Silicon Valley Recap: Two and a Half Erlichs

Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley
Episode Title
Bad Money
Editor’s Rating

Twenty-five years ago, my computer science degree manifested itself as a blood-spattered piece of paper scrawled entirely in Latin. This exceptionally expensive declaration was bestowed upon me by the Jesuits, a group of fine educators who taught me many things. Unfortunately, Latin was not one of those things, so as far as I know, my degree might have the theme song from The Omen printed on it. I can accurately report that one of the words on my diploma is “obnoxium,” which auto-correct immediately changes to the word that best describes billionaire businessman Russ Hanneman, Silicon Valley’s newest character.

Actually, Russ Hanneman is beyond obnoxium, I mean, obnoxious, and that’s a problem. We already have a resident asshole on this show, and his name is Erlich Bachman. When the Pied Piper team is introduced to Hanneman, Gilfoyle comments that he literally and figuratively “sounds like Erlich.” Monica’s description of Russ supports that notion in far more graphic fashion:

“He’s a boorish, pompous, womanizing douchebag who got lucky 20 years ago and hasn’t done anything since!”

Of course, Erlich is immediately struck with the harshest of man crushes; Russ is the more successful reflection Erlich wishes were in his mirror. By contrast, Dinesh correctly observes that “he is the worst person in America. And now he owns us.”

A $5 million rubber check puts Pied Piper in Russ’s possession. The payout follows a bizarre courtship that begins when Russ intercepts Richard on Hooli’s campus. Richard is solemnly marching toward self-sacrifice at the altar of Gavin Belson’s Mexican restaurant-based offer when a bright orange McLaren pulls up in front of the Hooli Sport Court. Russ jumps out, wooing Richard with praise and an $800 beef dinner. Richard takes his offer without doing his due diligence, and it looks like we’re going to be stuck with Russ for the foreseeable future. Silicon Valley has suddenly become Two and a Half Erlichs.

Readers know that I love T.J. Miller’s characterization of Erlich. I’ve spent more than one moment in the comments section defending that love, so you’d think I’d be ecstatic about Russ Hanneman. As a satirical depiction of a certain type of successful software baron, the character is aces. Writer Alec Berg gives him some of the best examples of the classic language twisting bullshit I adore on this show, things like “don’t do what you should do, do what you want!” The fact that he’s coasted for the past 20 years on his original success of putting radio on the internet is also a deliciously funny detail. 

As a one-episode character like the Carver from “Third Party Insourcing,” Russ would be a minor stroke of entertaining genius. Tossing him into the day-to-day Pied Piper dealings throws off the perfect binary character chemistry of the show. It’s a plus that Dinesh and Gilfoyle see right through Russ, and their snide commentary is a welcome respite, but I’m still wary. It’s too early to pass complete judgment, but right now, I’m seeing Russ Hanneman as a squeaky third wheel.

I also have a minor problem with the familiarity of this episode, so pardon me while I go full technobabble. While their Latin lessons were lacking, the Jesuits did teach me about recursion, the structure by which a program calls another version of itself until it ultimately solves the problem it has been tasked to solve. “Bad Money” feels like a recursive program call of last season’s “The Cap Table.” Many of that episode’s plot elements are being re-executed with slight alterations in this week’s episode, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were structurally the intention.

As in “The Cap Table,” Richard must again suffer the consequences of choosing between a surefire deal with Hooli and a “sweeter,” more uncertain deal for Pied Piper. Once again, Richard has a problem with a check from the proprietor of the non-Hooli deal. Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti stands poised to benefit yet again from his former association with Richard and Pied Piper. And Laurie Bream’s meeting-ending comment to Monica tonally harkens back to Peter Gregory’s Willy Wonka–style kiss-off of a meeting ender, making her veer uncomfortably close to being a clone of Peter rather than the disciple I keep arguing that she is.

And am I the only one who’s starting to get impatient with Richard constantly making the same mistakes over and over? The character is smarter than that, and while I’ve no qualms with the way Thomas Middleditch plays him (his timing remains great), I’m about ready to wring Richard’s damn neck. It’s fun when Gilfoyle and Dinesh poke at him, as in the scene where they use the negotiating tactic of asking for more than one expects to get, but you’d think he’d be wiser by now about other managerial things after all he’s been through.

Okay, rant over. There are some good things in this episode that deserve mention.

The return of Big Head was a great capper to “Bad Money,” saving the episode and providing hope for a story line to combat Two and a Half Erlichs. As a recap within a recap, here’s a refresher on Big Head’s story arc:

Big Head was a friend and colleague of Richard’s who was deemed useless to Pied Piper development (even he agreed this was true). He was then snatched up by Gavin as a means of providing insider information. Hooli discovered that Big Head knew more about Nip Alert, his own titty-finding app, than Pied Piper’s compression algorithm. As “punishment,” Gavin sent him to a department where he did nothing all day but sit around and eat Arby’s for lunch. For this extremely strenuous feat of labor, Big Head draws a $600,000 salary and options that, once vested, will pay him 5 million dollars. In the aforementioned “The Cap Table” episode, Dinesh christens Big Head “the VP of Spite.”

Big Head is lovably clueless, so he’ll make no connection between the series of unwarranted promotions Gavin plans to bestow upon him and the underlying evil legal purposes behind them. To quote Mongo in Blazing Saddles, Big Head “only pawn in game of life.” This pawn’s ascent up the Hooli corporate chessboard will support the big lie that Pied Piper was “developed” at Hooli, giving Gavin’s crackerjack legal team the opportunity to destroy Richard once and for all.

Speaking of Gavin, Matt Ross is one of two MVPs in this episode. He’s turning into a fine antagonist, funny and occasionally terrifying. In addition to hilariously seething with anger at being constantly “undermined” by Richard, he deftly deals with a subplot that shows how out of touch rich people are with reality. While being interviewed in front of an audience, Gavin responds to his host’s snarky comments about billionaires by comparing his plight to that of the Jews during the Holocaust. Ross realistically plays Gavin’s cluelessness, and his attempt at an apology was almost as offensive as his original statements. I am surprised the show didn’t depict one hell of a Twitter backlash over this development. Maybe we’ll get it next week.

The other MVP of “Bad Money” is Zach Woods’s Jared. Jared is the only character on the show who’s allowed to be completely vulnerable, and in ways that clearly make the other Pied Piper team members (and probably some viewers) uncomfortable. His comment about celebrating Richard’s victory reeked of hints about feverish masturbation. His afterglow did not go unnoticed by Russ — “You’re the guy who FUCKS!” he tells a beaming Jared repeatedly.

More important, Jared’s Julia Roberts–inspired speech, where he reveals how his self-esteem was repaired by Richard’s acceptance and friendship, was the series’ most emotional moment. “It would break my heart if you went to Hooli,” he tells Richard, and I damn near felt my own heart breaking. Woods’s delivery could save a Nicholas Sparks movie! His admirable gazes at Richard are the epitome of bromance. These characteristics are great, because the one thing Richard needs now, more than ever, is a truly supportive friend.