Sunday, April 1, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard Struggles as a Leader While Jian-Yang Takes Over the Incubator in 'Reorientation'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.02 "Reorientation"

Panicked by suddenly leading a much larger team, Richard finds himself managing a number of small conflicts in his efforts to unite his new employees. Dinesh celebrates a new purchase that Gilfoyle looks to spoil. Jian-Yang goes to court. Gavin meets pushback over his signature and what it says about him.

The Pied Piper team is trying to figure out what kind of leader Richard should be. He's now the CEO of a company that has over 50 employees. It's expanding much faster than what the early plan warranted. Richard didn't know how to adjust to that pressure right away. And so, he threw up in front of his entire staff. That came after he was unable to string together a couple of words welcoming everyone to the team. He fought for a staff. He fought hard to crush the people who stood in his way. He didn't get his top choices to help him create this new internet. But he did get two teams that are used to working together and already have a shorthand. Now, he has to be inspirational. He wants the idea to stand for itself. He wants the team to be united around the concept of completely reinventing the internet. He understands the power of this suggestion. He can make an argument about how corrupt and violating the current system has been for decades. In the end though, that isn't inspiring. Richard doesn't know how to be a leader. That is relatable. It's difficult to get other people to have the same passion towards a subject as you. The idea is strong but without focus and direction this company will plummet before it even gets off the ground. Richard needs to be a leader. He tries several different managerial styles throughout "Reorientation." He doesn't want to interact with his staff and get to know them. He wants to be aloof and just code. He's a coder not a leader. For the longest time, that's not good enough. But in the end, that's the exact solution to this story.

Of course, the show also doubles down on the final joke from the premiere. Last week it was amusing to see Richard run into his office to throw up in the garbage without anyone seeing only to realize that everyone could see. This episode opens with Richard telling some crazy story about how he felt like he was going to poop his pants but didn't only to throw up and face that embarrassment by walking straight into a glass wall. It's all completely far-fetched and ridiculous. No one of the main team takes it all that seriously even though Jared is still largely concerned with keeping Richard healthy during this moment. But it's a joke that doesn't land right away because the audience doesn't see it and understands what's going on. It's as if the show is explaining the joke at the end of the premiere while also adding things that happened offscreen. It doesn't change the perception of Richard as a leader. He's still facing embarrassment from his employees. He's not an inspiration. He doesn't do a whole lot to change that perception either. When he does have to go out into the crowd to address some concerns with the code, he does so with the mentality of trying to fix every small problem in order to win these people over. That doesn't work because the systems in place exist for a reason. The no dog policy ensures that one of the employees doesn't have an allergic reaction. That's a lesson Richard learns the hard way as soon as he allows dogs in the building - which also leads to a very amusing joke of Dinesh being deeply afraid of dogs and cursing at even the smallest one in the room.

Plus, Richard isn't even an inspirational leader when given the typical inspirational speech moment. This episode is seemingly building to that moment where Richard is finally able to piece together a speech about why these coders should be unified for this project. He is able to talk passionately about this idea and why it is something each of them should be investing in. He is able to talk about things on a grand scale. That's the idea for this project. He is dreaming big and hoping that this is the team who can help him realize it. In the aftermath of that moment though, it seems like all hope is lost. It's a beat the show has played many times previously. It gives the protagonists their rousing moment where they believe they win people over only to then realize that they've only pushed them away further and jeopardized the project in the process. All of the new employees walk out of the office after the speech. Richard turns his back not wanting to face reality. When he does turn around again, only Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle remain. He's right back to where he started - immediately after promising Monica and Laurie that he could succeed at this level. It's because the show spent so much time in the premiere establishing this new team that it felt inevitable that they would all return to Pied Piper eventually. There is still a significant amount of time left after they all walk out. It leads to a pretty miraculous return that happens offscreen as well. Richard is able to inspire his troops by completing so much work without sleeping that would normally take teams of coders several days to finish. It's impressive. It also allows for some rich payoff to the joke that started the episode. This time Richard does throw up and walk straight into the glass wall. He breaks it and goes to the hospital. It's such a personal moment of destruction. But it's also played as a triumph. This is the only way for him to stop working and take care of himself. But it also proves to the employees just how far he is willing to go to achieve this goal. That's what makes him inspiring.

