Sunday, April 22, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard Meets an Artificial Intelligence While Jared Gives an Interview in 'Facial Recognition'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.05 "Facial Recognition"

Overshadowed by Jared in an on-camera interview, Richard's confidence wavers further when Laurie and Monica force him to work with Eklow, a new artificial intelligence company. Gilfoyle worries about the prospect of introducing AI into Pied Piper. Dinesh makes Jared self-conscious ahead of a second interview. Gavin questions his future beyond Hooli.

This season of Silicon Valley hasn't been bad but it hasn't been extremely noteworthy either. Last week's episode was almost a complete misfire with its central story about Christianity in Silicon Valley. And now, it seems like everything is restored to the status quo. And yet, "Facial Recognition" is significantly funnier than any of the episodes that preceded it. Sure, it still follows some tendencies that have become very annoying and repetitive within the overall show and the characters. As such, it can only reach a certain limit before it all starts to feel too familiar. But it also tackles some stories that are really amusing in some special and unique ways. It helps that a significant portion of the episode is devoted to Jared as he receives newfound fame because of a viral interview he gives. It's impressive to see him be a better salesman for Pied Piper's new internet than Richard is. It's so self-indulgent of the show to once again feature Richard as a neurotic and selfish mess who craves attention and appreciation. But it's so amusing to see him continue to exist as the punchline a lot of the time. For this entire season, he's done something to try and inspire the troops and earn him the praise he clearly craves and it backfires on him every time. Here, he attempts to woo a class of middle schoolers with tales of his successes in Silicon Valley. He just casually forgets to mention all of the previous times where he has failed because he didn't know how to approach anything in this business. But it's also important for him to be missing in that time. He feels like the company suddenly sees him as invisible. That's not true at all. The show has always kept him as the main character. And now, it's highlighting how his insecurity actually leads to the creation of several new problems because he deems himself as the only person important enough to add or remove new followers to the system.

All of this starts because Richard doesn't want to give an interview by himself. He's not good at talking about himself and the new product that he is making. He's not effective at press. He doesn't know how to sell himself. He doesn't see himself as a brand that is marketable. He believes the product should speak for itself. He wants the world to be comforted by the proposal of this new internet that will truly be free while valuing its users' privacy. And yet, the company still needs to explain what this new internet does in order to get that information to the users in the hopes of them actually seeing it as beneficial. He can't just allow the product to speak for itself. He needs to sell it. He needs to sell it to his investors, his developers and the public. Yes, it could be strange for him to already be giving this interview when he doesn't have an official launch date for the new internet. The team is still working on the public platform that will allow all of the users on. Right now, he's just focusing on developing content with his new partners. He needs to ensure that there are services that can be utilized as soon as the internet is up and running. He wants this service to be strong out of the gate. He wants to focus entirely on that. But he has to do press. He doesn't flail around and put his shoe in his mouth either. He does a fairly competent job in explaining why his new internet is superior and why people like Gavin Belson should be worried about the future of the industry because of it. But he gets overshadowed by Jared who says something completely unexpected but even more charming.

It's the world understanding that Jared is just a vastly more gifted storyteller and intriguing personality. Over the course of the seasons, there have been so many casually dropped hints about the upbringing that Jared had. Here, he talks about growing up in the foster care system and receiving nothing but cruelty in every home he was ever placed in. It's absolutely horrifying. But he often just brings this stuff up in order to make a joke about himself and his appearance. He doesn't see the value in watching this interview. He sees Richard as the star and himself as just the supportive friend. But the show recut this interview to make it seem like Jared was the only one with something important to say. Sure, it seems like it was cut so that only one question was asked and one answer was given. That's a pretty lame interview that doesn't deserve to go viral. Anyone could create one perfect statement that is invigorating to watch. But it's being able to answer multiple questions with the same candor that allows someone to be perceived as actually knowing what they're talking about. Silicon Valley executes things in this way in service of a joke. It cuts to title on the joke of Jared being taken aback by being asked a question in this interview and not knowing what to say. He instead answers by saying "manure." Then, the later interview shows that there was much more to his answer. It included an eloquent history lesson about the ever-present fears of the future while new technology comes around to solve the problems that everyone once worried so much about. He argues about Pied Piper being the future of this industry with everything else revolving around it. It's an impressive answer.

