Silicon Valley episode 3: What's in a name

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If Silicon Valley had a soapier (and hackier) bent, some of the big reveals in the third episode would be played up as can-you-believe-it-style twists. But in the episode entitled “Articles of Incorporation,” the twists are merely there to re-emphasize what a bumpy road awaits Richard (Thomas Middlemarch) as he tries to turn Pied Piper into the next billion-dollar company. And the chief bump this week is that Richard doesn’t actually have the right to call his company Pied Piper—there’s a sprinkler system maker doing business under that moniker, and if it’s going to give up that name, its founder wants to be paid his share of Richard’s still-theoretical riches.

Your other plot twists? Jared (Zach Woods) says his real name is Donald and that he only goes by the former name because tech titan Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) mistakenly called him that once and no one thought to correct him. Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) reveals that he’s an illegal immigrant from Canada. And Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) finds himself contemplating the mysteries of Burger King, ordering one of every item on the menu. Would anyone care to partake in some BK?

Jargon Watch: There’s relatively little inside baseball in this episode, though a Beverages & More clerk does try to pitch Richard on an app that can log where you park—provided you can type in your Vehicle Identification Number. Why not just jot down your car’s location on a notepad, Richard wonders. And thus dies another Silicon Valley dream.

The show continues to have a good ear for the tech industry’s tendency to tout consumer-friendly innovations as world-changing discoveries. “If we can make your audio and video files smaller,” Gavin Belson declares in a video announcing a rival product to Pied Piper’s algorithm, “we can make cancer smaller. And hunger. And AIDS.”

Tech World References: Belson’s video appears on TechCrunch, which also gets name-checked alongside Re/Code and Pando Daily when Pied Piper goes on its own PR offensive. (Can’t help but feel a little left out there, Mike Judge, just in case you cared about my feelings.) Ehrlich Bachman’s (T.J. Miller) hallucinogenic-fueled vision quest to find a new name for Pied Piper includes floating icons for Internet Explorer, Yahoo, and Twitter. It’s good to see the AOL stick figure getting some work again.

Bachman Behaving Badly: Bachman’s boasts to assorted tech websites—again, would it have killed you to work in a TechHive shout out somehow?—only drives up the sprinkler company’s asking price for the Pied Piper name from $1000 to a cool quarter-million. Bachman’s vision quest goes awry when he takes one or six mushrooms too many and winds up doing unspeakable things to the wall of a gas station restroom. He can also check “triggered an Amber Alert” off his bucket list.

Star of the Episode: Whoever on the writing staff who had to come with the list of possible replacement names the Pied Piper crew bandies about during a brainstorming session. Results range from the sorts of names you would expect to see floating around your local App Store—SmushIt, Smllr, and, because it features even fewer letters, Smlr—as well as puns too horrible to share in polite society (Small Come Back Now, Ya Hear).

Notable Quote: “You think [Mark Zuckerberg] had any real world business experience? No. None. But he was such a tough negotiator that now all his friends are suing him. Hey, how awesome is that?”—Bachman, giving Richard a pep talk that turns out to be not as inspiring as it probably sounded in his head.

silicon valley pied piper

Seems like a perfectly harmless logo to me.

Life Imitates Art: Like that Pied Piper t-shirt Richard creates in this episode, the one that Bachman compares to Irish porn in one of the least obscene descriptions of Richard’s handiwork? You can order one from the HBO Store and celebrate a company that, as Jared points out, is named after a “predatory flautist who murders children in a cave.”

What Did We Learn?: Richard turns out to be a tougher negotiator than even he probably imagined, managing to talk the tough-as-nails sprinkler company owner into handing over the Pied Piper name for the originally agreed-upon sum of $1000. In fact, everything wraps up fairly neatly in “Articles of Incorporation”—Gilfoyle gets his visa squared away, Peter Gregory uses his Burger King fixation to bail out a faltering investment, and presumably even Bachman won’t face too many consequences for inadvertently abducting a child during his drug-induced stupor. It was a bit of a pat ending to an otherwise sharp episode.

But if Silicon Valley is going to regularly go to the It’ll All Work Out in the End denouement of Sitcom 101, it’s at least able to deliver some insight into the demented way the tech industry does business—in this case, how companies name themselves. “It’s all just meaningless words,” Bachman screams during a moment of hallucinogen-fueled clarity. Spoken like a man who didn’t hear Jared’s Dwarfism 2.0 suggestion.

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