Disrupt is finally upon us, heading into what's functionally a two-part finale as we explore the convention floor, Richard's ever-increasing digestive torments, and the Mystery That Is Woman.
Jared, back from his temporary kidnapping by a haunted automobile, is feeling frisky and competent as he herds the team out the door and onto the freeway. Of course, once they arrive in Monica's domain, all that A+ effort goes out the window and he finds himself rendered redundant: She's five steps ahead the entire time (not least because she's used to deal with Peter Gregory, who's "on safari with Kanye," which comes off less like a cynical plot move after the actor's death—more a gentle way of putting a smile on a sad situation) and anticipating moods and needs left and right.
First up: Disrupt is "inclusive" in many ways, including bumping up the gender situation from two percent to 15 percent women—that's the way the meritocracy crumbles!—and Monica knows, from having dealt with them all, that this could be a huge distraction. She sells it as way less babysittery than it is, which we come to see—again, think of the context of her daily job—as a hallmark of her genius. (The irony here being that, of the four women in the episode that are allowed to open their stupid pieholes, two of them end up in bed with members of our cast and the others are either usurping a nurturing role or directly midwifing Richard's burgeoning sexuality. Realistic, yes. Also painfully basic, for 2014.)
Of course, the only woman Jared's distracted by is Monica herself, but nobody cares about Jared back home so they're not paying attention now. (Wonderfully, Jared's also distracted by a tiny talking drone created by a competitor, once he's shuffled off to man their sad little booth, but that's a different deal entirely.) One cute Valleywag joke later, Hooli shows up like the frat guys in an '80s boob comedy, totin' their ripoff algorithm utterly without shame, and Richard retreats even further into his vibrating, post-Carver catatonia.
Gilfoyle and Dinesh talk a good game about the epic poon hunt that the existence of women implies, but both end up falling for the same line: A savvy cute neighbor on the floor, Charlotte of Cupcake.ly (!), asks them both for Java help and eventually gets Dinesh to second base. He's attracted to her mind—perhaps the first person to ever say this and mean it—but Gilfoyle sends him into a gay-panic spiral when he suggests that the unicorn Dinesh is fetishizing (a girl that can code) is actually just the script Gilfoyle provided earlier in the day. When Dinesh achieves a semi while staring at the code over her shoulder, he runs screaming from the girl's room, and... that's the whole joke.
Which is whatever, because the show is funnier in its performances sometimes than the writing itself—witness JT Miller's Erlich: devoid of any point at all without his note-perfect, so-weirdly-charismatic-as-t0-be-sexy performance; the only stone you need to build an entire "this show deserves an award for casting alone" case that does extend throughout the rest of the cast—but this episode is chock-full of tropes and sitcommy situations that might show a little end-of-season fatigue. We'll know next week, I guess, although the Asian kid is a fucking cheap shot.
As it is, the confused/perverse dynamic between Dinesh and Gilfoyle has been simmering in just this way the whole time, so in context it's not without its layers. Any case, that's all they really get up to this week: The classic coder-geek issue of getting so gay about not being gay that the question stops mattering entirely.
Richard has his own situation in the arena, actually, after Bighead (hi!) points out that an old classmate is in attendance, and possibly telling everybody her old story about Richard being obsessed with her. Both characteristically and as a defense against the high-stakes nonsense that Disrupt has become for them all, he obsesses on not obsessing, avoiding all work and eventually projecting a picture of her during the presentation rehearsal that gets her going twice as hard. At that night's reception, he comes at her hard and crazy about his obsessive non-obsession, to the point that she's legitimately, physically threatened...
At which point the Jared thread comes in, as he throws a very real—not even that awkward, strangely enough—fit Monica's direction about his devotion to Richard, her cockblocking his caretaking of Richard (even unto watching out for cilantro, which Richard loves but Jared knows what it'll do to him, etc.) and her generally corporate stomping all over his role-slash-heart. Monica, who is absolutely one of the coolest people on the show, takes Jared's measure immediately and steps up to apologize profusely for getting between them, interfering in what is—for Jared—the chaste romance of the century and—for oblivious Richard—an often-irritating, confusing hassle.
