My mother wanted me to be a lawyer when I grew up. I resisted because I knew Odie Henderson, Attorney at Law would run commercials at 3 a.m. asking if you’d been in an accident. I would not have fit the romanticized notions of the law that Mom obtained from Perry Mason and Atticus Finch, notions that have led more than one fictional story to wrap its third act in a court battle. Stories that do this are legion, and occasionally more than just a little lazy, because courtrooms have become dramatic shorthand. They’re a means to immediately involve us with their old-fashioned delineation between good and evil. We know a clear winner will emerge victorious at the end.
When I saw that “Binding Arbitration” was this week’s Silicon Valley episode title, I was a bit nervous. It’s not that I don’t like courtroom drama — I watch Judge Judy religiously in the hopes somebody will throw a brick through her car windshield in anger, and I was hooked on L.A. Law, Perry Mason, and My Cousin Vinny. My fear came from all the ways director Mike Judge and screenwriter Dan O’Keefe could botch this episode, from comically inept lawyers to ridiculous out-of-left field revelations. Thankfully, “Binding Arbitration” avoids numerous pitfalls while yielding a successful, well-balanced episode, the second-best of this season.
This week, Pied Piper gets its day in court, or more specifically, in binding arbitration, a type of trial that accelerates the entire case into a two-day affair. The timing is perfect, as this is Pied Piper’s last stand: The little compression engine that could is now without funding, and all its new coders have jumped from the sinking ship helmed by Captain Richard Hendricks.
Richard briefly abandons his Titanic to visit Big Head’s Hooli-sponsored boat. Their tête-à-tête is a nice throwback to the first season, when their friendship existed in the same physical space instead of just in a disembodied series of plot-related comparisons. Big Head’s stand-up moment, the one I wished for a few recaps ago, finally arrives in this scene. He reestablishes his bond with Richard over an honest, hopeful talk about the guys sailing to Hawaii. A crucial piece of corporate espionage completes the Redemption of Nelson Bighetti.
Big Head obtains this $40 million corporate bombshell during a night of drinking with the Nucleus team. The programmers ungratefully drink Big Head’s paid offerings of booze while brutally dissing him for “failing your way to the top.” One of the guys accidentally leaves his Hooli phone at the bar after storming off in disgust, and Big Head presents it to Richard. Richard learns what we know — that Nucleus is a failure that, as Big Head points out, makes files BIGGER when it compresses them. As Richard mopes over the knowledge that, in a fair fight, Pied Piper would have certainly trounced Nucleus, Big Head shakes some sense into him:
“Am I actually ahead of you on this, Richard?” he asks incredulously before pointing out that this Hooli phone is the holy grail of getting Gavin to withdraw the lawsuit.
Gavin’s not having it. The scene between him, his attorneys, Richard, and Richard’s dude-bro lawyer Ron LaFlamme is a clever meditation on what can and cannot be used against one in a court of law. It’s a very well-edited bit of business, with Ben Feldman’s LaFlamme skillfully offering both silent and verbal advice. (His hand movement indicating Richard’s possible time in jail for grand larceny was a great, easily missed throwaway gag.) When Gavin is unsuccessful in getting his Hooli phone back from Richard, Thomas Middleditch and Matt Ross play a quick, silent interpretation of a Mexican standoff, with Judge cutting between their stern faces as the scene ends.
LaFlamme hooks Richard up with a lawyer named Pete who is willing to do the case pro bono. “Why the fuck would he take our case on spec?” Gilfoyle asks. Pete answers this by revealing that he has been disbarred due to a litany of offenses, many of which are made slightly less heinous by Matt McCoy’s fantastic, matter-of-fact delivery of said litany. Underage girls, the Mann act, and illegal drugs including amyl nitrate get mentioned, the last of which piques Richard’s curiosity. “What does amyl nitrate do?” he asks. As usual, Jared provides an explanation, the cleaner half of which is that it produces euphoria. Pete’s disbarment extends only to open court cases, so he is clear to defend Richard in binding arbitration.
Pete turns out to be a damn good lawyer despite his horrible lack of personal judgment. He does his due diligence and helps the Pied Piper team deal with the ridiculous amount of documents Hooli forces them to review before the case. “It’s a classic data dump,” Jared explains, “but they’re underestimating the power of us to get this done.” When Gilfoyle complains about Jared’s optimism, Jared responds by quoting Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will.
“He’s the most cheerful person I’ve ever heard quote Hitler,” says Dinesh.
Thankfully, Jared turns his focus to another Austrian, Erwin Schrödinger, the guy responsible for the one kitty cat who won’t break the internet with a cutesy viral video. Herr Schrödinger is the creator of Schrödinger’s Cat, a famous thought experiment that finds a cat in a box along with a flask of hydrocyanic acid. The flask will be broken by a device only if any radiation is detected, resulting in the cat’s demise. Since the box is closed, the cat’s state is unknown, so at some point it is theoretically both alive and dead. The only way to know its fate for sure is to open the box, infringing on reality and quite possibly influencing the outcome. I know what you’re thinking: Schrödinger was probably a dog person.
Silicon Valley turns Schrödinger’s Cat into “Jared Dunn’s Egg.” When Jared wants to call the museum to see if the streamed condor egg is alive or dead, Gilfoyle pounces on the notion that Jared’s call will answer the question and, quite possibly, kill the egg. Jared argues against this, saying, “If this were the case, every time you went to an open-casket funeral, you’d be guilty of murder.”
“You’re a dark motherfucker, Jared,” says Dinesh.
Meanwhile, in a prime example of how NOT to use your office email, Pete discovers several correspondences between Richard and Big Head regarding Richard’s girlfriend. It turns out that, in a twist pulled directly from that horrible Scarlett Johansson film Her, Richard’s girlfriend is his laptop! “It was a joke between me and Big Head,” reveals Richard, “because it was the only warm thing to touch my crotch in three years.” One of those emails mentions that Richard’s girlfriend “was in the shop” for three days, and another mentions that Richard ran a Pied Piper test on a Hooli computer. This simple act, if discovered, will prove Hooli’s claim of intellectual property. Hooli’s lawyers need only figure out the true identity of Richard’s paramour.
“You mean to tell me this case hinges on whether people believe Richard had a girlfriend?” Gilfoyle asks.
“We’re FUCKED!” says Dinesh. (This may be the best line delivery Kumail Nanjiani has given in the entire series. His line readings make him, along with Schrödinger’s Cat, this episode’s MVP.)
The last half of “Binding Arbitration” deals with the case. Haters of Erlich got to see him eviscerated on the stand by his own lawyer, who, in an attempt to combat the judge’s adoration for Big Head, points out that Erlich preferred Big Head’s useless Nip Alert app to Pied Piper. ”I was high when he pitched it, and I like nipples,” Erlich explains before accidentally outing Richard as a laptop lover. Richard’s only recourse now is to lie about everything. Instead, in another well-written speech, Richard tells the truth about using Hooli hardware, potentially sealing the fate of Pied Piper.
“Binding Arbitration” ends with an out-of-nowhere, horrible accident that Gilfoyle immediately pins on Jared for tempting Schrödinger’s Cat. A museum guy tasked with removing the Pied Piper egg-cam falls to what appears to be his death on camera. Had Jared not called about the egg, this wouldn’t have happened. “You killed that guy, Jared!” Gilfoyle says. At the same time, Dinesh’s phone rings. “It’s Richard,” he tells us. Fearing another instance of bad luck, he says, “I’m not gonna answer it.”
We’ll have to wait until next week’s season finale, “Two Days of the Condor,” to determine if both Pied Piper and that poor museum guy are alive, dead, or simultaneously both.