Silicon Valley Recap: Nucleus Descending

SWOT. Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley
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In a purely coincidental tribute to Mad Max: Fury Road, this week’s Silicon Valley featured hand-to-hand combat battles and death-defying car stunts. Unfortunately, the former wasn’t seen at all, and the latter involved only one car. In the show’s defense, that one car was shaped like a giant can of an energy drink called Homicide. There are plenty of homicides in Mad Max: Fury Road, so this car would have fit in alongside Charlize Theron and Bane.

Nobody gets killed in “Homicide,” the sixth episode of season two, but the murder of the Nucleus team crosses the mind of Gavin Belson. He introduces the more violent of the two product placements featured this week, the UFC. Dana White announces a Nucleus stream of the most anticipated mixed-martial-arts fight of the year. Gavin appears after White on the live stream, using MMA metaphors to describe the Hooli product that we assume was fixed despite being a gazillion weeks behind schedule. To pump up the live stream viewers, Gavin executes more kicks than a coked-up Radio City Rockette, breaking CGI-created walls with every blow. It’s the only action we see, as Nucleus fails to visually stream the greatest UFC fight in history.

“Is it going out like that?” Gavin asks as he points to the frozen screen in front of him. “It looks great!” says one of the numerous Yes Men who make up Gavin’s entourage. These guys are so afraid to disappoint or disagree that one of them even claps after what is clearly a Nucleus fiasco. The look Gavin shoots him should have made Mr. Applause’s head explode.

In crisis, Gavin turns to his personal advice guru, a man who has provided the show with some great nuggets of faux wisdom. “If they’d only told me Nucleus wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have done this!” Gavin laments before asking a very loaded question to his biggest Yes Man: “Have I surrounded myself with sycophants who just tell me what I want to hear regardless of the outcome?”

After a hilarious pause for comedic effect, the guru answers “no.” Gavin believes him, but he’s about to be slapped upside the head by the only people bold enough to tell him the truth: his customers. More on Alan, Lisa, Josh, Ianna, Katie, and Ramon in a bit.

Over at Erlich’s incubator, the sweet scent of schadenfreude wafts under the noses of the Pied Piper team. Everyone has convened for the fight, including Monica and Carla. Monica comes up with the counter strategy of Pied Piper streaming an event to capitalize on Hooli’s UFC blunder. Before Monica’s arrival, however, we get a bit of insight into gender politics, provided by the clueless though well-intentioned Jared. “You won’t be the only female here tonight,” he excitedly tells Carla, “because you’ll get to meet Monica!”

“The only thing worse than being the only female here,” Carla replies, “is being one of two, because everyone expects you to become friends.” Since I’ve always worked with more than two women, I had no idea this was a thing. But I can tell you that this doesn’t just happen to women. In 28 years, I’ve worked with six other African-American programmers. In a few of those situations, there were two of us on the team. When I wasn’t being mistaken for the other guy, people assumed we were in cahoots in some fashion, either as friends or relatives of one another. When neither was proven true, more than one team member tried to spark a friendship between just us two, under the well-meaning though incorrect assumption we’d be happier together than we’d be as part of the entire team. So some of Jared’s attempts at bringing Monica and Carla together against their wills made me laugh loudly in recognition. I hope there’ll be more of this before Monica and Carla bop Jared upside the head.

Gilfoyle wants to clobber Jared when our resident sentimental fool suggests the hatching of a condor egg as Pied Piper’s live-stream event. Our resident lovable asshole Erlich has the better idea of hooking up with his college buddy Aaron Anderson’s company. Double-A, as Aaron was called back at uni, runs the billion-dollar Homicide Energy Drink company. (Aside: Does EVERYBODY have a billion-dollar company on this show except Richard?) Homicide is “the extra-douchey energy drink,” according to Carla, and Homicide streams extreme-sports stunts to cater to their extra-douchey customers. Their current streaming software sucks, so this is a veritable win-win.

