[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the “Silicon Valley” Season 4 premiere, Episode 1, “Success Failure.”]
“Silicon Valley” saw big changes in its first episode of Season 4. What started with the Pied Piper team plotting to oust Richard as CEO ended with the tech genius (played by Thomas Middleditch) stepping down voluntarily in order to pursue his true passion: a new internet.
Given how long it took for the team to find a useful application for Richard’s original algorithm — first discovered in the Season 1 premiere — one has to wonder: Is Richard self-sabotaging?
“Oh, yeah. He totally is,” Middleditch said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “[In Season 3] Jack Barker was going to make Richard Chief Technical Officer. And if Richard knew what was good for him, he would’ve done that.”
Middleditch, who earned an Emmy nomination in 2016 for his portrayal of the Pied Piper founder, sees Richard’s “major flaw” as “pride,” noting how Richard’s neurotic mind will fixate on problems, especially when they damage his ego.
But following his heart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As the straight-talking Russ Hanneman puts it in the premiere, “If you’re going to spend all day fucking, shouldn’t Pied Piper be a dude you want to fuck?” Middleditch’s short answer mirrors Richard’s: Yes.
“As backwards and as club-footed as it may seem, it may end up paying off for him,” Middleditch said about his character’s pursuit of the new internet. “It’s really always been about the application of this thing.”
By Season 4, only one iteration has proven to be a financially viable option: video chat — the man Richard does not want to fuck.
“When they land on video chat, everyone sees the merit of it except Richard,” Middleditch said. “He sort of feels, ‘All this and it’s just Skype 2.0?’ Not to say that wouldn’t help. That’d be great. That would probably make a lot of money. But he just feels weird about it because he wants to change the world.”
And herein lies the defining paradox of Richard Hendricks: He wants to make a lot of money, but he also really, truly wants to help people. (Russ would probably say he wants to fuck two dudes, but let’s not go down that route.)
“Richard’s not thinking millions. He’s thinking billions,” Middleditch said. “But also, he’s got this moral drive and thinks he’s really going to do the Silicon Valley idiom of changing the world and making it a better place. He thinks he’s really going to do it. He’s not like any of the other pretenders.”
Middleditch describes this internal battle as Richard’s “light side and dark side debate,” explaining that his character feels the pull to change the world (the light side) and make billions of dollars (his dark side). He may not want to admit he’s eager to join the billionaire’s club, but he does want to, and “how much he flirts with the dark side” is an ongoing issue for the next two seasons.
“It happens a bit in this season, and potentially a good chunk of next season,” Middleditch said. “He’s got a bit of a ‘Breaking Bad’ element going on by the end of this season.”
No matter what light Richard falls under, Middleditch has his own idea for how his character’s story should end.
“I think the perfect ending would be that he does the thing, but he makes no money at it,” he said. “Or maybe he gets all of it, and next season they’re just on a fucking boat. […] I think that, should money follow, that would be great for him. But if he’s being true to himself, he wants to change the world.”
For now, though, any form of success “won’t come without more failure,” Middleditch said, pointing to the first scene of Season 4 as a reference for where the immediate story is headed.
“That VC they trap in their car, he says, ‘You think making a billion dollars would be easy?’ And [Richard’s] like, ‘Yeah,'” Middleditch said. “I’m glad that line’s in there. It reminds the audience [of how hard it is.] People are like, ‘Richard, what a fucking idiot!’ But it’s gotta be hard. It’s gotta be hard for a long time. We’re talking about billions of dollars.”
“Silicon Valley” airs new episodes every Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO.