Jazz Is The New Punk Rock On Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is midway through its first season now, and the shape of the show is starting to reveal itself. Richard, in fits and starts and panic attacks, is beginning to lead when he needs to and delegate when he can't lead. Erlich is beginning to temper his would-be iconoclast ambitions with reality and purpose. Jared, his true name likely lost forever to the sands of the ages, is beginning to overcome his ghost-like features to make himself seen and heard. Gilfoyle and Dinesh are beginning to do anything other than play Battlefield 3. Big Head is around too. Bit by bit, Pied Piper is becoming... something. It's a start-up? The next Hooli? Punk rock? Jazz?

For the most part, people seem to know what they don't want it to be. Erlich doesn't want to sit on the board of another white-sans-serif-lowercase-letters-logo'd start-up, so he takes executive action and throws $10,000 at graffitista (graffiter? graffitio? ) Chuy Ramirez to design the boys their very own non-phallic logo, dripping with street cred.

In a lovely bit of world-building, Chuy wants stock options, but takes the cash on the uncorrected assumption that Dinesh is one of the few Latinos in the tech world, kicking off a chain of sort-of-racism that pretty much solely incriminates Erlich. He doesn't get a goddamn sketch beforehand, the dingus, and ends up with some lovingly-rendered sodomy featuring Dinesh in Aztec regalia and the Statue of Liberty painted across his garage door. His protests only manage to earn him his face on Lady Liberty, offering a goofball grin and a thumbs-up.

While Erlich plows on, Jared's raising a ruckus over the abject lack of productivity at PPHQ. We still don't know all that much about Dinesh and Gilfoyle beyond that they live with their fingers on each others' buttons, and that Martin Starr was put on this earth to play characters who shit-talk universally beloved animals. When Jared's suggestion of "neutral colored enclosures about yea high" is universally rejected, he exploits that dynamic with the introduction of scrum, an absurdly jargony system of Post-Its and columns (the only Post-It in the 'EMERGENCY' column: "Kush for Erlich").

To Dinshes and Gilfoyle, though, it essentially boils down to, "Do more than the other guy," and their endless capacity for one-upping leads them to get the most work done we've seen from anyone all season. By the time it's time to debut Pied Piper's final white-boy-approved logo – white lowercase letters in a green square, obviously – they're too stuck in their Chinese finger trap of character motivation to even get up from their computers.

So, what is this all this building towards? Well, for one, Pied Piper is now approaching a literal event horizon: before he turned down the ever-mentioned $10 million, Richard absent-mindedly entered Pied Piper into the TechCrunch Disrupt start-up competition, and its acceptance kicks up buzz that reaches Gavin all the way in Jackson Hole (despite the shoddy ethernet, which propels a near-perfect bit of sketch writing as Gavin is forced to scale his communication via hologram – sorry, TeleHuman – down to HooliChat, and then a phone call, cussing all the way down). Gavin interprets the whole debacle as a potshot from his ex-friend-turned-rival Peter Gregory, and pulls like one string to make himself keynote speaker. Bam, we have a Nucleus/Pied Piper showdown in the pipeline. My bet: it'll involve foibles.

I'm a big fan of the upstairs-downstairs dynamic in Silicon Valley, and the reveal/twist that Peter Gregory only put his weight behind because he saw a way to deprive Gavin of something big is both exciting and stressful. It's exciting because it forces Richard into crisis by knocking him from fledgling visionary, thrashing his way towards Wozniak status, back down to service drone, performing a septuply-redundant function for another rich recluse.

And it's exciting because the tech old guard, for all their grinning personality cults and teeny-tiny magic cars, are as new money as the foundlings they're throwing gigantic gobs of cash at, asserting their ascendancy with absurd, gaudy displays that would make Jay Gatsby shoot brut out his nose. Their gurus reinforce their pettiness; their unpiercable auras keep them marinating in their assumed genius. When it's showing us the boy-kings directing the pawns, Silicon Valley is at its most hilarious and terrifying, since they're the models towards which every Richard is conditioned to aspire.

On the other hand, it's stressful, because it crystalizes what's been troubling me about the show to this point, namely, where can we go from here? Jared and Erlich's plotlines fit neatly with the bildungsromanesque lesson-learning that the show's been doling out to this point: Pied Piper tries to forge its own path with a half-concocted strategy, until the coercive spank of reality wakes it up to the efficacy of having a business manager, or a corporate productivity plan, or a clean logo, or being an asshole. Time and time again harsh necessity convinces the ensemble that tech companies do things the way they do for a reason, but the alternative never seems viable; it's almost always anarchy of one stripe (Richard's paralysis) or another (Erlich's bullshit). Their path seems to inevitably end up beaten.

Silicon Valley is a contemporary period piece. In a decade it'll stand as a form of self-conscious documentation of a weird-as-shit time in our nation's storied history of innovation, but right now, is it too right now for it to have the kind of historical slack it needs to develop comfortably into its own narrative? We've seen one way this story ends, with TeleHumans and bike meetings. If Pied Piper grows into another Hooli, it's a tragedy, another Zuckerbergian reiteration; even becoming an Apple would make the show an offering at the altar of Jobs.

But if Silicon Valley is grooming Richard and Pied Piper to be an exemplar in a sea of satire, disruptive tech without the attendant bullshit, a new way forward and a shining city in the Valley, the show's outpacing its grounding in the present and threatening to topple into didacticism. Of course, it could also retreat, pull focus entirely onto the characters and plotting, but that feels like an abdication, reducing its masterful distillation of the tech world that gives the show so much of its flavor into just texture. None of these sit quite right with me; to quote the wonderfully blunt Peter Gregory: "This is displeasing!" Even as I say this, though, I'm looking forward to eating these words.

By the end of the episode, Richard, buoyed by Monica's faith and 10% of her salary, refuses to let his disposability in Peter's eyes knock him off-course. Peter Gregory has the capital to bet that one of seven compression teams will come through for him without risking much of anything, but the Pied Piper team are learning bit by bit that real person-to-person faith and trust demands vulnerability and produces returns beyond just further capital. Even if Silicon Valley ends up whiffing on the final product, that lesson will at least be a worthwhile takeaway.

Plus, we got to see Kumail Nanjiani's cartoon dick. What more do you people want?

[Image via HBO]

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