Sunday, June 7, 2015

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard, Erlich and Big Head Take the Stand in 'Binding Arbitration'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 2.09 "Binding Arbitration"

When Pied Piper and Hooli enter binding arbitration, Erlich demands to be put on the stand. Big Head finds himself propped up. Richard worries Hooli's claim could have legs. Back at the Hacker Hostel, Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle question a philosophical theory and its relation to their livestream.

Hooli's lawsuit against Pied Piper was the exact thing that forced Richard and his team to loss all the momentum they had coming out of Tech Crunch. It's been this dangling threat hanging over the company all season long. Richard has had to find more creative and decisive ways to keep his company afloat. He had to find a new investor when everyone else in Silicon Valley wanted to pull out. He had to keep finding opportunities to bring attention, relevancy and funds to his company again. All of those have presented multiple problems for the team - some that have payed off well comedically and to the structure of the season and some not. Pied Piper has failed yet again in trying to take the company to the next level. They are not the same kind of failure as Nucleus. However, they are on life support. That makes it the opportune time to finally address this lawsuit.

It has become apparent over the two seasons of Silicon Valley that Richard wants to be a better person than the industry that surrounds him. That approach hasn't led to success for his company. He did his best to have Pied Piper grow and be a respectable business. Instead the company is the same size as it was at the end of last season and more people than before think they're complete assholes who bring nothing but devastation and pain. Richard has had moments where he tried playing the game just like his competitors. That's how Pied Piper was able to get all the opportunities they had this season. And yet, they failed because Richard always wanted to be a good person who treated other people with respect. Sometimes that can come off as naive and idealistic. It may well be the very thing that kills Pied Piper as a company. But it's still admirable that Richard wants to do the right thing even when it means so much danger for him and his company.

The Hooli and Pied Piper teams are able to enter binding arbitration because Richard has a moment of being a cutthroat and threatening businessman. Because of Big Head, Richard has gotten his hands on a Nucleus operating system. He knows just how horrible it is. He can just as easily hand it to a tech blogger and kill Nucleus' debut before it ever hits the market. It's a piece of leverage that can be used against Hooli. Hooli is this big corporate entity attacking the little man because they have the far superior product. Gavin's attempts to get Richard's code have never been successful. His suit against Pied Piper claiming the theft of intellectual property has no real standing. Gavin and his team can prop up Big Head as much as they want but that doesn't make that much of a difference.

However, the judge is surprisingly sympathetic to Hooli's claims. And yet, that's entirely to get Erlich on the stand. The episode's best moments happen when characters are on that stand providing testimony that will determine the fates of both companies. Big Head is just as confused as everyone else. His "modesty" is just unawareness of what the Hooli team actually did in regards to all his promotions. Conversely, Erlich believes he is taking the stand in order to be the voice of reason and push the judge towards Pied Piper. Erlich always has a high sense of self-importance. That's what makes the character so entertaining and funny. He believes he has nurtured all this great talent. But the lawyer (who's not a real lawyer anymore) points out just how poor Erlich's business decisions have actually been. The lawyer was able to attack Big Head's credibility without ever needing to go on the offensive against Hooli's own witness. He was able to use Erlich's delusions in order to win the support. If only Erlich had stopped talking, Richard would have won no problem.

But as the episode is key in pointing out, knowledge is power. The absence of said knowledge could have been the very thing that led to a quick and swift judgment in Pied Piper's favor. Instead Richard and Erlich were very tense throughout the proceedings because they were worried that Hooli would be able to track down the one hole in their whole case. Richard really did use a Hooli computer once to work on the code for Pied Piper. It's a realization that Richard only makes when he is breaking down the "girlfriend" inside joke to his lawyer. Richard can't be sure that he did use a Hooli computer but it's also the only reason he can think of. That terrifies him. If Hooli wins this lawsuit, Pied Piper is done. Erlich opened that window for Hooli to enter. He accidentally drew attention to the three day period where Richard was without his computer. It's because of his knowledge of the truth that he was able to let that slip. If Erlich didn't know what not to bring up, he never would have. That's the paradox of this situation.

Richard doesn't want to lie on the stand. However, that's the only way he'll be able to win this lawsuit. He could easily say that he used one of the housemate's computers to run the test during this time frame. He doesn't know that that's not the truth. Hooli is the easy answer. But it's not the only one that can be given. Lying on the stand is against Richard's moral code though. He wants to build a better company. So, he openly admits that he believes he used a Hooli computer one time to build the code for Pied Piper. He gives a very noble speech about how doing the right thing will ultimately hurt his company. It's all for one very minor mistake. Gavin doesn't care about the nobility of it all. He is failing as a businessman and this success could turn things around for him.

The outcome is still uncertain for Pied Piper though. That's because the conclusion of the episode has to cut back to the house and Jared, Gilfoyle and Dinesh during their best not to effect the outcome. It's all a part of a big discussion on the Schrodinger's Cat theory (where a cat in a closed box with poison is both alive and dead until one opens the box). It's a very acute and hilarious comparison to make over the course of the episode. The lawyer opened the box that led to all the paranoia for Richard, Erlich and the team. Jared opened the box that led to the zoo taking down the camera for the condor egg. And that may have also led to the death of the man taking down the camera. It's an incredibly tragic and blunt final beat for the episode. It's also much darker than anything the show has done previously. Jared fully believes that he has just killed someone because of his curiosity. That could present many criminal complications for the team if it's true. That could easily outweigh any of the legal repercussions they are dealing with right now. Or it could present the next big opportunity for Pied Piper to gain momentum and publicity for the company. Until the finale both options are true which is a great way to close out this episode's big conversation on the subject.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Binding Arbitration" was written by Dan O'Keefe and directed by Mike Judge.
  • Richard and Gavin's first instincts are to threaten the other over the situation they find themselves in during the opening third of the episode. It's up to the lawyers to intervene and tell them what they can and can't do. Ultimately, it's up to the lawyers to talk things out for each other in order to agree on the solution of binding arbitration.
  • On top of the theft of intellectual property, Hooli was also suing Pied Piper for illegally hiring Jared and stealing a company phone charger - neither of which Pied Piper really wanted to contest.
  • At one point, the fate of the lawsuit hinged on Hooli believing that Richard had a girlfriend over the past year. Couldn't the show have incorporated Monica into the episode in order to bring some attention back to that minor story point? Or is that just completely done?
  • Big Head doesn't have great ideas but he does have a boat. When he completes the three training courses, he'll be able to get his boating license. He just has to find the time. Because doing nothing takes up a lot of time.