“You only make that face when your dick is on fire,” Dinesh says at the beginning of Silicon Valley’s fourth-season finale. He is describing the YouTube video of an exploding Hooli phone. As the video guy tries to extinguish his crotch fire, Gilfoyle reveals that the combustible Hooli phones contained the illegally installed Pied Piper: The Next Generation. Our resident conscience Jared wants Richard to confess. Richard responds by blaming Hooli phone “dick fires” on Keenan Feldspar’s power-draining VR system.
Richard’s refusal to take responsibility — to be “Honest Abe,” as he promised at the end of “The Keenan Vortex” — is too much for Jared to take. He reaches into his binder and hands Richard a piece of paper. “I write three letters whenever I start a job,” Jared says. “A personal action plan, a letter to my 40-year-old self, and a resignation letter.” Richard gets that third letter, severing a work relationship that began 36 episodes ago.
“You can’t leave,” Richard says to Jared, but not because he wants him to stay. He coldly forces Jared to endure the two-week-notice rule that Jared himself wrote into the employee handbook. “You read the handbook?” asks Jared in a stunned voice. He briefly falls for Richard’s last-minute ego stroking before strengthening his resolve. Jared will honor the notice, but he vows not to lie nor do anything illegal for Pied Piper.
Richard has no such compunctions. Back in my recap of “Success Failure,” I predicted this season would entail Richard succumbing to his own delusions of grandeur. “Server Error” gives us a Richard Hendricks in full-on madness, ranting, raving, and being horribly unlikable. In a season of stories about Icaruses who flew too close to the sun, Richard takes his place alongside Gavin Belson, Erlich, Action Jack, and Dinesh. Each of them had their turn at a mad power grab, and each suffered mightily for their trespasses. Richard’s fall from grace stings hardest, of course, because it’s reflected in Jared’s often naïve desire to believe in his CEO. The seeds were planted back in last year’s season finale, “The Uptick,” when Jared pleaded with Richard not to “weaponize my faith in you against me.” Those seeds yield the most bitter fruit in this episode.
Alas, Mr. Hendricks will reap what he sows. The harvest starts when Action Jack recalls all Hooli phones instead of providing a corrective software update. He’ll replace the Explode-o-Phones within three days, causing the loss of 123,000 PP:TNG-compromised phones and Dan Melcher’s data. Additionally, the Chinese manufacturing plant that Gavin coerced into turning out 2 million phones a day will have to up its progress by 50 percent in order to meet Action Jack’s deadline. “We won’t approve this,” says the Hooli board. But Action Jack is a step ahead of them: He already put out the recall notice.
“Fire up the Hooli Jet and let’s go to China!” Action Jack says. In an attempt to out-sweet-talk Gavin, Action Jack lectures the factory workers about how his patented “Conjoined Triangles of Success” will help them work even harder than their maximum capacity. The factory workers respond with their own model for success: the “Isosceles Triangle of Kidnapping.” They’ll hold Action Jack for ransom until they get fair wages and humane conditions.
Meanwhile, in nearby Tibet, Erlich is busy preventing Gavin from finding inner peace. (Last week, I spoke too soon about Erlich’s sendoff.) Erlich casually mentions that Hooli phones are literally Da Bomb. The possibility of making Action Jack look bad supersedes any Buddhist notions Gavin may have acquired, especially when he finds out Action Jack has been taken. Gavin tells a grateful Hooli board that he’ll be the Liam Neeson who saves their CEO, but his particular set of skills must earn him reinstatement at Hooli. Action Jack not only gets rescued by Gavin, he gets exited for the second time! Laurie Bream did it better!
Hooli can afford Gavin’s demands, but Richard keeps writing checks he can’t cash. His next idea is to use Anton, Gilfoyle’s beloved server, to house Melcher’s data. This is an untenable situation, as Anton isn’t powerful enough. “If we’re gonna die, why not just die?” Gilfoyle asks. “Why do we have to take Anton with us?” As Richard profanely argues with Dinesh and Gilfoyle, Jared brings his potential replacement into Hacker Hostel. Jared offers no distraction from what she’s seen — after all, he’s not going to be dishonest — and tells her the company is indeed in disarray. “Are you comfortable with casual racism?” he asks her, a question I wish I’d been asked at every job interview I’ve ever had.
