Monday, April 24, 2017

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard Struggles to Embrace the Changes at Pied Piper in 'Success Failure'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 4.01 "Success Failure"

In the wake of Pied Piper's clickfarm scandal, the guys struggle to find funding for Pied Piper's video-chat app to keep up with their rapidly growing user base. Erlich faces resistance from Big Head's dad, while Gavin balks after Jack steps on his toes at Hooli. Having a hard time adjusting to his company's pivot, Richard gets sage advice from an unexpected source, leading him to a big idea that could change his future.

The third season of Silicon Valley ended with Pied Piper's platform failing immediately because the guys didn't make sure it was user-friendly to people outside of the tech world. It blew up into this whole scandal when Richard and Jared bought clicks in order to boost their numbers. Once that was exposed, they went from the most envious startup in Silicon Valley to not being able to get a meeting with any respectable venture capitalist. So once again, the time at Pied Piper is back at Erlich's house trying to salvage their business. There was a glimmer of hope when Dinesh applied Richard's core algorithm to a video-chat app. So, this season starts off with the team pivoting in that new direction. They are once again filled with hope because the initial numbers and growth of this new product are incredible. And yet, they are damaged by the scandals of the past. The show may like to repeat the pattern of the guys building up to success only for the rug to be pulled out from underneath them at the last minute. But the show is also keenly aware of its own history and how the past informs the world around Pied Piper. They've screwed up so many times that it seems unlikely that anyone would invest in their technology. And yet, the hope is still alive because they are truly innovative and have ideas that could change the world.

Of course, the majority of this episode focuses on Richard not being happy with this latest pivot. Pied Piper was his idea. He wrote the code that could revolutionize the world if applied correctly. He's very proud of that fact. But he's yet to be successful with it. The company has changed a number of times over the years. He's a very neurotic and obsessive guy who loves being in charge. He doesn't know how to be a leader. But he can't accept that someone else might have a different use for the algorithm and the company. Jack Barker ultimately wasn't the right fit for CEO of this company. And yet, he did bring a certain level of legitimacy and professionalism to the project as well. He just had different ideas that Richard just couldn't accept. And now, everyone is on board with the pivot to video chatting. Dinesh came up with a solid business idea that could really break out right now. In the beginning, Richard does his best to try to sell it to potential investors. That cold open is fantastic. An Uber ride becomes a dry sales-pitch with all the guys joining a conference call to talk up the details of the app.

And yet, Richard isn't super excited about what his company has become. He's not a great salesperson for this app even though he's the CEO of the business. He knows that going to Russ Hanneman is the only way to get money from an investor who won't judge the company for its past mistakes. But again, Richard is just not passionate about this change. It's a weird dynamic for the show as well. The narrative set this story up as the new direction for the company that will allow the team to continue to try to succeed in this business. But it's lead character wants no part of it. Instead, he wants to go off and completely invent a new internet that is truly free for everyone. That's a lofty goal for someone who has failed in this business a number of times already. And yet, Richard isn't deterred by his past failings. Instead, he welcomes Russ' advice and decides to pursue this new venture. He quits Piper Chat to devote all of his time to this new business. However, that could really alienate him as a character this season. That's likely the point though. Everyone else is working to make Piper Chat. Perhaps without Richard there, they'll finally succeed. Though there will probably be some blunders along the way as well. Meanwhile, Richard has a white board that says "New Internet." He's already stressed out and eating his fingernails. He could become even more self-destructive with this new project. But that at least sets up a compelling character arc for him this season.

Of course, the rest of the Pied Piper team is more than okay with letting Richard go. In fact, they were planning to oust him as CEO anyway. They also knew that he wasn't happy with the direction of the company. They are working as hard as they can despite not getting paid for any of it. Meanwhile, Richard's been focusing on arbitrary things that only boost the quality a little bit. Richard is definitely obsessed with making things as perfect as they can be. That's a quality that works against him here. At least, everyone is aware of that though. So, things are able to end amicably. Richard allows the Piper Chat team to keep his algorithm for free. He only wants the Pied Paper name - which everyone is very willing to give to him. Now, the mystery becomes who replaces Richard as CEO. Erlich believes it's going to be him because he's the one who saved the company from complete destruction at the end of last season. But the board also includes Big Head's father who wants Erlich to suffer as much as possible. Erlich and Big Head was such a fascinating character pairing last season. It's great that it's going to continue this season as well. Plus, Big Head is going to be around the main house interacting with the other main characters. That's going to be lots of fun as well.

Ultimately though, Dinesh becomes CEO of Piper Chat. It was his idea. It's a good idea that has already shown a lot of growth as a business. It makes a lot of sense that he would be CEO. The only thing standing in his way is Gilfoyle, who's made Dinesh's life absolutely miserable for years now. He's constantly making fun of him for everything that he does. He just has so much disdain for Dinesh and his ideas. It's incredibly awkward and silly that Dinesh has to ask for Gilfoyle's permission in order to become CEO. It's one of the funniest and most poignant moments of this premiere. He agrees because it would be a win-win situation for him. If Dinesh fails, he can mock him in even more extravagant ways. If Dinesh succeeds, then Gilfoyle will become rich as well. So, everything will work out in the end. Meanwhile, it's also incredibly moving to see Richard push Jared to stay with Piper Chat instead of come with him to his new endeavor. That relationship has meant a lot over the years. Jared will probably continue to support Richard around the house because he does care about his well being. But now, they are working in two separate companies. Staying at Piper Chat is the safe thing for Jared to do right now even though it's heartbreaking for him to no longer be with Richard.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Success Failure" was written by Alec Berg and directed by Mike Judge.
  • Over at Hooli, it doesn't take long for Gavin and Jack's partnership to go awry. Both of them are these big characters who can go toe-to-toe with each other. Gavin is used to getting his way and is frustrated when he doesn't. So, he demotes Jack just for the sheer perception of him wasting the company's valuable time and resources - even though Gavin is much more wasteful of both.
  • In order to prove Jack's wasteful spending, Gavin has Denpok make the same trip he and Jack just made multiple times to see which way is faster. It's a great joke - especially later on when Jack has no idea what Gavin is talking about.
  • Monica is still at Raviga even though she went against Laurie to vote with Richard and Pied Piper at the end of last season. She's now been moved to an office that has a full view of the men's bathroom. That's quite a visual that is funny the moment it is revealed.
  • Erlich hasn't started paying anyone at Piper Chat yet. He hasn't figured out how much stock in the company to give them either because it's coming out of his percentage. It's hilarious that he's a co-owner of this business but he's still reduced down to a 10% stake in it - which is the same number he's always had.
  • Russ knows a lot about gay culture but not for the reason everyone expects. Instead, his grandfather just came out and it was a beautiful thing to behold.
  • The end credits reveal that both Stephen Tobolowsky and Chris Diamantopoulos have been promoted to series regulars. Both Jack Barker and Russ Hanneman are great characters. But the show should be very careful not to overuse either of them moving forward.