Review of Season 5, Episode 2 of ‘Silicon Valley’ — Good coders aren’t necessarily great leaders

Richard (Thomas Middleditch) tries to be a leader. Photo by Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO.

BY JAMIE MORROW
Daily Post Contributing Editor

The central problem that runs through HBO’s “Silicon Valley” has been the fact that Pied Piper founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch) is a brilliant coder with great technical ideas — but that’s it.
He’s socially (and physically) awkward. He cannot manage people. In the premiere, he threw up in front of the large crowd of engineers he’s hired.

It hardly matters what tack he takes: Even when he tries to do something “cool” it backfires spectacularly. But he’s the guy with the great innovation, a technical accomplishment that took both genius and a lot of real work. Question: Should this guy or anyone like him be CEO of a company? Are ideas and achievements enough, or do you need a real leader? “I can’t do inspiration; I’m a coder,” says Richard at one point.

Overrun by dogs

Last night’s episode, “Reorientation,” was a mashup of poor management decisions that culminated with the startup’s office overrun by dogs. After acquiring pizza delivery startup Sliceline and Sliceline’s recent acquisition, the who-knows-what startup Optimoji in the season premiere, Pied Piper started last night’s episode with 50 disgruntled new coders in the office. They come from two different teams, they’re unsure what just happened and they all saw Richard run to vomit under his desk last time he tried to talk to all of them at once.

Jared (Zach Woods) tries to convince Richard he needs to try again to inspire them all to unite behind the dream of a decentralized Internet, but Richard is done with all that. He nixes Jared’s plan to spend three days doing orientation for the office of new hires and instead just tells everyone to get to work.

Unsurprisingly, this causes problems. The Optimoji coders are used to using milliseconds instead of nanoseconds — and that team is upset when they have to redo their work. Richard tries to placate the team by switching from Philz Coffee to their preferred hipster brand, Stumptown. That just makes the Sliceline team feel slighted. Richard tries to get their buy-in by reversing the no-dog policy to let them bring in their bulldog mascot. And soon, the office is literally overrun by a passel of peeing and pooing pooches.

Richard takes a second stab at an all-hands meeting and tries to inspire them with his idea of a decentralized internet that won’t be used by soulless megacorporations like the show’s Hooli to exploit and spy on people. He offers severance for anyone who wants to leave. And they all do. So Richard just decides to do what he does best. Code.

A marathon three days later, Richard is still at his desk, sleepless and still coding, and the engineers are all back at their desks working and unified in Pied Piper gear. Because for the first time, they truly are inspired. He’s done 50 engineers’ worth of work all by himself, and every time he moves another task to the done column on the whiteboard, they’re even more impressed. He’s no Steve Jobs, but in his own way he’s a geek god. So it’s one of the rare instances in the show that Richard saves the day (even if he does then crash through a glass wall and wind up in the hospital).

Tesla smash-up

Meanwhile, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) gets a Tesla and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) makes it his mission to steal all possible joy out of that. The ensuing escalation is some of Gilfoyle’s sadism at its finest, not to mention it also provides a good forum to take pot shots at the Valley’s dedication to all things green and (supposedly) sustainable. When the Tesla first arrives in their driveway, Gilfoyle questions the wisdom of the purchase. Dinesh boasts of being part of “the green revolution.” Unfazed, Gilfoyle replies that most electricity still comes from gas plants and “coal-smokestacks.” “Look how shiny it is,” Dinesh concludes lamely.

Gilfoyle drives off in what looks like a Volvo station wagon from the 80s, giving both a literal and symbolic middle finger to Dinesh on his way out.

The escalation just goes on from there. Dinesh crows about getting the good parking spot with his electric vehicle. Gilfoyle acquires a dust-crusted secondhand Outrider (a recumbent electric trike) that looks like it came straight from Burning Man, and uses it to steal the parking spot. And so on, until Dinesh is goaded into trying to speed past him in “insane” mode. Of course he crashes the Tesla head-on. That scene, by the way, uses a Burbank street with a Gordon Biersch on the corner as a stand-in for University Avenue, but they go to the trouble of inserting fake street signs to make it the stretch between High and Emerson streets on University. I do love their attention to detail.

Other notes:

• Best line of the episode: Jared argues that a failure to inspire people cost Al Gore the election. “He lost the presidency to a fake cowboy and now he makes apocalypse porn.” Runner-up: “What about the dogs? They’re people too,” says a Sliceline engineer. “They’re literally not,” replies Richard.

• This was a brand-heavy episode. Tesla, Volvo, Outrider, Philz Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, a prominent shot of a Gordon Biersch. Geek cool.

• Dinesh got his Tesla only a month after he’d ordered it. And here I thought this show was realistic…

Email Jamie Morrow at jmorrow@padailypost.com. Look for her reviews of “Silicon Valley” on Mondays in the Post. Here’s last week’s review of Season 5, Episode 1.

3 Comments

  1. Coders often start companies, but when the funders want to see the company expand, they replace the coder with somebody who has more “executive skills,” something Richard lacks. I doubt Steve Jobs ever wrote a line of code in his life, but he combined a number of other skills to be a visionary leader.

  2. I like seeing the local scenes in this show, but some of them aren’t filmed here. To add more authenticity to it, they should shoot everything here.

  3. No judge would ever ever believe a badly written letter and a HUGE container of ashes (which weren’t even certified as human) and then award anything to a man who can barely speak English. Judges are conservative. Meaning they follow precedent, laws and procedures. That whole story line literally made me sick. Lost me. Not ever watching again. Enjoy but it’s not just the Tesla arriving so fast, it’s the fast and loose lies about how American judges behave.

    PS I’ve done my time in the legal field as well as tech. Not a novice to court procedure. ABA Paralegal Certificate, UCLA, earned an A, worked in law firms, dealt with judges. NO way would a judge believe that huge container is a human.

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