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Silicon Valley Recap: The Misguided Mural

It’s only fitting that I deliver this week’s recap from South San Francisco, California, where I am about to attend my company’s TOI for our latest software release. Folks from all our offices convene for a four-day odyssey through enhancements, additions, bug fixes, and the thousands of lines of code that make each of these possible. Coffee will be served and demos will be given. It’s a rollicking good time if you’re a masochist. Every programmer is.

As with our TOI, the programmers take center stage in “Signaling Risk.” Last week, I asked for more Gilfoyle and Dinesh. Jessica Gao, the writer of this episode, obliges. She plays up their antagonism with maximum code-generating results. Her script also touches on race, both as a demographic in IT and a source of confusion for those trying to be politically correct. In the raunchiest moment of the series thus far, Gao finds a use for the Statue of Liberty that I’m sure the French considered but conveniently left out of their dedication to President Grover Cleveland.

Since Miss Liberty lives in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey (at least geographically), let’s start with her foray into smut. It’s not her first trip to this rodeo. I recall a French commercial where the statue left New York Harbor, stripped, and ran stark naked through Manhattan. I don’t remember what was being advertised, but the sight of an enormous green pair of iron Granny Panties flying down Fifth Avenue is singed into my retinas.

Miss Liberty is featured in the promotional mural Erlich commissioned to advertise Pied Piper. In an attempt for misguided street cred, Erlich hires graffiti artist Chuy Ramirez to provide artwork for the garage door of the house that houses Pied Piper. Chuy will also provide a new logo to replace the one Dinesh said looked “like a guy sucking a dick, with a backup dick tucked behind his ear for later.” It will cost $10,000 that, according to Jared, the company cannot afford to pay.

While Richard’s original logo could only be mistaken for pornography by his employees, there’s no denying that the new logo is absolutely pornographic. It features Dinesh, dressed like an Aztec warrior, and the Statue of Liberty in flagrante delicto. They’re in that sexual position “Leon Phelps, the Ladies Man” always advised his listeners to get into. “It comments on the Latino struggle for justice in America,” Chuy says of his work.

Chuy included Dinesh because he incorrectly assumed Dinesh was Latino, a mistake Erlich doesn’t clarify because he “didn’t want to seem racist.” “Not a lot of Latinos are working in tech,” Chuy says, which jibes with my own experiences. In 27 years, I’ve only met one Latino programmer, which is five fewer than the number of African-Americans I’ve met  (and I’m counting myself in that latter camp). In “Minimum Viable Product,” Gavin describes the demographic of every group of programmers as “the tall, skinny White guy, short skinny Asian guy, a White fat guy with ponytail, some White guy with crazy facial hair, and an East Indian guy.”

Dinesh is Pakistani, but no matter. Right now, he’s Latino.

Dinesh is also constantly at odds with Gilfoyle. It’s Gilfoyle’s fault Chuy sees Dinesh at all; he locks him out of Erlich’s Aviato van. The two are always arguing, even when they agree, which wastes valuable time. Jared points out this, and numerous other things, to Richard, including the fact that the already-seeded Pied Piper has been entered into the Tech Crunch Disrupt Startup Competition. Richard submitted an application long before Peter Gregory financed Pied Piper, and his absent-mindedness courts trouble.

Gavin freaks out after hearing the news. He thinks that Peter Gregory is trying to make Pied Piper “look folksy” by entering a contest it doesn’t need to win. Gavin gets himself a keynote speaker position at Tech Crunch, where he’ll undercut Pied Piper by debuting Nucleus. Richard can no longer cancel his application because it’ll look like he’s running from the competition.

Peter Gregory freaks out when he learns of the contest submission (and the keynote speech) from rival Gavin. “I have never seen him so incensed,” Monica warns Richard. In the latest of many a great line reading by the late Christopher Evan Welch, Peter Gregory’s wrath is rendered by an emotionless, deadpan statement: “This is displeasing.”

Jared, who is fast becoming the details guy at Pied Piper, tries to convince Richard and Erlich to enforce some form of corporate structure. He’s met with resistance from everyone, because Gilfoyle, Dinesh, Richard, and Erlich fancy themselves as living in some form of old-school slob comedy posing as a job. But one can’t mimic Animal House if the only people getting any ass are the ones painted on the garage door. So Richard allows Jared to try implementing a new management system for work.

“This just became a job!” says Gilfoyle in response to hearing about the new system.

Jared promises us more of the delectable competitive dynamic between Gilfoyle and Dinesh by having them compete against one another for the fastest coder. “He thinks this wall of Psych 101 MBA mind control bullshit is going to motivate us,” says Dinesh, before becoming paranoid when Gilfoyle starts writing code four times faster he does. Dinesh is so paralyzed by the thought that Gilfoyle will best him that he never sees the mural that bears his likeness sticking it to the Statue of Liberty. It’s probably for the best, because when Erlich tells Chuy the truth about Dinesh’s ethnicity, Chuy makes Erlich the recipient of Dinesh’s hot lovin’ in his mural.

“Signaling Risk” reveals that people in tech companies sometimes do things the hard way in order to appear progressive or cool. Gavin’s botched use of the tele-human hologram and Hooli chat were great examples of this. He could have simply sent a text message to get the one answer he needed from Big Head, but that wouldn’t be impressive. Matt Ross’s profane rants of frustration were incredibly funny; he could teach Peter Gregory the correct way to be incensed.

The entire logo story line is another example of a lesson learned the hard way; the eventual logo Chuy paints looks exactly like Jared’s two-second design. All it cost was $10,000, a garage door, and Erlich’s hidden stash of weed.

What happens to the original mural Chuy painted hints at the darker turn I predicted back in my first recap. Amanda Crew’s Monica is finally given a big scene to play, and her speech about how little Peter Gregory cares about Pied Piper is a bucket of ice-cold water to the face. She’s honest about her role in keeping Richard from that $10 million to appease her boss, and how happy she was to “make the sale.” But she also offers hope to Richard by revealing her investment in Pied Piper. She’s confident he can get a working model in time for Tech Crunch’s demo.

“You’re the kind of guy who does better with a fire lit under his ass,” says Monica.

“It’s a pretty big fire,” Richard responds.

Peter Gregory and Gavin are billionaires who will do anything to annoy the other, including toying with people the way the bored gods on Mount Olympus were wont to do to the ancient Greeks. Now that Gavin has installed a humiliating homage to Pied Piper for all to see at Hooli (and paid $500,000 for it), the stakes can only get higher and meaner from here.

Photo: Jaimie Trueblood/HBO