Meanwhile, Dinesh and Gilfoyle are being pretty reckless and petty as well. They aren't trying to help Richard succeed. They are too distracted by their own squabble. It once again shows just how ill-equipped they are to handle things once they get money. Pied Piper is more of a success now. And so, Dinesh immediately goes out and buys a tesla. He did that long before the company started spending money and building this infrastructure. It was an impulse purchase. He did it in order to gloat to his roommates about the impressive vehicle he now owns. Gilfoyle just wants to point out all of the ways that it now currently losing money because Dinesh owns it. It too is a pretty familiar story for these two characters. They have always been bickering. They've always had this rivalry especially when it comes to buying new products for themselves. They just want to one up each other. It proves to be a more costly venture for Dinesh though. He's the one who spends thousands of dollars on this tesla. Gilfoyle buys the cheapest electric vehicle he can find on craigslist. He enjoys taking Dinesh's spot in the parking garage. But it also leads to quite the visual when the two get into a race on the street and Dinesh immediately crashes his tesla while trying to speed away. It's such a striking visual. It's miraculous that he walks away from it with no injuries whatsoever. Instead, he takes it as inspiration to double down on what he's doing to ensure victory over Gilfoyle. He doesn't want to be laughed at yet again. But he has to pay $17,000 in order to fix the tesla. He is willing to spend that money to prove a point. As such, this cycle of recklessness continues. It also serves as inspiration for what Jian-Yang does next as he seizes control of the house.

As I've pointed out, some of the plot beats of this episode are overly familiar. It's a structure the show has implemented time and time again. But "Reorientation" ends on a very enticing note that possibly presents a new way forward for the main characters. For five seasons now, they've lived in the same house. It was the incubator that Erlich owned. And now, Erlich is gone. As such, it's fascinating to explore the potential loss of that house. It has always operated as a home base for the Pied Piper gang. This company is the only one to have actually done something from this incubator. It's the only ownership stake Erlich had that was worth something. It was significant for Richard, Dinesh and Gilfoyle to live there. But now, Jian-Yang goes to court to prove that he should be the executor of Erlich's estate. He goes through so much effort to fake Erlich's death even though it is completely irrelevant in the end. The judge grants him everything he wants in addition to all of the bills that Erlich has let pile up. As such, Jian-Yang decides to change the locks and kick out the Pied Piper team. It's an action that could be essentially meaningless in just a few episodes. But it's also something that the show should explore. That house has always been a safety net. These bonds between the characters have always been so strong because they live and work together. If that is lost, then what becomes of these relationships? That's a fascinating question that the season should explore in a meaningful way. They are still working on the same project. It's one they remain passionate about. But they are also technically homeless right now with no prospects on where to live. That's a new problem they'll have to face immediately.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Reorientation" was written by Carson Mell and directed by Mike Judge.
  • Over at Hooli, a handwriting expert analyzes Gavin's signature and immediately labels him as a sociopath. That's such an amusing reveal. It's easily the funniest story of this episode. Gavin doesn't want to hear this criticism about his signature. He believes it's a great signature. It belongs on the box because it is being labeled as the Hooli Signature Box. He needs to leave his mark on this product because of how popular it is. But everyone disagrees because of what it looks like.
  • As such, it's fun to see the various options the team presents to Gavin as solutions to the signature. They hire Banksy to make it a piece of art but Gavin is annoyed that Banksy has a signature for his signature. That's very funny. And then, the story ends with Gavin falling in love with the signature voted on by his team that actually resembles a penis. Again, it's crude humor that the show utilizes so well in a surprising and blunt way.
  • Hooli is also utilizing a plan to spy on Pied Piper and get updates on what's going on over there. It's just a covert operation orchestrated by the head of security who doesn't want to implicate Gavin. And yet, Gavin would rather just know all of the details. It mostly just amounts to a mole in Pied Piper who calls in to Hooli to tell them what's going on within the company. It will probably be a significant story this season.
  • Richard walking through a glass wall creates another opportunity for Andy Daly's doctor to show up to ridicule Richard for his various medical problems. Here, Richard wakes up and is greeted by his doctor saying he's been in a coma for four years. That's crazy but also a solid joke played in the right situation. It's actually only been a couple of hours that proves that Richard just needs to go home and get some sleep. The cuts weren't even that significant.
  • So far, this season hasn't offered any updates on what's going on in Big Head's life. That's disappointing. Big Head is always a fascinating character because he always fails upwards. He doesn't actually do anything. And yet, he became a millionaire, lost it all and is now a professor. Richard and company have exploited that connection so many times. It's inevitable it will happen again.