Sunday, April 15, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard Outs a New Developer While Jared Plots with Big Head in 'Tech Evangelist'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.04 "Tech Evangelist"

Attempting to woo a gaming company to PiperNet, Richard inadvertently angers a prized ally. Dinesh deals with a betrayal. In preparation for a big launch, Gavin leaves his underlings with a cryptic message. Jared gets inside information from Big Head.

It's surprising to see just how quickly Silicon Valley is moving through its plot this season. That's perhaps the benefit of having a shorter order of eight episodes this year. I don't know why the creative team only wanted to produce eight episodes this time around. It's still enough of a success for HBO to justify ordering another ten episode season. It means the conclusion of "Tech Evangelist" is the halfway point of the fifth season. It feels like the show just came back a few weeks ago and is already half over. And yet, it also means the show is more brisk this year and not dragging out its stories. Yes, it's also starting to feel more episodic in nature with Richard largely being able to focus on one issue with PiperNet at a time. It's still mostly been smooth sailing for him and the team as they are trying to get the new internet off the ground. There hasn't been a whole lot of outside tension just yet. And yet, it's shocking to note that Pied Piper is already able to discover that Jeff is the mole working for Gavin Belson and that Jian-Yang isn't the rightful heir to Erlich's estate. Those have been significant storylines this season. They are already being wrapped up which gives some sense of completion while also further indicating that things are about to become much more complicated as these stories will no doubt still have an impact on the remainder of the season. But it's also noteworthy because the resolution of the Jian-Yang story brings Big Head back into the narrative to realize that he is actually the rightful owner of that ten percent in Pied Piper. So once again, he is failing directly towards success.

Of course, Jian-Yang has never come across as a smart and competent businessman. He took over the incubator and evicted everyone from Pied Piper simply because he didn't like Erlich and he saw no need to put up with the guys. He did so to finance his own projects even though collecting Erlich's estate also meant paying off all of his outstanding debts. But his grand idea was mostly to copy the codes of famous and successful companies and just put the word "new" in front of them. He sees it as the exact same strategy that Richard is doing at Pied Piper. He is inventing a new internet. Richard contests that he has a new idea to completely change the concept of the familiar technology so that it is even more user friendly. He has the code and the vision to make that a possibility. Jian-Yang just sees it as an opportunity for good publicity to copy the success of others in the hopes that people won't notice. It's criminal and it's fraud. And yet, Jian-Yang seems to be getting away with it. That character has never really worked for me. He has always just been an easy excuse for lame Asian humor from the writers. It's just been a very one-note and annoying performance. As such, it's thrilling to see him vacate the house so that Richard and the Pied Piper team can move back in. He's moved back to China to act as direct competition to PiperNet because he happened to steal a key piece of code. That's certainly ominous. But it's also not really something the show should be bothered to keep updating on moving forward. It should just be aware of that but not need it to become a huge priority because Jian-Yang doesn't really have the vision to make anything out of any of this.

The only reason that Richard becomes worried about Jian-Yang and his new rival company is because one of his development partners decides to team with Jian-Yang instead of Richard. It's a somewhat awkward story that points out that Silicon Valley is one of the most progressive and welcoming communities in the world - to everyone except Christians. The show is stating that this place is the direct opposite to almost everywhere else on the planet. In the rest of the world, Christianity rules. And here, everyone is basically allowed to be who they are without any judgment - except for that one community. It shows that these programmers can be just as biased and cruel as the rest of the world. It's just not the same issues as everywhere else. Here, the majority is actually the minority that needs to be saved from persecution. Everyone is completely fine with this developer being gay and wanting to keep his dating algorithm strictly for gay men. He's open to the idea of opening it so that it is more inclusive for everyone. He doesn't want to alienate anyone by joining this new internet. Richard is the one who needs to overtly show his appreciation and support for gay issues. He also feels the need to step up to the bat and support this guy once he accidentally outs him as a Christian. It's the show being a little too cute about the ideas of being outed and judged for who one is at their core. It's the show playing on familiar concepts with a twist in order to deliver a joke in the end. Richard believes he is once again delivering a rousing speech that can get everyone to address their bias with the idea of creating an internet that is free and open to everyone with no exceptions. But again, it has the punchline of that not working at all and not even being all that necessary because the developer is leaving the pact.