It sounds perfect, until we discover Double-A hates Erlich. Here’s where we get the slightly less violent of our two product placements. Back in school, Erlich was known as Kool-Aid. He thinks it’s because he was cool and provided aid to underclassmen like Double-A. Double-A explains that it was because he and his friends hated Erlich, and whenever they didn’t want to hang out with him, Erlich would somehow find them and join their festivities. As Erlich points out once Richard tells him the truth about his nickname, this analogy makes no sense.

Back in the commercials of my youth, Kool-Aid only showed up after the kids called him. The gigantic Kool-Aid pitcher would bust through walls and make the kids happy with his sugary, food-coloring-filled product. A better analogy would have been Erlich as the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull. He also busted through walls, but was never invited and probably gored the shit out of whoever was drinking his beer. I came up with this after I SWOTed a better product trademark nickname for Erlich.

SWOT, Jared’s latest “corporate resource booby trap,” is a real methodology. Its origins are unclear, but it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Each noun occupies a quadrant where the SWOTers place the corresponding ideas and details. I’d never used it before, and judging from my murderous beer bull results, I probably shouldn’t again. But I’d love to see it in the hands of Gilfoyle and Dinesh in future episodes.

Their SWOT board is based on whether they should let the aforementioned Homicide Can car crash. The driver, an extra-douchey dude-bro named Blaine, has made a mistake in his calculations, and when Gilfoyle tries to point it out, Blaine dismisses him. The ensuing moral dilemma is delicious, and made more complicated by the fact that Dinesh covets Blaine’s sexy wife, Gina. “Grieving women need comforting,” Gilfoyle tells Dinesh. That gets filed under Opportunities.

Director Mike Judge and writer Carrie Kemper turn “Homicide” into a series of very funny set pieces, climaxing with Blaine’s apology in front of a SWOT wall that says, in huge lettering, “LET BLAINE DIE.” There’s genuine suspense in whether he’ll turn around to see it. Before that, they score with Gavin’s harsh lesson in the consumer testing room. The organizer’s constant repeating of each tester’s name is, like SWOT, a real-life methodology. Constantly saying the customer’s name is supposed to make them feel important and valued.

As Gavin watches from behind a two-way mirror, the organizer asks Alan, Lisa, Josh, Ianna, Katie, and Ramon for feedback on the new Hooli phone. It’s the old Hooli phone now powered by a new, vastly inferior OS named Nucleus. When Alan, Lisa, Josh, Ianna, Katie, and Ramon don't respond, the organizer calls on Ramon. “It’s just stupid,” Ramon says. “You took a good phone and made it shitty.” Alan, Lisa, Josh, Ianna, and Katie agree with Ramon, much to Gavin’s chagrin. This implicit swipe at Apple is then made explicit:

“Tell me the truth,” Gavin demands of a staff member. “Is it Windows Vista bad? Zune bad?”

“I’m sorry,” the staffer tells Gavin, “but it’s Apple Maps bad!”

“DAMN!” I yelled at the screen. (Here’s why: Apple Maps was so buggy — and issued such dangerous driving directions — that Apple CEO Tim Cook had to issue an apology. While the app was being fixed, he told users to use Google Maps instead!)

With Nucleus publicly hobbled, you’d think Pied Piper could catch a break. But no! Double-A turns out to be as douchey as his drink when he refuses to brand the live stream with Pied Piper’s logo. Not that it matters; Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s SWOT board had already soured the deal. (Read the entire board if you get a chance — it’s hilarious!) Homicide instead goes with a company called End Game. Their streaming works as well as Pied Piper … because it IS Pied Piper.

Turns out End Game is the brain-raping company from “Runaway Devaluation.” They got enough info from Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s whiteboards to not only re-create Pied Piper but to also give Russ the high moral ground. Russ is so pissed he hangs up on Richard. If this were The Facts of Life, Tootie would tell Richard, “You are in trou-blllle!”

What a gut punch of an ending! This show is back on sure footing, and I’m sorry I ever doubted it.