Sunday, May 13, 2018

REVIEW: 'Silicon Valley' - Pied Piper's New Internet is Attacked and Sends Everyone Scrambling in 'Fifty-One Percent'

HBO's Silicon Valley - Episode 5.08 "Fifty-One Percent"

The launch of PiperNet finds Monica suspicious of an early success, and the team must race against the clock as their future is threatened. Realizing he's made more enemies than friends, Richard makes a surprising move.

This turned out to be a pretty fascinating season of Silicon Valley. It was the show trying to break free from some of its formulas while still always wanting to confidently remind the audience that it's the same show that it has always been. As such, there was a bit more random and chaotic bits this season. These episodes didn't have the same lows or highs as past seasons did. It was much more consistent and down-the-middle. It was a story that ultimately justified only being eight episodes long. It would have been annoying to see this conflict stretched out across ten episodes for no good reason other than HBO wanting to expand on the show's success. The show needed to refocus its storytelling this year after the fourth season went a little off the rails. It managed to do so by focusing on what was important and essential with these characters. It created more conflicts-of-the-week for Richard and the Pied Piper team to address while not facing a series of defeats along the way. Each season in the past has followed the pattern of the team getting new success, the team struggling to manage it, followed by crushing failure, then a ray of hope, then an absolute defeat before the reveal that they can pivot to focus on something new that keeps the company viable for the future. In the early going, that was a fun pattern that showed just how smart the story was in regards to the erratic and chaotic nature of this profession. Everyone is always trying to reinvent themselves and prove that they are still worth investing in. And now, Richard has had success throughout this season. Pied Piper had the proper funding to launch Richard's new, decentralized internet. The entire season was in preparation for the launch. That finally occurs in the finale. It seemed unlikely following the soft launch for the new cryptocurrency. But it's still something that the team manages to pull off.

That's what makes it so immediately exciting when the show decides to follow up the launch with a two month time jump. It gives the show just enough of a break and space to show how things have changed for the company during that time. At first, everyone is so excited about the prospect of the new internet. They have been working tirelessly for this end result. And now, it has finally launched. It's a cause worth celebrating. Afterwards, it appears as if the Pied Piper offices are abandoned. It doesn't seem like anyone is working there for the company or to deal with the mess left behind. Of course, a few people come stumbling out eventually. It's mostly just an excuse to show Richard and Dinesh growing beards because they've fallen into a depression since the numbers haven't been lucrative so far for the company. That's an okay joke that is easily shaved away as soon as they get the uplifting news that sets in motion the plot for the finale. All of a sudden the numbers start turning around. Richard knew that an influx of users was coming to the service. They just had to wait for them to arrive. And now, that has finally occurred. Of course, there's something much more nefarious going on. The audience knows that because we've seen this pattern before of thinking things are great despite the significant uptick in users that doesn't match the current pattern of growth. It doesn't make any sense. However, Richard still feels the need to celebrate. It serves as another excuse to laugh at Richard because he doesn't know what's actually going on.

Instead, all of this is an attack in order to destroy PiperNet. Laurie and her new Chinese partners also have access to the service because of the code that Jian-Yang stole. Richard thought he was being very careful in only letting a select group of developers on the platform to start off with. He enjoyed these partnerships being eager to be there on the ground floor to completely revitalize the world. He still relies on them in order to get the subscription numbers up. But it's also a point that no one at Pied Piper is aware that Jian-Yang is no longer the man behind the Chinese competition. Instead, that is now Laurie who is placing her bets against PiperNet after they poached Monica away from her and refused her Series B funding. That meant PiperNet had to scrape by with just a little bit of cash. But they still managed to pull off the launch. They did so because they believed in the project. And now, it is under attack by two individuals who wish to end it so that they can own the platform that will change the world. It's nothing personal. It's just the smarter business decision. Nothing ever feels personal for Laurie. This is a smart strategy for her even though it's a much more cold and calculated move. It's something that Gavin was more likely to come up with. Of course, he isn't given that opportunity until much later. Right now, Laurie is the one staging this attack and time is not on Gilfoyle's side to ensure that the competition won't secure fifty one percent ownership of the internet. If that were ever to be the case, then that company would suddenly be the one dictating the rules and deciding who can use the platform and who can't. As such, the stakes are incredibly high to ensure that Richard keeps his company.