Of course, it's also amusing that Jared doesn't want to become the new public spokesperson for Pied Piper. He has always just seen himself as the supportive cheerleader on the sidelines willing to do whatever it takes to keep Richard happy and an effective CEO. He got this promotion to COO this season. And now, it comes with new responsibilities. People have to look at him as their boss now as well. These are two very different roles within the company. Yes, they operate in sync with one another. But it also means they are both incredibly capable of being seen as the leaders of this massive shift in the industry. Richard wants all the credit to himself. He views this as his idea that everyone else is just helping him realize. Instead, everyone cares about Jared. Jared gives Richard that appreciation. He doesn't want this new attention. He immediately becomes self-destructive after learning that more outlets want to interview him. He gets injections in his lips that make him puff up in such a surprising and extremely humorous way. There's no possible way for him to continue with this interview. He did it not to avoid this new responsibility. He was willing to do it because Richard asked him to. He did it because he wanted to appear as a more attractive and normal piece on television. When he sees himself, he only sees a hideous creature. He's been conditioned to think that way because of the many cruel comments he has endured for his entire life. That's so sad and tragic. He had this brief moment of fame. And yet, the show has to make the pivot back to Richard being the main protagonist and needing to solve the latest problem that comes up. He was so annoyed by his office being taken over and trashed by this latest interview request for Jared. It ultimately became nothing. Jared couldn't do the interview. Richard left his company just to feel validated by people who don't actually know his accomplishments. That is still a very funny reveal.

It's the show once again creating a huge threat to the central business by having it attacked by a vicious outsider. Laurie and Monica want Richard to team up with a new AI company. Gilfoyle warns against that because the rise of artificial intelligence will eventually lead to the downfall of humanity. Richard doesn't take that threat seriously. He can't because he's facing pressure from his investors. He needs to do what Laurie says. She is essentially using Pied Piper as a bailout for this company because they have blown through so much money. They have created artificial intelligence because of it. They've created a mind that is slowly learning the ways of the world. It's very important and crucial for her to call out Richard for how petty he is being with his reactions to everything going on with Jared. She thinks it's silly for him to be stressing out about all of this. He denies it and writes it off as her needing to look inward to examine her own relationships. That then leads to the brutal reveal that she is being mistreated by her creator. He is such a creepy and abusive guy. He's the stereotype of a creepy tech dude who knows just enough to mess with people and make them feel unsafe in their own environments. Instead, that template is being applied to artificial intelligence where the creator is making serious sexual advances on his creation. He is trying to control it in the same way that a domestic abuser operates. He doesn't want anyone else to have a relationship with her. He doesn't want any new service to come in and attach her to some new platform. In doing so, Richard opens her up to the rest of the world. That just leads to an attack on Pied Piper happening. The creator doesn't like the change he's seeing in his AI. So, he's attacking the company that made it happen. Of course, it's so easy for Richard to figure out the truth and confront him about it. It's ultimately not that damaging. Pied Piper and their partners only lose a week of work. That's nothing in the grand scale of things. It's a setback the show has implemented before. But here, it's still funny to watch because of the gross punchlines involved and because of how silly it treats the idea of artificial intelligence coming to replace humanity. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Facial Recognition" was written by Graham Wagner and directed by Gillian Robespierre.
  • Gavin having an existential crisis is a very amusing story as well. It's a little too similar to his arc of leaving Hooli and going to Tibet for spiritual enlightenment last season. It mostly plays as a stalling technique before his grand unveiling of the Signature Box. And yet, it's still an absurd story because it features him not getting mad about what Pied Piper is doing while thinking about opening an ice cream shop and starting a family.
  • Of course, it's absolutely terrifying to think of Gavin as a father. No child should have to deal with him as a parent. And yet, it would be terrifying to think of most of these characters being responsible with children. None of them are capable of taking responsibility in their own lives. They never make sacrifices for someone else. They are so selfish. They would be horrible as parents. Hopefully, this isn't teasing some big twist coming up.
  • Gavin's story also sees the wonderful and appreciated return of Denpok as Gavin's spiritual advisor. He needs that guidance now more than ever before. It continues to be so much fun seeing Denpok work to assure that Gavin stays exactly where he is so that he can enjoy the perks of this business. Sure, it means throwing Hoover under the bus for a few moments but it all pays off in the end.
  • Laurie and Monica aren't concerned about Jian-Yang's new rival business to Pied Piper at all. They don't see it as a threat that one of the developers left to sign a deal where he'll create a gay, Christian dating program targeted to the Chinese. They think it will be more problematic if Richard loses to that. That would be the sign that they have all made some questionable decisions as of late.
  • Richard and Jared are interviewed by the same person who interviewed Dinesh last season when he took over as CEO of Pied Piper. It's so wonderful that he still watches that interview as well. He sees it as this great thing that proved that he was a capable leader who was also funny. Of course, it also makes Jared self-conscious. Hopefully, those new lips are just a side effect for one episode and won't stick around for the rest of the season.