infects his personal computer and phone, causing him to panic that it could get in all of Hooli's computers (through his spying on their emails, I presume?) and shuts down everything. His engineers quit, pointing out that they were the same people he fired weeks ago and that he didn't notice. "I invited you to my wedding," one notes. "Why?!"
The IP check also reveals that Monica lied, pushing Richard to track her down at a hookah bar (she starts coughing up a storm when he bursts in on her) and tell her that he can handle one negative review. "I don't like it," she says, to his immediate objection and arrogant head-shaking. If there's a problem I have with the scene, it's that Monica immediately concludes that she's wrong (she turned down Slack in the past) and soothes Richard's ego, something that the show uses her to do too often. Her quote of Peter Gregory to "invest in people" instead of products, followed by her admission that "I invested in you," doesn't mean as much if she's rarely used as much more than a way to remind Richard that he shouldn't worry, he's actually great.
It's certainly less moving than the gesture of friendship that comes from a much less likely source: Erlich, who does the single most selfless thing he's done on the show (if not in his whole life) after he watches Bighead take the only thing he was able to keep from his house (two cannonballs) into his friend's place, dragging them pathetically against the lawn as the former millionaire goes to sleep on a couch. Erlich has never been one for sympathy, but between Bighead's sweet stupidity ("You're cool with me taking both cannonballs? Thanks partner") and his refusal to blame his very bad friend for their misery, something snaps. In a move that prompts a hysterically quizzical look on Laurie's face, he sells his shares of Pied Piper, not to keep his name from being dragged by the same blog he just bought, but because he did, in one way or another, invest in Bighead. He's not just his failed "meal ticket," as Erlich whines, but a friend.
Not that "Silicon Valley" is going to go soft on us. As Pied Piper gets ready to launch, Gilfoyle talks to his server system in the garage as he shuts it down, treating it with far more warmth than he's ever shown a human. "You've served me well, old friend," he says, to Dinesh's mocking assertion that he'd rather have a bunch of fakefriends than be besties with a computer. Jared, who's witnessed a lot of trash-talk and ill will between the two, sees through it. "Can't you two see? You're each other's best friends." In unison: "F--- you, Jared" ("Jinx, you two owe each other a friendship"). Still, we're not totally without warm and fuzzies as Richard tells Erlich (without knowing he's sold his Pied Piper shares) that they've done it together and fulfilled their Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak dynamic on a revolutionary platform. The show cuts to black as they click for a launch. There's sure to be bumpy patches ahead, but for now, friendship brings as much triumph as trash talk.
-Best bit of direction from Jamie Babbitt this week: the close-up on Jared's hand as Dinesh watches him writing down all of the friends he'll send the beta to, cut to a close-up of Dinesh phantom writing as he realizes that Jared has more friends than him. It's almost as funny as his horror last week after learning that Jared also has more sex than he does.
-That horror, of course, isn't baseless. Jared is Creepy, Part I: He doesn't want to count his chickens before they hatch "because three percent of hatchlings are born mutated or dead."
-Jared is Creepy, Part II: He recognizes the impulse to have imaginary friends because he was imaginary friends with Harriet Tubman. "We were planning an imaginary escape."
-Gilfoyle illustrates his no-friend, lack of trust in humanity worldview by concluding that people like to lie for no reason. "The history of humanity is a book written in blood. We're all just animals in a pit." Jared: "Now I feel very sad."