Silicon Valley Recap: The VP of Spite

Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley
Episode Title
The Cap Table
Editor’s Rating

Back in my younger days, I used to go gambling with a guy named Sammy. Sammy favored high risk betting, which isn’t uncommon amongst gamblers with cash to burn. The problem for Sammy was, when it came to these high-stakes matters, his game plan was always flawed. He only saw the potential payout, not the rationale behind why the odds were so high. He’d become blinded by how much he COULD win, rather than why he might not win. The outcome was rarely positive.

Once, we went out to play the ponies. The Racing Form listed 80-1 odds on a horse in the 5thrace. It also stated that said animal “has yet to beat a horse.” With spinning dollar signs in his eyes, Sammy expressed his desire to bet on this poor creature. “If I bet 100 bucks on this horse, I’ll get back some serious dough!” he told me.

Sammy,” I pleaded, “the horse came in dead last in every race it has run. It probably only has 3 legs.”

“No, no!” he said, pulling out a wad of cash. “Those 80-1 odds are gonna line my pockets!”

They don’t call the horse with the worst odds in a race “the long shot” for nothing. Sammy bet $200 on his beloved moneymaker. In a field of 8 horses, Sammy’s horse came in ninth. Even its own jockey outran it.

I tell this story because “The Cap Table” hints that Richard’s big gamble to go with Peter Gregory might be “the Sammy bet.” He gave up $10 million for 85% of “a potential multi-billion dollar company,” accent on “potential.” Richard sees only the ownership of Pied Piper’s algorithm as the outcome. Because of inexperience, he has given little thought to the executive actions he needs to perform as the CEO of his new company, nor does he factor in the prospect of retaliation from Gavin and Hooli. This one-two punch of reality hits Richard so hard that cinematographer Jim Denault’s camera literally runs away from Richard as the episode ends.

Carson Mell’s script for this episode offers some juicy details on each character. He creates stressful situations to coax these psychological elements to the surface. Big Head becomes the main focus for much of the conflict between Richard and the other team members. Mell also makes some sly observations about the concept of employee worth. What makes an employee useful to a company? What makes a product useful? When does either outlive their value?

Looking back at last week’s show, I realized that Richard’s and Big Head’s software creations were being used to foreshadow these questions. These products, like their creators, exist on opposite ends of the usefulness spectrum.

Let’s look at Big Head’s own software product, Nip Alert. This product alerts you when a woman in your neighborhood has erect nipples. At best, this is a novelty item “for entertainment purposes only.” There’s no indication of what happens after a Nip Alert gets sent to you; it’s not exactly Grindr for tit men. Even Mochaccino, a stripper Erlich hires to entertain his terrified tenants, calls it a sexist product. “And she shows her tits for a living,” whines Big Head.

Richard’s Pied Piper, on the other boob—I mean hand—is this show’s Holy Grail. It sets off a bidding war between two billionaires and it can potentially change the world. In fact, it would be changing the world right now had Richard taken the money and run. He’ll wish he had once Gavin lowers the boom on him.

From the human perspective, both Richard and Big Head oscillate between the two poles of useful and useless. Richard’s inexperience sends Peter Gregory into spasms of disbelief. “What did I buy?” he asks Monica before demanding a cap table and business plan from Richard. Gregory’s Willy Wonka homage of a dismissal (“Good day!”) proves Richard is of no use to him without the appropriate information. “I cannot guide you,” yells Gregory, “until you give me something to guide!”

Erlich also thinks Richard is not living up to his potential as a new CEO. He wants Richard to make tough decisions, or as Erlich colorfully puts it, “If you’re not an asshole, this company dies.” Erlich’s version of tough love involves doing nothing to help Richard create the material Gregory demands, so Richard seeks help in the form of Hooli employee Jared. Impressed with Richard’s stupidity—I mean integrity—for not taking Hooli’s $10 million, Jared takes Richard’s offer to assume the role Richard had hoped Erlich would fill. Their first order of business: the Capitalization Table.

A cap table determines the percentage of investor ownership in a company. (If you want more details, do what Richard does: Look it up on Wikipedia.) Silicon Valley uses this important start-up detail to bring out the claws of Richard’s crew. Everyone thinks they are worth more percentage points than the other. (Erlich is already assigned 10%, so he’s just a spectator.) We learn that Dinesh and Gilfoyle have an intense rivalry where they try to one-up or discredit each other. We also learn their roles: Dinesh is, like me, a Java programmer and Gilfoyle, also like me, is an architect prone to extremely angry spewings of the programmer version of Blazing Saddles’ “frontier gibberish” when provoked. “Three-quarters of that stuff he said is bullshit,” Dinesh accurately tells us. Still, both are integral parts of Pied Piper; nobody does what they do.

Gavin’s Hooli Spiritual advisor tells him “in the hands of the enlightened, hate can be a tool for great change.” It’s a great line to describe what happens to Big Head. In rather vicious dialogue, Gilfoyle, Dinesh and Erlich contemplate the role of Big Head (aka Nelson Bighetti) in the new Pied Piper company. They all conclude that Big Head is useless, and should be booted out. Even Big Head acknowledges that he’s a jack of all trades and master of none. Jared, a man so abused by his former boss, Gavin, that he feels compelled to asks permission to go to the bathroom, is the only character who shows compassion to Big Head. Richard’s wishy-washiness will doom him before fadeout.

Big Head accepts his role as Pied Piper’s dead weight, but as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Inspired by his advisor, Gavin channels his hatred and steals Big Head back for $600,000 as revenge. He does this just as Richard is finally showing some asshole potential by overruling his crew’s desire to ditch his best friend. “So you’re like the VP of spite?” someone asks Big Head of his new role. That seems to be his only use to Gavin. But the boy has worth, and that counts for something.

It’s Big Head who reports the news that may render both Richard and Pied Piper worthless: Hooli is reverse engineering Pied Piper (thanks to Richard sending the Brogrammers a copy in an attempt to prove his worth), and they have the power to beat Richard’s product to market. Richard gets the news just as he is attempting to deposit that $200,000 check from Peter Gregory, which he can’t because Pied Piper hasn’t incorporated itself yet. By the time Richard figures out how to do that, Hooli’s Pied Piper clone, Nucleus, may be out, and Monica may be putting a stop payment on that check.

Richard turned down $10 million bucks for what may be 85% of zero dollars. Somewhere, my pal Sammy nods his approval.