Silicon Valley Recap: Paying the Piper

Silicon Valley

Bachman’s Earning’s Over-Ride
Season 3 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Thomas Middleditch as Richard Hendricks. Photo: HBO

Who knew Erlich Bachman had the potential for martyrdom? Silicon Valley continues to humble its irresponsible bad boy, providing emotional heft alongside a scorching dose of tough love. Yes, Erlich’s debt-based sale of his Pied Piper shares is a transaction far worse than we imagined. The fallout typifies this week’s episode, which is devoted to the huge mistakes that men make when their decisions are fueled by jealousy and anger.

Let’s start with Dinesh, whose jealousy makes the victim of “swag fail.” Swag is the stuff you get from a company looking to promote itself. It tends to be cheap, totally useless shit emblazoned with a corporate logo — pens, T-shirts, stress toys, and the like. You’d be surprised how often customers will ask for company swag, and how satisfying they find it. Then again, maybe not. There’s a good chance you are currently reading this on the biggest piece of swag known to humankind, an Apple product.

Dinesh’s troubles begin with a hideous jacket that Jared commissioned to celebrate the Pied Piper beta release. Reminiscent of the old 8-ball leather jackets from the ‘90s, the Pied Piper jacket has the company’s Renaissance faire hat logo emblazoned on the front. Colorful writing adorns the back, including an enormous “#1,” and the sleeves have what appear to be dinosaurs on them. It is the color of neon succotash. It is also personalized, with a name etched on the front, so the world can identify the walking fashion nightmare.

As an enthusiastic Jared models for the team, the expected responses ensue. “What the hell is that?” Richard asks. “One of those is too many,” Dinesh says. “I don’t mean in the house, I mean in the world.” Gilfoyle’s comment takes his expected turn toward darkness, but then he gets an idea. “Can I borrow that jacket?” he asks Jared, just before joining Dinesh on a coffee run. “I sense you are doing something ironic with it,” Jared begins, “but that’s okay. Once you put it on, it will shake out its hair, take off its glasses, and you’ll be in love.”

Comparing a jacket to a stereotypical sexy librarian isn’t enough to keep Gilfoyle from embarrassing Dinesh. At the coffee shop, Gilfoyle draws attention to his “cool jizzacket.” Dinesh calls him out for his attempts, but Gilfoyle is not phased. “I’m a suicide bomber of humiliation,” he says. “Your shame is my paradise.”

Dinesh’s shame quickly turns to envy as people start complimenting the jacket. When women join in, he quickly intercepts Gilfoyle’s moment. “I work for Pied Piper too!” he awkwardly states. “Tell them you know me, Gilfoyle!” Gilfoyle points out that, according to the jacket, his name is Jared. “Leave Jared alone!” the admirers chastise. Proving that the jacket is truly evil, Dinesh later wears it while singing Crispian St. Peters’s “I’m the Pied Piper” at karaoke. It took 26 episodes for the show’s creators to use this song during the end credits. There’s no place to go but up.

Over at Hooli, Gavin conducts yet another board meeting featuring live animals as metaphors. Last time, a cute bulldog bore the negative brunt of Gavin’s analogies. This time, a rabbit and a turtle grace the table. Gavin uses them to tell the story of that old Bugs Bunny cartoon, “Tortoise Beats Hare.” He’s interrupted mid-story by the angry board members, who catalog the damages caused by his anger-fueled war with Pied Piper.

“You’ve burned through three-quarters of a billion dollars with virtually nothing to show for it,” one member says. Another points out that the Nucleus project has lost its chief engineers. Gavin tries delivering his patented bullshit responses, which have saved him numerous times before, but it no longer works. “You’re fighting a war that has already ended,” they tell him. “We called this meeting to discuss Hooli moving on without you at the wheel.”

“You’re firing me?!” Gavin asks. It’s much worse … they’re giving him the Big Head treatment! Gavin’s realization that he’s the new Nelson Bighetti is superbly overplayed by Matt Ross: “You’re putting me on the fucking roof?!”

