‘Silicon Valley’ cracks its last jokes; series mirrored reality, got the details right — Season 6, Episode 7

Richard (Thomas Middleditch), left, reveals that he’s found a strange issue with Pied Piper’s technology to Jared (Zach Woods), Monica (Amanda Crew) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani). HBO photo.
Richard (Thomas Middleditch), left, reveals that he’s found a strange issue with Pied Piper’s technology to Jared (Zach Woods), Monica (Amanda Crew) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani). HBO photo.

BY JAMIE MORROW
Daily Post Associate Editor

“Silicon Valley” didn’t go out with a bang.

Instead, it wrapped everything up like a present. Loose ends were tied up, an ending was achieved. There was nothing too bold or too pointed about it, but at least there was fan service. Other great shows have certainly had worse endings. (“Game of Thrones,” ahem.)

The techies I know all loved or hated the show for the same reason — it mirrored their reality so well. They all knew those guys. Some thought it was hilarious; for others, the last thing they wanted was to cringe at them at work and then come home to them again at night.

I always loved it. When it was on point, the thrusts were exquisite. Moments I’ll never forget include: Revolutionary technology being invented through the world’s most elaborate wank joke; the Uber ride elevator pitch; Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and Monica (Amanda Crew) finding themselves the only real shoppers in a grocery store full of Instacart, TaskRabbit and other gig workers; Gilfoyle’s impassioned loathing of the smart fridge and ode to his server Anton.
Even when the plot was lacking or the jokes didn’t land, the small details always made me smile. The perfectly stocked microkitchens. The casual super-geeky references to Cult of the Dead Cow and Roko’s Basilisk. John the sys admin’s ponytail and his badge, which showed a tiny picture of him 20 years younger. The copy of “Shadowrun” at Gilfoyle’s desk. Throughout the series, those never faltered.

I can’t think of any industry and place in time that has been as ruthlessly researched and mined as the Valley has been for this show. “If you really want to understand how Silicon Valley works today, you should watch the HBO series ‘Silicon Valley.’” That was said in 2018 by Bill Gates — the most famous person to have a cameo in last night’s finale.

Reality turned dark

The show chronicled this place in ways mere newspapers and magazines couldn’t. At the same time, there was a point where the satire started to falter a bit. Possibly because the show couldn’t keep up with real life here. Or possibly because there was also a point — it’s hard to identify exactly, but in the last few years — where things got too dark in real life to be very funny. Here are some things that have happened since the show debuted in 2014: Self-driving cars have killed people. Facebook and Twitter may have helped throw an American election. The great health care hope Theranos was revealed to be a massive fraud. So maybe it’s not surprising that this last season has been the show’s most serious as, for the most part, they moved on from poking at the foibles of brogrammers and Sand Hill VCs.

Ethics has been the overriding theme of this last season. Pied Piper founder Richard started out in the premiere declaring to Congress that he wouldn’t be like those other tech giants, exploiting their users for profit. And in this last episode, he was true to that. When he created a monster, he didn’t apologize and promise to do better next time. He killed it. That may have been the least realistic event in the entire show.

As I mentioned last week, they let their powerful compression technology and AI mate, which proved their revolutionary tech’s merit, saved their butt and landed them a huge deal with AT&T. But, of course, as the finale opened, they realized there were consequences. The tech was too good. So good, that to optimize itself, it started breaking previously unbreakable encryptions. The implications were dire for things we’re used to trusting to be secure: banks, power grids, nuclear weapons, etc. Ironically, tech that Richard created to guarantee their users privacy would break all means of guaranteeing security.

After some agonizing, Richard, Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Jared (Zach Woods) and Monica all agree that not only do they have to kill the tech, but they have to make it fail in a spectacularly public way, so that no one else figures out what they’ve done and tries to emulate it. And so they do, and because their company is called Pied Piper, their failure includes an enormous summoning of rats.

Dunce becomes Stanford president

Much of the episode is constructed as a flashback, while people are filming interviews 10 years later for some kind of retrospective documentary or something. So you can see how the characters ended up a decade after their monumental “failure.” The genial but extremely dim Big Head (Josh Brener), whom the series always made the epitome of “failing up,” is now president of Stanford. And since he is, he can hire Richard as his “Gavin Belson Professor of Ethics in Technology.” Former Hooli head and decidedly unethical Gavin (Matt Ross), is now half of a duo that authors best-selling romances.

In one of the show’s sweeter gestures, Gilfoyle and Dinesh have co-founded a cybersecurity firm. They still spend their days trading insults, of course. The gentle and irrepressibly weird Jared works at a nursing home, where he can find poignant moments even in a herpes outbreak. (“It’s kind of touching.”) Former VC chief and failed CEO Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) is, for unexplained reasons, in prison. Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) is off in Tibet pretending to be Erlich so he can enjoy the riches that Erlich’s Pipercoin brought him. Monica is at a “DC nonprofit” — OK, the NSA. Hey, does that mean the encryption-breaking tech isn’t *really* dead and gone?

Other notes:

• Cameos included Bill Gates, Conan O’Brien, journalists Emily Chang and Kara Swisher, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, Jim Cramer of “Mad Money” and some sports guy I don’t know.

• Season 5 managed OK without Erlich (T.J. Miller), but he was really missed this last season. He was abrasive, bombastic and unintellectual — but he had social superpowers all the other characters conspicuously lack. It brought both balance and unpredictability to the show while he was there.

• Jared assumes Monica won’t catch a “Dune” reference, she tells him in no uncertain terms that she knows who Frank Herbert is, and Jared apologizes for “gendering.”

Email Jamie Morrow at jmorrow@padailypost.com.

Previous episodes this season

• Episode 6 — AI can get you hamburgers, thousands of them if you’re not careful

Episode 5 — The Valley’s phony ethics and an HR revolt

Episode 4 — Programmers try clumsy power plays

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

3 Comments

  1. It spoiled the finale to see Bill Gates there. He destroyed so many businesses in the Valley. When I saw him I stopped laughing. I realize he’s on a tour to repair his legacy, but he doesn’t get a pass from me,

  2. I’m sorry to see this series end. It was, as Jamie put it, a mirror on the real Silicon Valley. Our community doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, so for many I realize that liking this show would be an acquired taste. We do so many things around here that, when you step back and look, are ridiculous. Like Facebook, which makes people angry and wastes time, but is really good at collecting data on its users. Or Google, which pretends to search the internet for information, but instead sends you to the sites of its advertisers or to approved political groups. Or Apple, which has run out of new ideas but is making billions on getting people to upgrade their phones every year in order to get minor improvements. When you’re close up to these companies, you tend to go along with their thinking. But if you step back, you realize that this Valley is full of con artists who are ripping off the world while telling the world that they’re doing good.

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