All of which Stalkee Girl overhears, misreads as a confession of gay union—when was the last decade "partner" was lexically confused this way?—and immediately apologizes to Richard for thinking his gay ass was ever obsessed with her, when clearly he lucked out with the seven feet of raw sexuality that is Zach Woods. Of course, he never ever catches on to what she's talking about—even accidentally implying that he and the entire Erlich Farm Lost Boy Crew are fucking each other in some kind of Palo Alto polyamory free-for-all—but again, that's almost too true to life to look at, much less laugh about: Like Portlandia, King Of The Hill, or Dilbert, some things that seem like slapstick hyperbole are a completely different kind of scary/funny for those of us who live there.
Without prompting—or realizing that Jared and Monica have inadvertently fixed his stalking issue—Richard thanks Jared for "everything," noting that he gets zero appreciation for the immense work he puts in taking care of Richard and the boys, and Jared's grateful, exhausted, unashamed—but abortive—crying jag makes Richard ten times more uncomfortable than maybe anything that has happened thus far: A moment both wonderfully acted and painfully real.
As varied as the ways we see Richard's body expressing the stress he can't, the emotional discomfort and complete blindspots he demonstrates in this episode feel truer to the character than overstated, and it's some harrowing business to watch. One wonders, in fact, how much of the Bighead-loving, "everybody has to be okay" Good-Guy stance we saw when we met him has actually just been Richard's paralysis surrounding being seen as the villain by breaking some rule he didn't know about: His odd responses to both the Carver's abuses and his eventual breakdown seem to suggest there's more than cowardice behind his unwillingness to make decisions. Passivity is the sneakiest Nice Guy strategy there is, and there's nothing new about that.
The presentations themselves are given to us in a dizzying montage of repeated slogans, jargon, and turns of phrase: One near-acronym in particular, Mobile Social Local, gets run through so many permutations the presenters themselves start tripping over it, while "making a better world"—by streamlining code and utility in incredibly archaic ways—has become a pageant-girl mantra devoid of meaning by the second time (of about a hundred) you hear it.
Cumulatively, the bullshit is very funny, but only a few individuals stand out: Most of all, the Human Heater presentation—some kind of personal microwave self-cooking device I swear I've heard about somewhere before—which a very determined (and inexpertly coached) entrepreneur keeps pitching long after the judges have started screaming at him to shut up and get off the stage.
Which brings us to Erlich, and the episode's close. On arrival, Erlich is terrified to learn that the husband of one of his conquests is actually going to be a judge, so he tries to hand off the presentation to Richard despite it being his only function. After Monica gives him a harsh pep-talk about solving the issue, Erlich visits the guy's wife in their hotel room, only to find there's been a divorce and remarriage in the meantime—coincidence that the new wife looks a lot like Amanda Rosenberg? Am I nuts and/or being an asshole by even saying this?—and then, of course, fucks the new wife several times during the 16 hours before Pied Piper's presentation.
And so we end on a cliffhanger, as—bombastic as Erlich has ever been, with David Copperfield fog machine and spotlights in full effect (so bright, he says, it looks like "a giant looking over his own shoulder," which I just love)—Pied Piper takes the stage, and the judge/twice-cuckolded husband bum-rushes Erlich, bringing a shit fight to a shit fight for real, and possibly destroying any chance of beating Nucleus in this game of billionaire dick-measuring their lives have become.
What did you think? I thought it was a little broad, although I could watch Jared and Richard and Monica do just about anything at this point and be happy—and TJ Miller was born to play characters just this broad without ever losing track of the line—but in terms of hitting all the buttons this episode in particular needed to contain, while still keeping most of the characters fairly well-rounded, I guess they did a fine job. I'm looking forward to the finale in two weeks, and excited the show was renewed so quickly. I could happily follow Richard's adventures for years and years to come—and meanwhile in the real world, HBO knows more than most how much people like to watch themselves on TV, so that seems a distinct possibility.
[Image via HBO]