Programmers try clumsy power plays on ‘Silicon Valley,’ Season 6, Episode 4

Richard (Thomas Middleditch), left, and his lawyer meet with HR after Richard punched a new employee in Season 6, Episode 4 of HBO's "Silicon Valley." HBO photo.

BY JAMIE MORROW
Daily Post Associate Editor

In last night’s episode of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” plot took a backseat while power plays took the stage. Weird, awkward power plays among programmers, anyway.

The show has skewered Pied Piper founder Richard’s lack of leadership skills many times before, but it has usually centered around his social awkwardness and complete lack of business savvy. This time, Richard (Thomas Middleditch) wants to do the right thing by putting his ego aside for the good of the company. But walking humbly is one thing; letting oneself be walked all over is quite another.

In the previous episode, Richard’s scrappy startup had bought the remnants of tech giant Hooli, and as last night’s show began, the Pied Piper crew were trying to figure out how many of Hooli’s employees they could fire as quickly as possible.

Boss-employee roles reversed

But one ex-Hooli employee stands out — Ethan, who was Richard’s boss when Richard worked at Hooli. Ethan immediately makes himself useful with smart suggestions to save Pied Piper money by using Hooli tech they just bought. While Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) are hostile to all things Hooli, including Ethan, Richard argues they need the savings and speed that the tech and Ethan’s expertise will afford them.

That much willingness to put ego aside is probably a good thing. But soon, Ethan is dredging up old insulting nicknames for Richard to a room full of his employees. It’s ludicrous that Richard puts up with it, and Dinesh tells him so. Dinesh’s solution, however, is to make Richard watch “Maximizing Alphaness,” a YouTube video made up entirely of a series of images of sexy women, sports cars, American flags, bald eagles, etc. Richard politely tells Ethan to knock it off, and Ethan ridiculously tries to assert dominance by telling Richard the insults make him happy, and he’s too valuable to lose.

Then Richard punches him — ineptly. Later, they make up and Ethan confesses to being insecure about working under his former employee. But while Richard feels his power play has paid off, the show makes it clear that it was really an unspecified threat from Richard’s usually unassuming assistant Holden (Aaron Sanders) that got Ethan back in line.

Rollerblades a reference?

Back in 2016, one of the show’s writers told The New Yorker an anecdote about Astro Teller, whose official title is “Captain of Moonshots” at what was Google X and is now just X. Teller is known for wearing rollerblades to work, and he was the day he sat down with “Silicon Valley” writers who were interviewing him as part of their research.

According to writer Carrie Kemper, Teller wasn’t pleased with them and when the meeting ended tried to rollerblade out of the room in a huff — but his exit was delayed as he struggled to badge out while on wheels. According to Kemper, every writer there considered using the incident as material, but they all decided it was “too hacky.”

That was then. In last night’s show, Ethan delivers a presentation on rollerblades — and his wavy hair, gathered up in a ponytail, could also possibly be a reference to Teller.

Teller, for what it’s worth, disputed the account that he left in a huff, confessing that he’s not always graceful on his rollerblades and remembering the meeting as ending amicably.

Gilfoyle vs. John

While Richard is taking abuse, Gilfoyle is doling some out. The purchase of Hooli brings back John, the uncool gray-ponytailed sys admin whom the show last saw working in a deep-basement Hooli server farm.

The last time Gilfoyle had met John, he had contemptuously referred to the sys admin and his other basement colleagues as “mole people.” This time, Gilfoyle abuses John by rejecting his assistance and telling him to sit down and be quiet. For days. But after noting that John passes the time playing chess on his phone, Gilfoyle decides to mess with him a bit more. Gilfoyle just happens to have a custom Cthulhu-figures chess set at his workstation. Forty-two losses later, Gilfoyle’s superiority complex has dimmed a bit.

Monica shown up

CFO Monica (Amanda Crew), meanwhile, is punished for a bit of hypocrisy as a young female subordinate both shows her up and shows what real leadership can look like. Monica finagles her way onto a women in tech empowerment panel moderated by tech journalist Kara Swisher (making her umpteenth cameo on the show here) despite no history of mentoring or supporting other women in tech.

Monica does, however, give Pied Piper programmer Priyanka a big responsibility that Monica herself doesn’t want: Charge of the former Hooli property Foxhole, an app for soldiers looking to cheat on their wives. The big challenge there is that the male-to-female ratio is highly skewed to the former, with sex workers making up the few of the latter. At the panel, Swisher unceremoniously brushes Monica aside in favor of talking to Priyanka about how she’s drawn on her network of supportive female coders to shake up Foxhole and unionize its sex workers.

Jared will return

In the saddest sub-plot of the show, Jared finds his wealthy birth parents, who are shallow, awful people who gave him away as a baby because having a third child made travel slightly more complicated.

In a line of thought that makes no sense, Jared thinks this means he should rededicate himself to his new project, the nearly catatonic female programmer Gwart. But then Gwart fires him and Jared ends the episode looking to reconnect with Richard and return to work as his mother hen. Holden beware.

Other notes:

• Best line of the episode: “Friends with benefits deserve benefits!” Priyanka says as she describes unionizing the sex workers who use the Foxhole app.

• Actress Suzanne Cryer continues to play Laurie Bream at her robotic best. “I’m now using touch as a means to communicate friendship,” she informs Monica. And chomps an artichoke like an apple. I will miss this woman so much when the show ends.

• Former Hooli chief Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) tries his hand at penning literature. It goes badly.

• Most disturbing moment: Ethan finishes eating with wooden chopsticks, then licks the chopsticks and sticks them in his ponytail. Please tell me this was not inspired by anyone real.

Email Jamie Morrow at jmorrow@padailypost.com.

Previous episodes this season

Episode 3 — An industry of backstabbers and cutthroats

Episode 2 — A billion dollars to violate your principles

Episode 1 — ‘Don’t be evil’ 2.0

2 Comments

  1. Women in a Tech? Would have been funnier if marissa Mayer was there, and they told her to leave because sleeping with Google guys disqualified you from the #MeToo movement.

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