As such, Richard has to start begging the various characters he's interacted with this season to help the company get their numbers up so that Gilfoyle has enough time to launch his counterattack that renders this assault useless. It's a story mostly reduced down to Richard just having to mend fences with one former CEO. Of course, the animosity there largely comes out of something that occurred offscreen. K-Hole Games was a huge get for PiperNet. It presented an entry into the gamer community. That's a huge list of subscribers who would join the service. It's an important partnership to have. And now, it needs to be told to the audience that Colin left the development team after the soft launch and was then removed as CEO by Laurie for supporting Richard in the first place. He made this partnership in the beginning because Monica and Laurie told him it would be beneficial to all involved. Now, he has lost his company and Richard doesn't want to listen to him as he's begging for another opportunity to succeed on the new internet. It once again presents Richard as a jerk. The show continues to go back and forth on whether Richard is actually the hero of this story. He frequently gets in his own way. The company would be better off if someone else was running it. But Richard is the man in charge and he is so demanding and clear about his rules. He doesn't want anyone to compromise his vision. As such, he has made a number of enemies this year. Any number of them could appear here. It's just notable that they are absent both in their support of PiperNet and in their presence on the series. That means the show needs to create this new tension that is quickly resolved simply because Dinesh takes Colin for a ride in a Tesla.

But all of this needed to essentially be boiled down to the various companies fighting one another for supremacy in this industry. Richard has been saying that Hooli and their Signature Box were able to become obsolete. Richard was told he didn't have to worry about these Chinese competitors. Then, Jian-Yang lost control and Laurie joined the deal. As such, there are three entities in the race for control of PiperNet. Richard approaches Gavin with an offer mostly because he sees him as a jerk who doesn't feel bad about being a jerk. He'll be a jerk no matter what. Of course, that always makes him a very shifty individual to make a new deal with. It was bound to become problematic the moment that Richard used the only Signature Boxes ever produced in order to even the playing field. It just gave Gavin a stake in this race. He is more than willing to turn on Richard and make a new partnership with Laurie and the Chinese because he still wants to be seen as relevant and important in this industry. He is willing to sell to them because he wants to prove he is still an effective businessman at the top of his profession. Then, Richard pleas with Gavin to just take control of the internet himself. He already has the best coders in the industry to work on it. He would finally be asking them to do what they've always wanted to do. But that's a deal that Richard only presents in order to trick Gavin into ruining his chances with the Chinese. It's just a stalling device so that Richard can boost his numbers thanks to Colin while kicking this infiltrators off of his network. That means this season actually ends with a major victory for the Pied Piper team. That's a refreshing change of pace that makes this feel like a very rewarding finale - even though it still ends with Richard once again throwing up after realizing just how big this company is about to become thanks to this new influx of cash and global reach.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fifty-One Percent" was written by Alec Berg and directed by Alec Berg.
  • Jian-Yang was pressured into selling his code. And now, he has already gone through all of that money. He throws it all away gambling too. He isn't willing to help the Pied Piper team figure out what's going on until he loses the last of it. After that, he suddenly sees the value in those relationships because he will need a place to stay. Of course, it's lame that he thinks of the house as his home when he's been so vicious to everyone else who lives there.
  • Of course, it's also amusing that Big Head interprets Jian-Yang moving back in as the big news of that conversation. He doesn't really care about this attack on PiperNet the same way that the rest of them do. He just shows up as the sole connection to Jian-Yang because they happen to still be friends. This season didn't give Big Head a ton to do. But it was amusing to see him get in the way of Pied Piper's success here for a little bit.
  • For the amount of time spent on Dinesh talking about Teslas this season, there needed to be some epic payoff at some point during this finale. That's exactly what occurs too as he and Jared need a fast car to get to Colin as quickly as possible after he's gone camping. It also presents an opportunity for them to use ludicrous mode - which they promptly get pulled over for speeding as well.
  • Has the show ever paired Monica and Gilfoyle together for a story? I don't think so but I could be forgetting something. Either way, it's fun to see them paired together as they are the ones to figure out that this attack must be happening. And in the end, Gilfoyle's new code is very effective at ending this threat. Gilfoyle then uses it as an opportunity to say that he actually likes Monica. Though he quickly notes it's not in a romantic sense.
  • And so, Pied Piper is moving into new office space. It's a building that used to be owned by Hooli. So, it seems that the company keeps on moving up in the world. The team will have to deal with even more success next season which is very exciting. Monica also teases that the government has already reached out for ways that they can use this new internet in order to help their various investigations and programs. That could be very intriguing as well.
  • HBO has already renewed Silicon Valley for a sixth season. That wasn't a surprise because the show still does well for them in the ratings - though it no longer has the benefit of a Game of Thrones lead-in. It has its own loyal audience at this point. Of course, this season also proved that the show isn't as topical or refreshing as it used to be. As such, the question should probably start being asked about how much longer the show should run?