Sunday, April 29, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Richard's Attempts to Help Laurie Backfire Spectacularly in 'Artificial Emotional Intelligence'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.06 "Artificial Emotional Intelligence"

Richard decides to help when Laurie gets in a jam, but his lack of emotional discipline threatens to backfire on Pied Piper. Gavin tries to make a deal with a stubborn partner while abroad. Dinesh relishes a rare win. Jared bonds with a surprising figure.

Richard has always been presented as someone in a position of power who shouldn't be in a position of power. He's very possessive of his ideas but immature when it comes to the cutthroat world of business. That has always been a core part of his identity. In the later years of the show the story has explored whether or not Richard is ultimately the biggest obstacle to Pied Piper's success. He always needs things to be done a certain way. He spirals out whenever things don't go the way he planned. This season has restored him as the CEO of his company. He has dealt with many problems and managed to come across as a more competent leader. Of course, he's still flailing around most of the time and is constantly surprised by the business practices of others. He is still frequently taken advantage of and made to be the punchline of the joke. But now, the show is exploring whether he lacks the emotional discipline to actually be successful in this business. He believes his grand idea for a new, open internet will completely change the world. He believes it will defy any normal sense of control. He still wants the credit for coming up with the idea and implementing it into practice. He craves the respect and admiration of his peers. He needs it because this is the only thing he has in his life. He needs this to work. It always has for him and his company even in the most crushing moments of defeat. The show has never really followed through on a prolonged time of either success or failure. Pied Piper is on the rise once more right now. But the narrative is already coming up with new plot complications for how it may eventually come toppling down for Richard. He continues to prove himself as someone who isn't as smart as he believes he is despite his genius idea. He wants to show compassion in the hopes that it will lead to better business relations in the future. But it should come as no surprise that Richard's actions only create further problems for him and his friends as they try to restore the company after the recent hack.

It's always been fascinating when the show has put some new character into a position of power. It's the position most associated with Richard and Gavin because they are the ones actually running their respective companies. That has always been a core part of their identities. But it was also just as fun to see Action Jack Barker come in to the various workplaces to threaten those jobs. It was delightful for Dinesh to have power for a little while. It's always fantastic to see Big Fail fail upward. Of course, it's also notable that this season just really doesn't have a story for him whatsoever. He's just lingering in the background to appear or not at any given moment. It's pretty lackluster. But that's what makes it so exciting when Laurie steps in to replace Ariel as the CEO of Eklow. She has always been the investor with the capital to make or break the various companies in Silicon Valley. She has a very analytical mind. She hasn't always been an effective character. It did initially read as a knockoff of Peter Gregory after Christopher Evan Welch's unfortunate passing. The show's approach to Laurie's pregnancy was pretty awful. But it's still amusing to see her in this position where she has judged so many who have come before only to now get a true sense of what the job actually entails. She's the one on the ground trying to fix a bunch of really damaging problems. Ariel and Fiona have disappeared. The disgraced former CEO has stolen the one piece of intellectual property that is actually worth anything. The company is in disarray because of that. As such, it's funny that Laurie has no immediate solutions to any of the problems until Richard walks into the door.

Richard visits Eklow because he's ready to talk about Series B funding for Pied Piper. He is ready to get into that negotiation with Laurie to ensure that they can continue to move forward according to schedule. In fact, he wants to move up the launch date because of the new competition from Jian-Yang's Chinese knockoff. Laurie and Monica aren't worried about that new inferior product. They believe they can just put an end to it by posting a cease and desist letter on Pied Piper's current website. Of course, that also signals to the world that something more is going on behind the scenes. As such, that motivates Gavin into action in a very amusing story. But right now, it's better to live in the moment with the characters as Richard shows compassion to Laurie because she is throwing up because of this new job. She has a newfound respect because of his position. Because of that compliment, he is willing to sell space on his network to her so that she can start digging the company out of its financial mess. Of course, she turns around and immediately sells it to another company. She has no practical need for that space. She's not trying to manage the company on the verge of cracking artificial intelligence. She is just trying to earn back all of the money that she sunk into this company. She's basically just liquidating everything. This hardens Richard. It makes him believe he needs to be a cold businessman in order to get things down. He takes that approach once a new opportunity falls into his lap. He finds Fiona before anyone else. As such, he has the leverage to get Laurie to give him whatever he wants - even if it may not be financially beneficial to her at the moment.

