A thread of cunning self-preservation runs through this week's Silicon Valley, forcing our heroes to make unexpected, surprising choices. Writer Donick Cary's well-structured script lays the groundwork for the next arc of episodes, forging unlikely partnerships between characters while unearthing new uses for the blind, coincidental luck that has plagued Richard Hendricks since the series premiere.
That wonky luck is about to get Richard fired from Pied Piper for the second time. Yes, last week's ill-timed pratfall exposed his secret skunkworks plans to Action Jack Barker. Barker's reaction is better than I could ever have expected, though. While staring at the architects of the now-defunct scheme, Action Jack swiftly lowers the boom: "I'm not sure what upsets me more," he begins. "That I have four employees who conspired to commit felony fraud, or that I have four employees who are so stupid that I found out about it in 30 seconds." He rants about having a contract with Maleant that will reap a cornucopia of cash if Richard delivers on the appliance. He then asks, somewhat rhetorically, why he shouldn't make these attempted assassins unemployable in Silicon Valley.
The answer to that question will have to wait a moment. As this scene played out, I was struck by director Charlie McDowell's framing, and how it drew my attention to the set design of Barker's office whenever Stephen Tobolowsky was onscreen. I've always noticed the huge, Indianapolis Colts–inspired blue horseshoe on the wall, but based on his office knickknacks, this dude is more obsessed with horses than that kid from Equus. McDowell's attention to background detail certainly pays off in the shocking final scene of the episode. It's a clever bit of visual foreshadowing.
Richard reads Action Jack's customer contract and realizes that the Pied Piper team has their CEO over a barrel. "You can't fire us," he defiantly tells Barker. As his swagger returns, Richard brutally details the lay of the land: The only other people who know the Pied Piper algorithm are the five programmer bros at End Frame. "You'll never make the customer deadline without us," he tells Barker.
Sensing defeat, Barker meekly asks, "What do you want?" In this moment, the prominently displayed silver horse head on the shelf pays homage to the Jack Woltz intimidation scene in The Godfather. Richard Hendricks is Vito Corleone; his Pied Piper algorithm is Johnny Fontane. The offer Action Jack can't refuse involves building the barest minimum of an appliance before switching to the platform expansion Richard originally intended. Both sides will get what they want.
Richard's moment of triumph is capped by a terrifying display of Thomas Middleditch's physical comedy skills. Drunk with power, Richard leans over Action Jack's desk for dramatic emphasis, but slips on some loose sheets of paper. The resulting face-plant looks shockingly violent, so much so that Tobolowsky almost seems to break character. Even when he's winning, Richard always finds a way to undercut his success. Gilfoyle sums up this phenomenon perfectly: "That was totally badass. Until it wasn't."
Also "badass until it wasn't" is Jared's condo. The Airbnb squatter is now throwing Jared's items out to make room for more Airbnb customers. "So your Airbnb tenant now has Airbnb tenants?" Erlich asks incredulously. Jared seems totally okay with this new problem, despite having to sleep in Erlich's vermin-infested garage. "It's ironic," Jared says. "We're named Pied Piper, but we're beset with rats." You should send some of those rats over to your condo, buddy.
Erlich's latest incubator interviewee is a guy named Frank. Frank's malware app sounds barely more useful than Big Head's "foursquare for titties" Nip Alert app which, if you recall, Erlich favored over Pied Piper. Unconvinced by Erlich's lousy real-estate skills, Frank chooses another incubator, which is both rat-free and has a swimming pool. It's a huge, nine-bedroom behemoth of a building, a blisteringly white structure Erlich refers to as "fucking Miami Vice architecture" when he angrily drives the Aviato van to the address. He is stunned when Big Head answers the doorbell.
"You stole my incubator idea!" Erlich tells him. Big Head is his usual level of clueless, explaining that his $20 million severance package made it all possible. He didn't even want his tenants to pay rent, but they demanded to give him 10 percent of their businesses. Big Head has to be the most unfazed, nonchalant millionaire since Mr. Howell on Gilligan's Island. The cash-strapped Erlich uses this to his advantage, building a "twenty million and thirty-six thousand dollar" incubator partnership with Big Head.
Back at Pied Piper HQ, Gilfoyle's inability to write crappy code has unforeseen consequences. "I may have made my platform faster than you requested," he apologetically tells Richard. "I tried to make it slow. I really did, but I'm not Dinesh." Gilfoyle's improvements produce an eightfold increase in speed. "You dick!" Dinesh yells, with a mixture of admiration and aggravation. Suddenly, the team decides they want to build the best damn appliance out there, even if Richard must also deal with typical marketing-department ideas about the product's look and feel.
Unfortunately, Maleant backs out of the deal. To win them back, Richard teams up with Action Jack to successfully pitch the improved Pied Piper appliance and win an even bigger contract. Yes, you read correctly: Richard and Action Jack are now a team! What could possibly go wrong?
At the Raviga board meeting, Monica finds a discrepancy in the contract's language. Maleant is asking for total control of both the inner and outer workings of the backup appliance, which means Richard cannot build his platform past its current state for five years. This violates the Hendricks–Barker–Face-plant Treaty of 2016, an intentional betrayal by Action Jack. "I didn't say when you could return to building your platform," he says. Pointing out that Laurie has a fiduciary duty to vote in favor of the contract despite her personal objection, Action Jack adds, "There's not a goddamn thing she can do about it!"
But Monica can, and here's where the episode truly shines. Although the show's female characters haven't been completely relegated to the background, they've never been as involved in the day-to-day minutiae as their male counterparts. "Maleant Data Systems Solutions" is a showcase for Amanda Crew and Suzanne Cryer, whose Laurie Bream gives an ice-cold kiss-off for the ages. When Action Jack and Laurie vote for the new contract, Richard and Erlich vote against it, which leaves the deciding vote to Monica. Risking her job, she sides with Richard, sending the man Erlich refers to as an "A-A-R-Prick" storming out of Raviga. Without a price point for the algorithm, Richard's plans are finished. Laurie plans to reconvene to vote with Monica's replacement, and the Maleant Data Systems deal will pass.
Thankfully, Gavin Belson is still as petty as ever. He calls Richard, directing him to the Hooli website where one of those ads you can't skip is playing. "I thought we got rid of those!" he says. No matter, because the ad gives way to the news that Gavin has acquired End Frame (and those poor Nucleus bros he fired) for $250 million. Hooli's disgraced guru, who was also fired, pulled a Psychological Foot Massage of his own, convincing Gavin to reboot Nucleus. Both the guru and Richard reap the benefits: The guru gets his job back, and Pied Piper now has a price point. The downside? Gavin Belson is once again Richard's biggest nemesis.
The gang rushes off to confront Action Jack. A great camera flourish reveals Laurie in his office instead. The room is now completely empty. In her awesomely halting manner of speaking, Laurie Bream begins a monologue that proves who owns the real swagger on this show: "As you may recall at our board meeting last night, Jack said that he would get his way and that I, quote, couldn't do a goddamn thing about it. Well, in light of recent events, it appears that I could [delicious pause] do a goddamn thing about it. And I just did. Jack Barker has been exited!" Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you shoot a king.
"Fuck me sideways!" Erlich says.
"Indeed," Laurie replies.
Cryer's speech made me remember why I professed my love for Ms. Bream back in season two — but she's not done yet. When Richard inquires if he's now CEO, Laurie says no. Without looking up at Erlich, she adds, "You're not CEO either." Rising up from Barker's chair, she lays down the law: "Officially, and until further notice, this chair will remain empty." She walks out, leaving the gang to stare at an empty chair and wonder who's coming next. I vote for Gilfoyle.