Sunday, May 31, 2015

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard Worries About Security Until Something Even More Devastating Occurs in 'White Hat/Black Hat'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 2.08 "White Hat/Black Hat"

When Richard takes pity on a competitor, he accidentally sparks a feud that finds him paranoid about security. Facing pressure from board members, Gavin looks to place responsibility elsewhere. Jian-Yang and Erlich try to get a foot in the door at Raviga, and discover Monica's secret.

The second season of Silicon Valley has gotten increasingly problematic because too often it feels like the approach is "one step forward, a million steps back." Richard and Erlich successfully get more and more money in the bidding system for Pied Piper. They recognize that that sets lofty expectations and adjust accordingly only to be faced with a law suit that forces everyone to pull out their support. They finally find a new investor only for him to be Russ Hanneman, a selfish and annoying asshole. They get this amazing opportunity to get more publicity in the wake of Nucleus' failure only to ruin it because of poor social skills. And now, they've created this competition with End Frame to win this Intersite porn contract. That decision brought about a significant change in Richard. And now, this episode suggests that none of that will stick because Richard retreats into his nice and naive self and ruins the whole contract. It's the same kind of plotting used over and over again this season. Have the members of the team learned from these mistakes? Not especially, which makes things get tiring the more that they continue to happen.

"White Hat/Black Hat" spends a lot of time on misdirection. Richard is worried about a former End Frame employee, Seth, hacking into their system during the big test run. When in actuality, Pied Piper blows it because of something completely trivial that Russ does. Likewise, Erlich wants to use his knowledge of Monica's smoking habit in order to get a meeting with Laurie only to throw her under the bus during his big pitch. And lastly, Gavin wants to bring Dr. Davis Bannercheck back to Hooli so that he can blame him when Nucleus has its disastrous debut. Again, none of these attempts at misdirection actually work out for the characters. Erlich's pitch still fails because Jian-Yang decides to smoke a celebratory cigarette in the Raviga offices. Dr. Bannercheck sees the disaster that is Nucleus and leaves the building as quickly as he possibly can. The potential threat that Seth poises is only meant to make the entire team nervous that something is going to happen during this important test run. Something bad does eventually happen. But it has nothing to do with Seth.

It's also really incredulous that Silicon Valley wants the audience to believe that by simply putting his expensive bottle of tequila on the delete key of one computer that Russ would be able to delete 9,000 hours of information during this file transfer. Is the Pied Piper ecosystem really that fragile that hitting the delete key that one time is enough to reverse every single thing they are trying to accomplish? If that's the case, Pied Piper really doesn't have any business trying to operate as a successful company. It's designed as a simple joke. The audience spends so much time worrying about the big threat that Seth could strike at any possible moment - which would make him a much better hacker than anyone gave him credit for - that the reveal of what actually occurred is outrageously funny. Richard has a right to be angry with Russ. It's because of him that Pied Piper is once again under threat of going under as a company. And yet, that point is never really addressed at all. Richard has his epic blow up at Russ long before this mistake occurs. Russ wanting the team to do shots is what pushed Richard over the line. The fact that Russ destroyed this whole deal should make Richard even angrier. And yet, that is never seen because the action has to immediately cut to Richard, Erlich and Monica trying and failing to salvage this deal.

All of this is done in order to address the underlying problems within the Richard-Russ relationship. Russ is so obsessed with being a billionaire that he doesn't care about anything else. He thinks it's genius that Richard set up this competition between the two companies for the contract. He wants to celebrate with the team that will help him become a billionaire once more - even though they still haven't secured that money. In fact, Russ isn't really helping the company at all any more. He agreed to give them money to fund this launch. And now, he believes he can withhold it just because they operate more concisely when they have the fear of losing it all. Yes, that fear can be a powerful motivator. But it's an incredibly jerky move to make. It's understandable when Richard finally lashes out at Russ. And yet, that doesn't make a difference in who Russ is as a character on the show. He complains about people only being interested in him for his money. And yet, that's the exact one thing that he cares about for the entirety of his appearances on the show! He doesn't think he's an asshole because he bought himself a car? That's nonsense. Richard and the rest of the team have no idea how to react to that news. It should be in anger and disgust because him showing off the car is what led to the incident that destroyed all the files. And yet, the ramifications of that action will have to wait until a later episode because this one was too bloated with other stories to properly tell those consequences.

But again, it's apparent that the Pied Piper team really doesn't deserve to succeed because of just how inept they are at running this company. If that's the case, why should the audience care so much over whether they succeed or fail? They keep getting caught in these situations in which they are not prepared to handle them. They are at risk of losing the entire company. And yet, I'm sure some new circumstance will present itself that will not only allow Pied Piper to continue operating in the same way that it has been but with even more opportunities for success. That is the nature of the show. Richard has able to put on the "black hat" and make this deal but he's still unable to completely follow through with it. The rest of the team is no better because they allowed either his paranoia to grow or ruined the deal altogether. I'm just finding it harder and harder to find a reason why I should still be caring about Pied Piper becoming a successful company. This season really isn't building towards anything and that is a major problem.

Some more thoughts:
  • "White Hat/Black Hat" was written by Dan Lyons and directed by Alec Berg.
  • Jian-Ying is a regular character but he adds absolutely nothing to the show. When the announcement was made between seasons that he would be a regular in Season 2, I had no memory of who he was. And now, I still have no clue why he is on the show. He serves absolutely no purpose and offers no primary source of comedy. His story in this episode is entirely about everyone except him. How is that a series regular character?
  • The Gavin story was completely unnecessary except in showing Gavin's continued frustrations at realizing that Nucleus is going to fail and all the blame will be placed on him.
  • Richard, when will you learn that face-to-face meetings never work out for you?