In the tech world, you’ve either got vision or you don’t. And in Silicon Valley’s fourth episode, “Fiduciary Duties,” we learn that our protagonist, Richard Hendrix (Thomas Middleditch), does not have that vision—not one he can articulate at any rate. And that’s a problem: It turns out that benefactor Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) has invested in a lot of companies like Richard’s and he’d kind of like to know if what Richard’s doing is worth his time, attention, and money. There’s also the not inconsiderable matter of all that money Richard turned down from Hooli because he wanted to strike out on his own.
“You turned down $10 million dollars to try and develop something that you as the head of the company can’t even describe to another human being,” Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) tells Richard early in the episode “I’m saying this only to motivate you.”
And so the rest of the episode focuses on Richard trying to find that vision for his Pied Piper startup. Eventually he stumbles across one, but not before experiencing a toga party, a restroom-based panic attack, and a turbo-vomiting incident the audience probably didn’t need to see.
Jargon Watch: Four episodes in, and Silicon Valley has done away with much of the impenetrable-to-civilians tech talk found in the first few episodes. There’s a nice nod to Silicon Valley excess: Peter Gregory hosts a toga party—the Peter Gregory Foundation’s Fourth Annual Orgy of Caring—that features living statues and actors and actresses who are paid to go around and feign an interest in the party’s nerdier attendees.
But perhaps the most jargony exchange came in the opening segment when Richard visits the law office of Ron LaFlamme, Bro Attorney at Law, to sign the legal documents that form Pied Piper as a Delaware corporation. It’s the most exciting use of Delaware as a plot point since the first Wayne’s World movie.
Tech World References: Ron LaFlamme can boast a guitar signed by both Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but it’s the mention of another dynamic tech duo that dominates this episode—Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. “It’s like you need both halves of the brain—the Jobs and the Wozniak,” LaFlamme tells Richard to explain the importance of having someone on the payroll who can articulate the company’s vision. “The yin and the yang.” It will not surprise you to learn that LaFlamme thinks “yin” should be pronounced “ying” because it’s the opposite of “yang.”
Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) thinks he can be Richard’s yin—or failing that, his ying—and even goes so far as to don a black turtleneck as a way of convincing Richard that he’ll be filling the Steve Jobs role in Pied Piper. “I suppose Steve and I have always shared a similar aesthetic,” Bachman says. One thing we learn about black turtlenecks in this episode, though: They are awfully hard to remove in the midst of a rage, as Bachman demonstrates in one of the funnier moments in “Fiduciary Duties.” Chalk up another skill that Steve Jobs mastered better than anyone.
Bachman Behaving Badly: Actually, Bachman was fairly well behaved this episode (and maybe that’s why I found this to be a kind of tepid installment of the show). Oh sure, he takes advantage of a drunken Richard to finagle a seat on Pied Piper’s board of directors. But he also comes through in the end, crashing Richard’s meeting with Peter Gregory and spelling out an actual vision for Pied Piper that seems to distinguish it from the other compression technologies that Peter’s invested in. “You should probably write some of that down,” Bachman tells Richard at the episode’s end—especially that sick burn about Dropbox. (“More like drip-box,” according to Bachman.)
Star of the Episode: You might think the honors go to Bachman, seeing as how he bails out Richard. But I think we should spare a kind thought for Jared (Zach Woods), who didn’t get to attend the Peter Gregory Foundation’s Fourth Annual Orgy of Caring, but still gives Richard the shirt off his back—or more accurately, the pants off his legs. A panic-stricken Richard got a water stain on his jeans prior to the big Peter Gregory meeting and decided it would look less odd if he just soaked his entire pants in a restroom sink. Long story short, it was not a very good plan.
B Plot for Big Head: We last saw poor Big Head (Josh Brener) in Silicon Valley’s second episode after he was hired away from Pied Piper as Hooli’s vice president of spite. But the Hooli team soon discovers what Pied Piper already knew—that Big Head knows next to nothing about programming—and he’s soon corner-officed, stripped of all responsibilities but to show up at work each day and wait for his options to fully vest. Outside of Peter Gregory’s toga party, that plotline is probably this week’s most pointed dig at how the real Silicon Valley operates.
Notable Quote: “You catch on slow. You’ll fit right in here.”—One of Big Head’s fellow seat fillers, explaining the joys of playing out the string at Hooli.
What Did We Learn: Things work out for Richard by episode’s end, just as they have in the previous installments of Silicon Valley. And that brings up some vision questions about the show itself. Early on in its run, Silicon Valley seems to rely on a comfortable formula—Richard and his Pied Piper compatriots run into some start-up-related trouble that causes a great deal of stress and generates a few laughs before the issue resolves itself in time for the closing credits to roll. Lots of sitcoms have enjoyed lengthy runs with lesser formulas, but it doesn’t change the fact that Silicon Valley is in danger of getting itself into a rut. With HBO renewing the show for a second season this past week, here’s hoping that Silicon Valley can shake up its status quo and start sharpening its take on the tech world.
And if the show needs someone to help it spell out a vision for future episodes, maybe Bachman still has that turtleneck lying around.