It's also awkward for the show to be pushing this progressive agenda and identity for Silicon Valley when that hardly seems representative of what it truly is. Yes, it is more welcoming to outside views and identities. But so many social media platforms have struggled in figuring out privacy issues and ways to address the abuse and harassment of some of its users. There has been no consistent pattern of finding ways to target people who are using these apps and platforms for ill-intended purposes. Plus, there's the fact that Silicon Valley is incredibly bro-centric. It's not a welcoming environment to females at all. It still feels like a place that embodies toxic masculinity because that is the type of user who frequently abuses these platforms and receives almost no punishment for doing so. There's no sympathy for female issues. That is a huge problem in this industry that doesn't seem anywhere close to finding solutions. None of that is addressed in this episode. As such, it feels like a very simplistic take on this world in order to feel like it is satirizing it appropriately without digging too deep into some systemic issues. These are the headlines in the news right now and this episode mostly wants us to see these companies as being very diverse and progressive. That just doesn't line up well and does create a sort of dissonance between the two mediums. Yes, a lot of the humor and satire still works. It's ominous to see Richard and company back in the familiar home that has been gutted of everything that made it a place to live. It could be seen as a way to start fresh. But it will mostly be taken as a way to keep things exactly the same as well - which is again a huge issue facing these tech companies.

Elsewhere, it's fascinating to have a Gavin-centric plot that barely features Gavin at all. It's fun to see how Gavin's eccentricities are often interrupted by his employees. He has a bunch of new staff this season because he hired people just so Richard couldn't have them. Their talents are being wasted at Hooli. As such, they are reading into things that are essentially nothing. Gavin is making the final adjustments on his big presentation introducing the Signature Box. It's still very amusing to see the signature actually being used on that design. It's surprising that Gavin hasn't figured out what it resembles just yet. Instead, the story focuses on Gavin just making one innocuous comment and his employees trying to read too much into it. It's just a small collection of jokes throughout this episode. These aren't characters who've carried their own stories in the past or whom the audience knows at all. But it is fun to see them try to occupy their time by trying to understand Gavin. They believe he has posed them with a riddle that needs to be solved. The audience knows the entire time what he's talking about. There is just too much honey on the outside of the bear at the craft service table. He doesn't want his hands to be sticky afterwards. But it stirs up such a huge debate with the staff to the point where they think Gavin wants to either completely rework the presentation or wants to add an actual bear to it. It's still so funny whenever a live animal is incorporated into Gavin's world. But it's mostly funny because of Gavin's extreme reactions to them - like with the elephant or bulldog. Here, Gavin never notices the bear. It's quickly shuffled off after the employees realize what was actually going on. It's cute. But it's far better to have Gavin as the focus for the stories at Hooli.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tech Evangelist" was written by Josh Lieb and directed by Jamie Babbit.
  • The past is seemingly coming back to haunt Big Head while turning the tide in his favor once more. Scientists discover one of the easter heads at the bottom of the ocean and return it to him. Meanwhile, he never mailed in the paperwork to dissolve his partnership with Erlich. And so, he is once again coming into success because of his inability to act when he is suppose to. It's all just completely inconsequential to him as well.
  • It's so amusing to see Jared piece together Big Head's importance as well. Big Head hasn't been seen at all this season up to this point. He was still listed as a series regular. But the show seemingly had no purpose with him yet. It's only after realizing this car was listed in his name that Jared grew hopeful that his partnership with Erlich wasn't officially dissolved yet. It wasn't. And so, Pied Piper was able to push Jian-Yang out of the ten percent.
  • The Pied Piper team is allowing Jeff to still work there in order to feed false information to Gavin. Richard is mostly interested in disrupting the Hooli bottom line by making all of its technology obsolete. And yet, the jokes about Dinesh and Gilfoyle annoying the guy with free stuff isn't really developed at all. It doesn't really produce anything of note.
  • Laurie's best observation about Richard is the fact that it would be smart of him to talk for as short a time as possible in any given situation. She very much enjoys the idea of inviting all of the developers over to this gaming company to make the pitch on why they should join the team of working on this new internet.
  • The inability to relate to the female perspective is an issue with the show itself as well. The show has never known what to do with its female characters. I guess there's romantic tension with Richard and Monica. But that has never gone anywhere beyond the occasional flirting. Meanwhile, the show has always just made Laurie a joke-delivery machine. Yes, it's funny that she's suffering from postpartum depression without it changing her personality whatsoever. But the show just never paints a women in the same context as it does with its male leads and that has always been annoying.