After a season that’s seen them have to claw back from the bottom, it’s easy to wonder when the Pied Piper crew will catch a break. The cosmic, bleak comedy of Richard Hendricks’ career is that he keeps stumbling into weekly, lightbulb-over-his-head discoveries that, on any other show, would have landed him at the top of the industry by now. But in the world of “Silicon Valley,” good ideas barely ever get these characters past the next scene.
Richard’s life as an app entrepreneur (apptrepreneur?) hasn’t always been the healthiest. But in the show’s increasing efforts to show the full weight of jockeying for position in the tech world, Richard got a less than clean bill of health. Instead of merely showing him as a sleep-deprived zombie, this doctor’s visit hinted that it’s not just his psyche that’s taking a beating by his company’s ongoing roller coaster. (It’s only been a few months since “Review” ended, but it sure is a treat to have Andy Daly back on a TV screen, especially when it means him getting to have fun with the medical field’s worst bedside manner.)
Across town, the future is also a fickle thing once again for Ehrlich. At the Capital Firm Formerly Known as Raviga, he tried to cash in on landing VR visionary Keenan Feldspar as a client in the last week’s “Customer Service.” Hopefully, we don’t have to wait long for Haley Joel Osment’s return journey to the show, but in the meantime, this was the most humbled we’ve seen Erlich since the disastrous Bachmanity launch party. Relying on good will rather than his usual good fortune, Erlich got some personal financial runway, even if took some groveling. (My kingdom for a prequel episode detailing Erlich’s failed tenure at Zenefits. Imagining scenes of him working at an HR company is the baffling seed that “Silicon Valley” plants so well.)
Back at the incubator, Jian-Yang got in on the in-house hijinks. His new smart refrigerator — another ungodly, expensive purchase to go with the yellow Mustang — became Gilfoyle’s new mini-nemesis. “Silicon Valley” always his its finger on the pulse on the true absurdity of technological advances. Just ask Flutterbug. But even with the addition of a sentient household appliance, after the high-stakes privacy war that played out on Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s phones last week, that seemed more like Season 1 wordplay and low-stakes foolery.
It’s indicative of an episode that focused less on the neverending plot machine of “Silicon Valley” and tried to add a few extra shades to these characters as they start to hunker down for what always ends up being a season-ending seismic shift. For Richard and Jared, that meant tapping into a darker side of themselves, a tiny glimpse into what each of them are capable when pushed to the very limit.
For Richard, the instigator was the predatory patent troll that gives the episode its title. Once again, even the tiniest of Pied Piper victories comes with the unintended consequence of people trying to weaponize that same success for their own gains. In this case, it’s an attorney bent on using a gobbled-up bit of IP to cash in on Pied Piper’s Hooli App Store success.
John P. Johnson
After an ill-advised end run to head off the attorney before doing any significant damage to the company, Richard went into full mama-bear mode. We’ve seen Richard step up to defend Pied Piper before, both in boardrooms and across the living room from his co-workers. But there was a new level of viciousness in the way he delivered his copyright discovery, signaling that it might not just be inches that Richard is losing.
Perhaps it’s too much time spent around more caustic personalities like Erlich and Ron LaFlamme. (When Richard first met with a new attorney, I feared that “Superstore” had finally whisked away Ben Feldman for good.) Maybe it’s the last-gasp nature of sensing that this might actually be Pied Piper’s last chance to bring a fresh idea into the marketplace. Now that we’ve seen the darker side peek through, the biggest question heading into next week is whether Richard will try to harness that instinct again or cede the floor to his coding cohorts when the next big test comes.
Meanwhile, a routine call to customer service gave Jared the opportunity to tap into his latent VC exec, gifting the world a few moments with the brotastic Ed Chambers. The scary thing, as seen through the eyes of a dumbfounded Dinesh, isn’t how well it works, but how quickly Jared’s able to transition between the two. Ed stuck around just long enough to make a point (and to earn some extra customer service), tantalizingly dropped when Jared couldn’t keep up the ruse with his sanity intact. Given the continuous list of Jared’s past traumas, I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually get a “Split”-style episode of him cycling through an array of identities that he’s absorbed and quickly repressed.
In true “Silicon Valley” fashion, the team ends “The Patent Troll” roughly where they started, but with another industry lesson learned. These evil alter egos hinted at what Richard, Jared (and to some extent Erlich) are capable of, but definitely feel like one-off experiences. The true test of how effective this episode will be lies in how and when those tiny slivers of their personality make a return appearance.
After a half-hour last Sunday that felt like the affirmation of everything the show does best, “The Patent Troll” was an oversimplification from a show with almost four full seasons under its belt. Arguably, the best joke of the episode is its closing credits song. A mariachi version of Katrina and the Waves’ “I’m Walking on Sunshine” – whether the writers discovered this version of the song or had the idea for the patent theft first is a real chicken-or-egg situation – is a perfect “Silicon Valley” gag. The show has an insidious vein of humor that doesn’t announce itself but burrows in for later. We’ll see if if that’s the kind of joke they can get back to having more of as the season heads towards its close.
“Silicon Valley” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 10:00 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go.