Even though Mike Judge’s satiric take on the wild would-be woods of Silicon Valley stands tall as one of the most consistently and specifically serialized comedies on TV, it’s really a show built on moments. The exquisitely detailed coding conversations and layered depictions of various tech industry archetypes are pivotal in establishing the captivating world being studied, but viewers are likely still left thinking about one scene or another after each episode. Even by season’s end, it’s the moments you keep coming back to, rather than the big picture.
Season 1 stood out immediately thanks to the specificity of character, place and voice. It wasn’t shy on highllights, including Dinesh’s internal struggle after discovering Gilfoyle’s girlfriend wants to sleep with him, or when Erlich seduced the wife of an important judge in a misbegotten attempt at an apology. Oh, and that’s without mentioning the greatest dick joke ever put to the small screen. Season 2, meanwhile, found Dinesh and Gilfoyle trying to solve a morally repugnant question with mathematics and poor Jared getting trapped in a self-driving car that somehow ened up on a boat.
As for Season 3, I already have a great deal of confidence in naming the moment I’ll never forget: It’s the horse sex scene.
Through three episodes, Season 3 seems primarily focused on the battle between creative and corporate. Picking up immediately after the Season 2 finale when Richard (Thomas Middleditch) was ousted as CEO from his own company, the first three episodes find the always put-upon founder of Pied Piper struggling with promises made and broken. Business is business, as businessmen are quick to point out, but Richard didn’t get into this with dollar signs in his eyes. He appreciates a human bond. He needs to trust people. He’s been screwed over one too many times with a project he never imagined would become such a complex undertaking. Now, he’s finally seeing some friendly faces, and he’s keen to sort out if there’s more than one face per person.
As is the audience. Creator Mike Judge continues to construct characters so layered it’s an exciting challenge to suss them out. We’ve got a good grip on the morals of our core fivesome — Richard, Bachman (T.J. Miller), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Jared (Zach Woods), all of whom remain in top comedic form — and the cartoonishly evil Hooli leader Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). But the periphery is decorated with shades of gray, including newcomer Stephen Tobolowsky as a character I will not name, and Suzanne Cryer, a highlight from last year as Laurie Bream, the managing partner of Peter Gregory’s fund. Even long-time do-gooder Monica (Amanda Crew) is rendered a bit unpredictable this season, as Judge continues (straining slightly) to find relevant things for her to do.
Among the many shuffling pieces in Season 3, the connections are as strong as ever. Judge keeps things moving as he introduces fresh arcs, and the foreshadowing in each episode — and each closing credits sequence, via more stellar music choices — pays off post-haste. “Silicon Valley” has always had a firm narrative structure, even when its thorough analysis of the tech world forces dense explanations of everything from the specifics of voided corporate severance packages to the challenges associated with switching from a consumer-facing to a business-facing product launch. There are a lot of, “In other words…” segways, but it’s hard to blame Judge for using a device that works so well in an environment that demands a little dumbing down for anyone who didn’t go to Cal Tech. What’s truly impressive, though, is how these intricacies ground the show in a universal empathy among office drones — myself, as an employee of a business recently purchased by a media conglomerate, found more than a few relatable scenarios in these first three episodes — and yet they’re somehow still hilarious.
But then there’s the horse sex. It’s a moment so absurd, so out of left field, and so filled with an erect horse penis it should feel like it belongs on a different show. It should feel wrong, in some way, simply because its gratuitous nature isn’t justified by anything other than that. It should be a strike against the otherwise nearly flawless three episodes. Yet…it works. Why this works is partly explained in that “Silicon Valley” has established itself as a show keen to make a good joke work at all costs, allowing for a bit of random banter or extreme scenarios in the past. But this isn’t like when Kid Rock showed up. This is horses having sex in front of us. And it’s goddamn hilarious.
For a show that occasionally preaches the dangers of over-complicating emotions by applying inapplicable rationale, perhaps it’s best we leave it at that.