The Hooli roof is the ultimate punishment for the useless. As Big Head learned in season one, the roof is where exiled workers do absolutely nothing all day. They’re handsomely compensated — Big Head earned $600,000 a year — but play no part in Hooli’s day-to-day operations. Keep in mind that this tactic was Gavin’s brainchild, a way to humiliate his underlings. Big Head was unfazed by his “demotion,” but this can only end in madness for a workaholic like Gavin. One man’s shame is another man’s paradise. Gavin finds solace commiserating with another ousted CEO, Action Jack Barker.

Gavin’s downfall is a satisfying moment for longtime viewers, but we’re not getting off so easily vis-à-vis the fall of Erlich Bachman. Writer Carrie Kemper delivers on the big showdown between Richard and Erlich that we’ve been waiting for, and the aftermath has an emotional complexity only hinted at in last week’s episode.

First, Erlich commandeers Richard’s appearance on Emily Chang’s Bloomberg show to promote his own agenda. After informing viewers that Google search misspelled his last name as “Blockman,” Chang erroneously points out that Erlich “Blockman” owns 5 percent of Pied Piper. “No, he owns 10 percent,” Richard says, showing us that Erlich hasn’t told his best incubee the truth about his stock. Monica immediately calls Erlich on the lie. “You didn’t tell him?!” she angrily asks. Erlich promises to tell Richard after the big Vanity Fair party that evening.

Unfortunately, Richard hears “a rumor” about a large sale of Pied Piper stock from the guy he’s interviewing to run the company’s public relations. An internal sale of this magnitude jeopardizes Pied Piper’s valuation, and may even cause its demise. Investors won’t buy if they think someone on the inside is panicking. Richard assumes the seller is Monica, the one person who hated the Pied Piper beta. His accusatory call forces Monica to tell the truth. A volcanic Richard confronts Erlich, who, for reasons too complicated to explain, is dressed like the love child of Errol Flynn and Ridley Scott’s Legend.

“I didn’t tell you because I was fucking humiliated,” Erlich says. “I’m broke, Richard. Erlich Bachman, the name once synonymous with success, is broke.” Richard’s response is swift, brutal, and painful to hear, though completely accurate. Erlich’s exploits have always been a source of amusement, but they have bigger consequences than we thought. In effect, Richard’s speech is the moment Erlich has to pay the piper for hearing the tune.

“You’re the one who threw a million-dollar party,” Richard begins, “You fucked yourself!” Erlich pleads for understanding, but Richard’s tough-love sermon is just reaching its crescendo. “You want me to risk the entire future of Pied Piper just to protect you from your own fucking incompetence?” he yells. Comparing himself to the guy who sold his shares in Apple before it became successful, Erlich makes an emotional appeal for Richard and the audience. “My dignity is in your hands,” he says. The absurdity of him saying such a heartbreaking line while dressed as a man riding a unicorn is just perfect; it’s a visual summation of who Erlich Bachman is.

At the Vanity Fair party, Richard learns that his own shitty deal with Russ Hanneman (who makes a cringeworthy appearance) forced Erlich to dump of all the shares in a terrible way. “You don’t know how your fucking company works?” Russ asks, a sentiment echoed by Laurie Bream, whose swagger is still in full effect. Apparently, Richard’s deal gives Laurie the power to make a sweet deal for herself: She blocked any external sale, forcing Erlich to sell $5 million worth of shares to her for $713,000, the exact amount of his debt. “So he got nothing,” Richard says to himself, his voice tinged with guilt.

Richard returns home to find a sadder, wiser Erlich. Thanks to a misunderstanding with blogger C.J. Cantwell, Erlich outed himself in a brutal, autobiographical hatchet piece that ran on C.J.’s blog. “Is Erlich Bachman the dumbest man in tech?” the headline asks. In the piece, Erlich tells readers that his head “is shoved so far up his ass that he can see the future.” This leads to a heartfelt discussion between the duo, which ends with Richard offering Erlich the position of “Chief Evangelism Officer,” a.k.a. Pied Piper’s PR guy. Yes, Erlich has a chance to slowly rebuild his “empire.” His first assignment: announce to the world that Pied Piper has been accepted at the Hooli Store.

Nucleus is dead, Gavin is gone, Jared’s loyalty pays off with a seat on the Raviga board, and Pied Piper is ruling the market. Is it me, or do things look too good to be true?

Silicon Valley Recap: Paying the Piper