Editor’s note: Spoiler alert!
BY JAMIE MORROW
Daily Post Associate Editor
Don’t let that happy ending fool you. It’s as ominous as could be.
As the end credits rolled last night on HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” Pied Piper is a blazing success, tech giant rival Hooli and its egomaniac boss are completely vanquished and the company is even getting ready to move into a cavernous new building that used to belong to Hooli.
Complete with uplifting, plinking strings from a 70s folk song, it’s the kind of ending that makes you ask yourself, what gives? For most of its five seasons, show co-creators Mike Judge and Alec Berg have made it clear that their sense of humor revolves around Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown again and again and again. So when Charlie’s outright handed the football, it’s pretty sinister.
Becoming a tech giant
Then it hit me. The reason the Pied Piper crew got to defeat Hooli is because they’re going to be the new Hooli. That’s why they get a Hooli building. They’re going to have to try to be the giants, to go from scrappy upstarts fighting the man to becoming the man. They get to try to not be evil. They get to deal with the NSA.
And man, they are not equipped in character or temperament for that ride.
But it looks like Judge, Berg and crew are really going to take this satire of a Silicon Valley gold rush all the way to its logical extreme. Hats off, guys.
‘Character is fate’
Full of double-crosses and fakeouts revolving around a digital hack attack, last night’s episode played like a Valley version of “The Italian Job.”
As the battle becomes a three-way standoff between Pied Piper founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch), Hooli head Gavin (Matt Ross) and a fearsome alliance of uber VC Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) and Chinese device manufacturing company boss Yao (Tzi Ma), Richard finally makes a play that works – because it’s based on the idea that you can count on a jerk being a jerk. Or, well, maybe another word, but this is a family-friendly newspaper. As the ancient philosopher put it, “Character is fate.”
Throughout the show, Richard has been the personification of “no good deed goes unpunished,” as every time he tries to help someone, it turns out worse for him. Last night, armed by his own guilt over being a spiteful, vengeful jerk to someone else, he correctly plays on Gavin’s ego and spitefulness at all the right times.
The real Silicon Valley likes to pretend it’s a meritocracy in which the best ideas (and the people who have them) naturally rise like cream to the top. The show has always skewered this idea, focusing instead on how real personalities involved, like the awkward but brilliant Richard, the ruthless and spiteful Gavin and the ruthlessly, almost robotically profit-driven Laurie can throw their own monkey wrenches into the system.
In a sense, the real joke of the whole show up until now is that founder Richard has developed an indisputably brilliant, useful and potentially world-changing technology — not some pizza delivery app, but a technology that everyone in the entire Valley who has ever seen it is impressed by – and yet has had to work by the skin of his teeth for five seasons to really launch it and gain enough users to give it traction. Because it’s a system driven not by Invisible Hands or invisible algorithms, but by people, in all their idiosyncratic glory.
The behemoth that was
Show tech giant Hooli had thus far served as a pretty direct stand-in for Google, but last night it got a Yahoo ending, as the once-great fictional company’s board let it go in a fire sale to Amazon.
Yahoo, iconic tech titan of the 90s and early aughts, sold itself for $4.8 billion to Verizon in 2016.
The same company, in its heyday, bought Geocities for $3.57 billion in 1999.
Sic transit gloria.
Monica and Gilfoyle
On a side note, this was a fantastic episode for Amanda Crew as Monica, an underused character whom the show’s writers haven’t given much to do since the first few seasons of the show. But in the season’s penultimate episode and especially in last night’s finale, her character bounced back.
Her sparring with Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) was masterful, offering humor, acerbic warmth and a rare clue as to how her character has survived and thrived in Palo Alto. When he tried to assert nerd cred, she wasn’t having it. After she notices the anomaly that ends up warning the company in time of the impending attack, she and Gilfoyle stay up all night at the office to figure it out. We coded a diagnostic tool, she tells Jared (Zach Woods).
“Yes, ‘we’ coded it,” Gilfoyle comments ironically.
“You’re smoking my cigarettes, a**hole,” she fires back. It shuts him up. They bond — platonically — over good whisky and skepticism, and, finally, success. It’s a beautiful thing.
• The “51% attack” the episode revolved around is a type of attack that can be used on blockchain-based cryptocurrencies and involves a group of miners obtaining control of more than 50% of the network’s mining hashrate, or computing power, and using it to wreak havoc. Such an attack was perpetrated in 2016 on Ethereum-based Krypton and Shift. This episode exaggerates the potential power of the attack, but certainly it could do significant damage. The smaller cryptocurrencies were more vulnerable; it would be nearly impossible at this point to get 51% of Bitcoin.
• Best line of the episode: “Sorry, I don’t mean to rain on the parade,” says Monica. “I find parades to be impotent displays of authoritarianism,” replies Gilfoyle.
• Los Trancos Preserve gets a mention, and when Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Jared go to it they find people in tents practicing for Burning Man. Dinesh is amazed that people would live like refugees on purpose. “This place is offensive to homeless people,” he comments.
• Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) is miserable back in China and just wants to “come home” to Palo Alto. Aww.
Email Jamie Morrow at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are her previous reviews for Season 5: