To say Erlich Bachman’s departure from “Silicon Valley” has been a long time coming would be an understatement. T.J. Miller, the “Silicon Valley” producers, and HBO all announced that both the actor and character would be leaving the series midway through Season 4, preparing fans for a future without the pot-smoking homeowner long before a barrage of backlash hit the actor.
Setting aside accusations of sexual assault that came later, reports of unprofessional behavior on set started popping up shortly after the announcement, making the tumultuous working relationships between Miller, his producers, and his co-stars quite clear. Obviously, there are some long-held hard feelings at play when it comes to TJ Miller and his former cohorts at “Silicon Valley,” so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the show is taking its sweet time torturing its former star in the only way it can: publicly flogging Erlich Bachman.
It’s not that Erlich has been turned into someone worse than he was, but the Season 5 premiere, “Grow Fast or Die Slow,” conveniently and vengefully uses his archenemy Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) to wrest control of Erlich’s last remaining assets and belittle his memory. In doing so, he keeps Erlich’s memory alive — in sadistic fashion.
When we last saw Erlich, he was high as a kite in a Tibetan opium den. Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) left him there, in order to expedite his own return back to the States. And now, an episode later, there’s no reason to believe he’s moved an inch from his lofty position. [Editor’s note: Spoiler alert for future episodes of “Silicon Valley.”] Through three episodes in Season 5, even, that’s as much as we know. But Erlich isn’t left behind, not really.
First, Jian Yang invites a bunch of people to stay at Erlich’s house in order to make money off the man he so greatly detests.
“Do you think Erlich would want your guys here?” Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) asks.
“No,” Jian Yang says. “That’s why I invite them. Because I hated Erlich.”
For years, Erlich treated Jian-Yang dismissively. He pushed him out of the inner circle time and time again, and he wasn’t above mixing his patronizing remarks with a dash of racism. This makes Jian-Yang the perfect character to seek revenge on Erlich, and thus the ideal vessel to further humiliate the man behind the character.
Motivated by his hatred (and greed), Jian-Yang begins trying to prove Erlich is dead so he can inherit the man’s money, home, and 10 percent of Pied Piper. He tries to write a fake letter in Episode 1 as a shortcut to claiming what’s his, but that would be too easy: Simply subbing in Jian-Yang for Erlich isn’t enough. They have to drag the departed through the mud first, and Episodes 2 and 3 see Jian-Yang take far more extreme actions — involving fake death certificates and a dead boar — to steal Erlich’s life and ruin his reputation. Though the series stops short of actually killing Erlich, they’re not above comparing his body to the bloated carcass of a fat, pale pig.
But amid the less-than-veiled jabs at Erlich (and Miller by association), there’s an odd bit of openness left to his story. By not explaining where he is or what happened to him, if feels like “Silicon Valley” is leaving the door open for a return. But that seems as unlikely as Richard (Thomas Middleditch) updating his wardrobe. No party seems to want that, which can make the whole Bachman B-story feel distracting. What’s the end goal here? Are we supplanting Jian-Yang as the new Erlich, is there a longer con at play, or is the show inexplicably making room for a TJ Miller comeback?
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Miller once described how his departure would be handled under ideal circumstances. “I said, ‘Well, look, we’ve got this organic ending, let’s take advantage,'” Miller said. “‘I just think the best thing for this show is for this character to fade into the ether. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Wouldn’t that be unexpected?'”
Maybe drawing it out and making it a focus is part of the vengeful plan. Maybe this is all leading to a big twist, as the show is wont to use, that will settle Erlich’s fate once and for all. Or maybe this is part of the slow fade Miller described, and in a few weeks we’ll only be talking about the characters still on the show instead of interpreting their actions in relation to someone who’s not there.
But for now, it feels like Erlich’s specter is here to stay, whether he likes it or not.