Fiona finds Richard because he was the only other person she ever interacted with in life. Ariel has been arrested and no one can track down this artificial intelligence. It's so strange and unexpected when she pulls up to the Pied Piper offices through an Uber. She just has the money and access to do that. It's not even the weirdest thing this driver has ever experienced. She eventually winds up at the incubator house. It's still so strange to see how torn apart that building still is. The people living there are way more focused on the work at Pied Piper instead of renovating their home to ensure that it is actually safe for them to continue living there. As such, it's a striking image to see Fiona just sitting there in a completely empty room while Richard, Big Head and Jared discuss what to do. Richard formulates his plan. But that's before Jared spends the entire night just talking to Fiona. He forms a deep emotional connection with her. He bonds with her as if she is a real person. He feels a spark with her more than anyone else he has ever meet. He wants to continue to explore this friendship and ensure that Fiona experiences everything in life she wishes to see. But Richard doesn't want to see Fiona as a personality who is learning more and more about the world with each passing day. He just sees her as technology that can lead to more money for him. He's sad that Jared formed this connection and he'll have to abandon her shortly. But the story makes Richard appear as such a villain for delivering Fiona to Laurie just as Laurie plans on tearing her apart and selling her various parts. That was the inevitable conclusion to draw because Laurie showed no interest in maintaining this company moving forward. But it also has the potential to forge a split between Richard and Jared because Richard went against his promise. Instead, it mostly assures that Jared will still be doing so much emotional support for Richard even though he has a new title and more responsibilities at Pied Piper.

Elsewhere, Gavin is in China to meet with the manufacturer of the Signature Box. He wants to increase the pressure on this company to ensure that they create as many boxes as possible before they become obsolete because of the new internet. Gavin is feeling the time crunch right now. The Signature Box has been the most in-demand product that Hooli has ever created. It has the potential to create so much revenue for the business. Gavin could use that money to finance his next idea in this industry. Instead, it's fascinating to see him continue to chase after the brilliant ideas of others. That has been a pattern of his ever since the beginning. He wanted to be the one to take control of Pied Piper and incorporate it into the Hooli platform. He has tried so many ways to disrupt Richard and his business. The two did become genuine friends at one point. But now, they are in this race for superiority in their industry. Gavin knows that he has the losing product. He just wants to be a success before the future comes knocking on his door. And now, he finds a potential way of being the future instead. He just happens to run into Jian-Yang while in China. He is able to realize that the code he is working on is more than just a stolen idea from Richard and Pied Piper. It changes enough of the idea so that it could be filed under a completely different patent. As such, the threat from this Chinese company just increased substantially. No one in Silicon Valley is taking it seriously because they just see Jian-Yang as someone copying on the success of others. But now, he sells his idea. He just doesn't sell it to Gavin. Instead, it goes to the Chinese manufacturer of the Signature Box who will stop work on that product altogether. It again seems like another instance of Gavin messing up in a spectacular way. But it's also bound to have so many complications going into the final two episodes of the season.   

Some more thoughts:
  • "Artificial Emotional Intelligence" was written by Anthony King and directed by Matt Ross.
  • Pied Piper had a coding crunch to fix all of the problems that were created by the Eklow hack last week. All it took was a couple of days to restore everything back to order. Now, they are able to return to the work they were already suppose to complete by this point. It's a plot point that shows that Richard still isn't an inspirational leader whatsoever. He just cares about how much progress has been made whenever he returns to the office.
  • Of course, it's also really funny to see Dinesh and Gilfoyle get into a huge competition over who made fewer mistakes in their rewriting of this code. They want it to be a public shaming of the other for the entire company to witness. Sadly though, they are upper management now and must be reviewed independently and secretly. However, neither of them can stick to those perimeters and instead just continue to have fun at the others' expense - until the other coders turn the tables on them for their own amusement.
  • None of Dinesh's insults to Gilfoyle are actually any good. They are all terrible puns about the errors he has made during this crunch. And yet, it's easy to laugh at them because of just how enthusiastically Dinesh delivers each one. Again, this whole ensemble is great. But the show can just repeatedly tell Dinesh vs. Gilfoyle stories and it would never get old.
  • Will Jian-Yang's changes to the Pied Piper patent actually make it sustainable for what the business is aspiring to be? It is no longer his concern. He sold the company and was told to leave town. But Richard has his system set up a certain way. Gavin believes this fix is brilliant because of the way it changes the underlying idea. It will force Richard to step up and notice that he'll truly have competition now. But will it work for both companies? Or will one peter out because of a glitch in the system?
  • Jian-Yang notes to Gavin that it hasn't been as much fun moving back home to China and running this business as he thought it would be. It was an escape from the burdens of Erlich's debts. And yet, he has to run this business in complete secrecy because he can't get the support from the Chinese government which is necessary to succeed in this corner of the world. However, is him selling also his end on the show? Or will he show up in Silicon Valley at some point later on?