This week was the penultimate episode of Silicon Valley season 3. The episode didn’t bring the kind of story momentum I was hoping for going into the season finale, but Jared Dunn crossing the line into spending company money to forge active users is certainly an interesting twist.
This episode opened at Laurie Bream’s house. She was hosting a party to celebrate the 500,000th install of Pied Piper. There were a couple of mildly funny bits based around how Laurie’s house was dedicated, then we got to this episode’s major conflict: Richard Hendricks confessed to Monica Hall that while lots of people are downloading Pied Piper, very few are actually using the platform on a regular basis.
Raviga puts together a focus group to find out what’s wrong with the platform. It turns out that regular users are completely baffled by it. This conflict annoys me a bit because right in Silicon Valley‘s pilot, Monica was aware that Richard makes terrible user interfaces despite his tech actually being good. It seems like a huge stretch that no one would see this problem coming from a mile away.
That said, the focus group scene is a stand out scene. When Richard hears people not understanding the platform, he charges into the room. In a move that really surprised me, he didn’t just blow up at them for not getting it. He sat there and explained it to them, going as far as ordering pizza for the group and acknowledging whenever he used an analogy that was a bad example. It was great to see this patient side of him and by the end of this session, several users proudly said they understood it and that now they’d definitely want to use Pied Piper.
The team became determined to use the last of their resources to attempt to explain Pied Piper to people. This mostly involved sitting Dinesh Chugtai and Bertram Gilfoyle at booths and having them try to get people interested in a tutorial. These are not the best men for that job and it did not work.
By the end of the episode, Richard decided that it was over. He told Jared that he was going to announce the end of Pied Piper and divide up the remaining money among the employees, although this amount wouldn’t come close to what they’re owed for their labor. This drove Jared to paying for users, making him guilty of investor fraud.
This episode included a runner about Gilfoyle knowing whenever Jared was lying. This had a great dramatic pay off at the end. Gilfoyle asks Jared if these users are legit and when Jared assures him they are, Gilfoyle says, “Okay then.” The implication is that Gilfoyle read him and is now the one other person who knows that Jared did something illegal, but is keeping it to himself. This positions him nicely to have an interesting role in the finale.
Meanwhile, Dinesh’s video chat app adds a very interesting layer to this plot. He made the very reasonable suggestion that they pivot to promoting this already built, very easy to promote product rather than Richard’s platform. Erlich Bachman immediately shot him down, saying that they should all have undying loyalty to Richard. Jared clearly co-signed this position when he committed fraud rather than pivot away from Richard’s tech. Dinesh has never been heavily involved in Silicon Valley‘s main plots before, but this set up seems ripe for major conflict. (And I can’t be the only person who would love it if this all resulted in Pied Piper shifting to the video chat app, setting up season four to be all about Richard having to adjust to working for Dinesh…)
Gavin Belson was re-instated as CEO of Hooli in this episode and he hired Jack Barker. He also learned about Pied Piper’s failure from an ex-employee. This all feels ominous but I wish they defined exactly what kind of threat Hooli poses to Pied Piper going into the finale in clearer terms. I’m not sure exactly what the stakes are and at this point it feels like Richard and Jared are greater threats to themselves than any outside party could be.
This season has definitely been the most cartoonish season of Silicon Valley and some of the bits this week were definitely over-the-top. I am completely fed up with the runner of Gavin bringing different animals into board meetings. It wasn’t a great bit the first time they did it and it just won’t stop. This week also introduced “Pipey” an animated Pied Piper tutorial voiced by Bill Hader. There wasn’t a lot to this bit and it required a huge stretch of the imagination. Why would an ad firm have the ability to create an in-app tutorial? They could’ve at least had this just be a pitch, but it seemed like the show though that a full-fledged Pipey would be a great comedic pay off than it was.
Another bit that fell flat in this episode was the tables-themed ad. It was the sort of generic ad parody that has been done a million times before– including by Silicon Valley with the Nucleus ad. They didn’t ad anything to the typical ‘advertisements are vague and all use the same stock footage’ level of parody. The world of advertisement definitely lends itself to parody, but Silicon Valley has never really nailed it the way they’ve nailed other aspects of corporations. I wish they wouldn’t try, rather than having these half-hearted and oddly time-consuming bits.