We’re past the halfway mark in Silicon Valley’s inaugural season, and we’ve now got some stakes to play for: The Pied Piper gang has eight weeks to whip their product into fighting shape so that it can debut at the same TechCrunch conference where Hooli will be unveiling its rival Nucleus project. It’s nothing a company that’s gotten its act together can’t handle. But a company that’s just paid $10,000 to a graffiti artist to paint a corporate logo that looks an awful lot like one of its employees getting explicitly amorous with the Statue of Liberty? That company’s brain trust has their work cut out for them.
And that’s the thrust behind “Signaling Risk,” the fifth episode in this first season of Silicon Valley. Jared (Zach Woods) seizes upon Pied Piper’s surprise entry in Startup Battlefield content at TechCrunch Disrupt—Richard (Thomas Middleditch) entered the company back before it had investors and then forgot to withdraw—to try and instill some order upon the chaos of working for a company where Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) is a part of senior management. And some of that chaos stems directly from Bachman’s plan to spend $10,000 his company really should hold on to, so that a graffiti artist can create something other than lowercase letters housed inside a square.
“You promised this guy $10,000 without any approval,” Jared demands at one point during the episode. “Are you high?”
“A little bit, yeah,” Bachman replies. “But that’s irrelevant.”
It’s hard to see why Pied Piper’s viability is even a little bit in doubt.
Jargon Watch: Most of the jargon this week comes courtesy of Jared, who creates a burn down chart to illustrate how quickly Pied Piper will run out of cash (fourth months, but who’s counting) if it doesn’t get its act together. And, in what must be a first for television, both broadcast and cable, Jared introduces the wider world to “Scrum,” a software development framework for managing projects. Unless there’s an episode of Two And a Half Men in which Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer turn to Scrum to determine which actress to bed that I’m unaware of.
Tech World References: TechCrunch Disrupt is a very real conference and The Battlefield is a very real competition among startups. Fun fact: the 2013 version of TechCrunch Disrupt included an off-color demo of a not exactly female-friendly app has already been parodied in Silicon Valley’s second episode with Big Head’s location-aware breast-tracking app, the one that earned him the reprobation of a stripper.
Oh, and Bachman spends much of the episode ranting about how every tech company has an identical logo, but honestly, we can’t see what he’s getting at here.
Bachman Behaving Badly: Should you ever wonder why we devote an entire section of these recaps to chronicle Erlich Bachman’s misbehavior, consider how he spends “Signaling Risk.”
- He pays $10,000 to a graffiti artist for a Pied Piper logo without consulting anyone else in the company.
- He plays dumb when the graffiti artist, Chuy Ramirez, demands stock options in lieu of payment. “I don’t even know what that means, those words,” Bachman says.
- He lets Chuy think that Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) is Latino because it means a discounted rate on the mural.
- He defends himself against charges of racism by noting what kind of pornography he enjoys. (Note to Donald Sterling: This is not a very compelling defense.)
- When Chuy’s initial painting features an image of Dinesh in full Aztec garb getting... intimate with Lady Liberty, Bachman can’t bring himself to directly tell Chuy that the mural’s a no-go. (“Here’s the headline: There’s a lot right with it,” Bachman tells him.)
- The logo of Dinesh doing unspeakable things to the Statue of Liberty is painted on the garage door of Bachman’s house in plain view of his neighbors, which brings in the local police.
- Subsequent attempts to the hide the garage door painting from those responding police officers reveal that Bachman has been using his garage as a marijuana grow room. (“Look at this left from the previous tenant,” Bachman deadpans to the responding officer. “I can’t believe I haven’t entered the garage up until this point.”)
So yeah... he had a busy episode.
The Most Wonderful Horrible Product Ever: To stay in touch with his Hooli employees when he’s hanging out at tech titan haunts like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) uses something called “TeleHuman,” which blends holographic 3D technology—think Will.I.Am appearing by hologram during CNN’s 2008 election coverage—with teleconferencing. It works about as well as any teleconferencing product, which is to say, not at all. Belson’s image freezes and stutters, the picture disappears entirely, and the whole experience is just a disaster. Subsequent chats through the Google Hangout-esque HooliChat and over a smartphone in this episode end just as disastrously. It’s one of Silicon Valley’s most trenchant observations to date about the limits of personal technology.
Star of the Episode: Jared really saves the day for Pied Piper by finally imposing something akin to a corporate culture in the startup. But for contributions to this episode, don’t overlook Matt Ross’s mixture of fury and exasperation during the TeleHuman sequence. Everything about Ross’s reaction—from gamely trying to spin a disaster of a phone call into a product development opportunity to the barely contained fury over how much money he’s spent on this worthless technology—is absolutely perfect in that scene. It’s the best thing Silicon Valley has done in its entire run.
Notable Quote: “Don’t think of it as a cubicle. Just think of it as a neutral-colored enclosure about yaea-high around your workspace.”—Jared, explaining to Dinesh and Gilfoyle how their new cubicles will not actually be cubicles.
What Did We Learn: The arrival of a deadline is a significant milestone in Silicon Valley’s run, not just because it gives the first season an endpoint, but because it sheds even more light on the Gavin Belson/Peter Gregory rivalry teased in last week’s installment. Richard and Pied Piper, as it turns out, are merely the latest pawns in on-going skirmish between one-time allies Gavin and Peter. It’s a fascinating development that, if it doesn’t entirely help the show kick its over-reliance on formula, at least suggests a compelling denouement is headed our way over the next month.