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‘Silicon Valley’ Review: ‘Hooli-Con’ Is Another Complicated Step Toward Mutually Assured Implosion

A few missteps from Richard and Jack Barker lead to a rare "Silicon Valley" episode where nobody really wins.

“Silicon Valley”

John P. Johnson

After the last few weeks, when the Pied Piper team spent most of each episode riding high, only to be brought down by the show’s patented combination of hubris and impossible luck, this week’s episode of “Silicon Valley” effectively flipped the script, leaving the team in better circumstances than when they started. It’s an odd change for Season 4, which has put its characters through repeated tests of commitment and resilience to test their mettle. “Hooli-con” showed a group of people on both sides of this tech-based feud who are having less and less to show for their efforts.

Mia, Chekov’s lovesick hacker, worked her way into the fold again, unwittingly helping the team with their newly hatched scheme to siphon off new users from Hooli-con attendees. Even though Dinesh was able to wrestle some technical assistance from her, something about their interaction points to idea that we haven’t seen the last of her attempts at revenge against who she thinks put her in prison.

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

With a plan in place and a very morally conflicted CFO in Jared, the gang goes to Hooli-con with a single goal, blinded by the potential for added attention from watchful Hooli eyes. Some of those other eyes also happen to belong to Keenan Feldspar, who spots Dinesh and Gilfoyle on the exhibit floor before the world’s most prolonged double-take. (Considering the pair had just spent the preceding minutes arguing over logistics of pouring molten liquid in an unpleasant orifice, Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s trepidation at seeing the object of their anger is understandable.)

When Gilfoyle runs into Keenan a second time, it gives him the rare chance to engage with someone from outside the Pied Piper inner circle. Often charged with playing the aloof, disapproving player in the Pied Piperverse, seeing Martin Starr get the chance to show some stronger emotion felt like another hint at possible developments to come. Given that the show has used Erlich and Richard as primary intermediaries between the boys from the incubator and the outside world, it’s refreshing to see one of the coders getting a chance to make their presence known in the wider world now that Erlich has departed, seemingly for good.

Kudos to “Silicon Valley” for being able to capture the twin banality and massive scope of a convention, a place where fans can seek out product launches and tech advancements (and as one of the banners shows, at least Seal is a keynote speaker). From the outside world, these giant expos often have a futuristic glow of hype surrounding them. Leave it to this series to again cut through a sensationalized view of the tech world and show that behind every giant product demo is a bunch of unseemly booth edges, ripe for someone to sneak in a pineapple or two.

Once again, though, all “Silicon Valley” roads lead back to Richard. Over the rocky Pied Piper journey, it’s been easy to characterize him as the level head, the ambitious idealistic one aiming the team towards a changing end goal. But between this recent Hooli-con impulsive ex-girlfriend-fueled feud and the “limp biscuit” disaster from a few weeks ago, it might finally be time for the rest of Pied Piper to question whether or not his momentary incompetencies are worth putting up with in the long run. The beginning of this season teased a Dinesh-led Pied Piper. Even though that was ultimately a disaster, it’s hard not to imagine a big discussion of a change in leadership — beyond Jared’s misgivings — as the show trudges toward its season finale.

“Silicon Valley”

Frank Masi

For someone who is willing to risk felonies and financial insolvency to see his New Internet idea succeed, the level of pettiness needed to sabotage his new rival’s setup seemed forced. Plus, this low-stakes battle for dating supremacy only underlines the episode’s biggest crime: underusing guest star Flula Borg.

Whether Richard’s latest misstep seemed motivated or not, it did prove once again that Richard is bad at being bad. Erlich can leave sweet gigs on a whim, Gilfoyle can reprogram a refrigerator for his own mischief, but anytime Richard’s devious plans spill over from the ambitious to the trivial, the whole team suffers. Whenever he strays from the path of sincerity, the Fate that Erlich mentioned at the outset comes back to slap him in the face.

Richard’s personal and professional roller coaster has gotten increasingly proportional amount of screen time and has become the focal point of the show’s frequent philosophical quandaries. It’s fortunate, then, that the rest of the ensemble has been able to do so much with a narrowing share of material. Stephen Tobolowsky delivering the dad-joke payoff to an episode-long Jamiroquai gag proves why he’s one of the best in the business. Each of Dinesh’s new realizations in the ongoing hacker saga has given Kumail Nanjiani the chance to show off some very funny and subtle character work.

READ MORE: ‘Silicon Valley’ and T.J. Miller Part Ways: How Season 5 Can Survive Without Him

And Jared. Poor Jared. The Jared Woo™ can’t possibly be topped in the pantheon of Season 4 moments, but Zach Woods’ oddly stirring “Poopfare…?” speech at the end of this episode shows that “Silicon Valley” can still mine some unexpected sincerity from its characters lowbrow impulses.

As if he heard Jared’s plaintive cries, Hoover grants the Pied Piper team a rare bit of leniency, effectively excusing their attempts at grabbing up Hooli-con attendees. It’s fascinating to see how, once again, Gavin Belson’s complicated legacy ends up working to Pied Piper’s favor. Hoover’s decision not to press charges is a key way for this episode to underline how loyalty is one of this world’s most valuable currencies.

For a show that often approaches its plot as a zero sum game, this is an episode that didn’t have a winner, aside from our central group of gate-crashers escaping the wrath of Jack Barker. The unholy alliance of Barker and Keenan Feldspar certainly won’t look good after their Samsung-ian PR disaster. As Gavin Belson’s new Tibetan retreat houseguest, it’s unlikely that this excursion into the Himalayas will fill the Aviato-sized hole in Erlich’s heart. And now the ongoing brotherhood of Richard and Jared, a foundational element of “Silicon Valley” is now torn asunder. It’s a quandary that no course correction will easily solve in one episode, so we could be looking at a very new normal for these folks when the dust settles.

Grade: B

“Silicon Valley” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 10:00 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go. 

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