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‘Silicon Valley’ Review: ‘The Keenan Vortex’ Shows Why These Guys Might Never Really Be Happy

An episode of dashed dreams for Richard and Erlich showed how the one thing keeping these characters going might also be the thing that's holding them back.

"Silicon Valley" TJ Miller

John P. Johnson/HBO

Well, it almost happened. For a minute, the Pied Piper crew finally seemed to be happy. Champagne was flowing, spirits were high and it looked like this group finally had the financial and creative freedom to fulfill the dreams that their occasionally fearful leader has had all season.

And then, as it always seems to in the world of “Silicon Valley,” the fluffy clouds lifted. It’s another weekly example of how the show continues to dangle a happy future in front of its characters, only to pull it away and show them that the way they wanted to find happiness was an illusion all along (or a virtual reality, if you will).

READ MORE: ‘Silicon Valley’ Review: Richard and Jared Tap Into Their Darker Sides As the Show’s Wheels Spin

In a bit of karmic retribution, at the end of “The Keenan Vortex,” it’s Erlich who ends up the most distraught, even when at the outset, he seemed most primed to find happiness merely by staying put. Still recuperating from his physical and emotional humiliation at the hands of last week’s pickup basketball game at Oracle Arena, Erlich still finds himself settling into his new gig at Bream/Hall.

As fortunes rapidly turn on the show, Erlich finds out that his new prize acquisition, Keenan Feldspar, has landed a deal of his own while clearing his head in Fiji. (One of the tiny daggers in the “Silicon Valley” arsenal is showing that life-changing decisions often happen at the whims of a high roller with half of his attention elsewhere.) It’s a new level of partnership that effectively links Ehrlich’s and Keenan’s futures at Bream/Hall.

“Silicon Valley”

John P. Johnson

When Erlich goes back to the Incubator to tell the rest of the guys the news, Dinesh’s reaction gets right to the heart of what makes Erlich a fascinating and frustrating character at the same time. What Erlich shoves in everyone’s faces essentially amounts to the right of first refusal, with no guaranteed money attached. Here’s a man ostensibly concerned with making money who, when push comes to shove, is just as quick to jump at a chance to improve his perception as he is one that would beef up his bank account.

It’s the same issue that we now see plague Jack Barker, newly ascendant to the Hooli throne and plotting his grand entrance as king of the castle. Hyper-focused on the theatrics of his entrance at Hoolicon, Jack is blindsided by a server malfunction that has left at least one person dead. (We don’t properly appreciate how icily Stephen Tobolowsky can deliver lines drenched in cynicism like, “Thoughts and prayers, obviously.”) No longer trapped in a basement office in exile, Jack still can’t get out from the shadow of his former boss and nemesis: Gavin Belson.

READ MORE: ‘Silicon Valley’: How Post-Election-Night Improv Led to Season 4’s Greatest Moment So Far

Oddly, Gavin’s unexpected return in this episode might be the show’s biggest vindication of the character so far, even if it’s only in a flashback. For all of his self-absorbed faults, Gavin knew the power of perception. Even if it meant bringing in an endangered animal to do so, he recognized the Jobsian potential to perceived value for a product that may or may not even exist.

As the Pied Piper boys find out, Jack and Gavin (or Jian-Yang, for that matter) aren’t the only people in town who are trading on ideas that aren’t fully operational. When Keenan entered the world of the show two weeks ago, it seemed too good to be true, to have such an effective Erlich replacement the week that the world found out that T.J. Miller would be leaving the cast. Haley Joel Osment immediately brought an air of positivity to a season marked by setbacks and frustrated potential. That this new character would also come with an industry-changing, stomach-churning technology like this VR rig seemed like a seasons-long answer to a financial and philosophical problem.

Up next: a fiery Palapa sendoff and the moment we knew Erlich was doomed

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