But I digress. Gilfoyle breaks his glasses while hooking up Anton. This accident puts some awesome, scary contact lenses into Gilfoyle’s eyes. “These were for All Hallows’ Eve,” Gilfoyle explains. “I was a cat.” Richard hisses like a cat when he discovers the internet service has been turned off. “We don’t have the funds,” Jared tells him. “And when I tried to bring it to your attention, you said ‘Fuck off, Mom!’”
Richard’s next idea is his most batshit. He’ll bring Anton to Stanford, where he’ll force Professor Big Head to allow him to hook it up in plain sight. “Is Big Head going to be okay with us showing up with three tons of unauthorized equipment?” Dinesh asks. Truth be told, Big Head only authorized Richard to use his Stanford login and password to gain access to their network. Big Head’s username is password and his password is password. Had the password been username, I might have cut Big Head some slack. Stanford is less understanding: Big Head is on probation after Erlich invaded his class. Richard’s hijinks will get Big Head fired.
As Dinesh and Gilfoyle load Anton into a huge moving truck, Jared starts quizzing Richard on details like university security clearances. “Just stop with the hand-wringing, pearl-clutching bullshit for a minute!” Richard yells. He then cruelly releases Jared from his two-week notice. Gilfoyle chastises Richard, but it doesn’t end Richard’s megalomania. When the truck won’t start, Richard asks if anyone has jumper cables or AAA roadside assistance.
“Sounds like a Jared thing to me,” Gilfoyle says snidely, and he’s right. Jared’s attention to detail has saved Richard’s ass many times. Jared wouldn’t have let them keep the truck lights on all night; Jared would have finessed Stanford and somehow gotten a connection; Jared would have definitely told Richard the back of the truck was open before he pulled off, scattering Anton all over Palo Alto. Gilfoyle discovers the shocking death of his beloved masterpiece at the same time he learns Richard has lied about Big Head’s approval.
Martin Starr makes an unexpectedly low-key acting choice when Gilfoyle discovers Anton’s remains. Gilfoyle goes into a stoic shock that’s far more effective than if he’d flipped out. Siding with Dinesh about Richard’s betrayals (I’m surprised how many times these two agreed this season), he quietly leaves Richard to deal with an angry Dan Melcher’s text messages. “Good luck with that,” Gilfoyle says sarcastically.
“I was one blood boy from becoming Gavin Belson,” Richard confesses to Jared. Arriving unannounced at his former right-hand man’s apartment, Richard interrupts Jared’s sexual escapades with multiple women. Jared patiently listens to Richard’s apology. “I didn’t run this company with integrity,” he says. “But I can end it with some.” Jared leaves his sexy time to be by Richard’s side when Melcher gets the bad news. He also convinces Dinesh and Gilfoyle to rejoin the team. If that isn’t love, folks, I’ll eat my hat.
Of all the petty acts of vengeance perpetrated this season, only one has redeeming value. It turns out that when Gilfoyle used Anton to hack Jian-Yang’s smart fridge, the appliance registered the hack as an upgrade, sending the code to every other registered Smart Fridge. That code included PP:TNG, meaning that Dan Melcher’s data is not only alive and well, it’s living in the kitchens of 30,000 Americans. “Anton died so we can live!” says an amused and proud Gilfoyle.
“Like Jesus!” Jared says. “Oh, fuck!” the practicing Satanist replies.
“If Melcher never lost his data, what was he so upset about?” Dinesh asks. Suddenly, Dan jumps on Richard and pummels him for sleeping with his fiancée. The resulting black eye is prominently displayed in the final scene, a reunion between Gavin and Richard at the Mexican restaurant from “Runaway Devaluation.” Gavin wants to acquire Pied Piper, but a newly confident Richard has no plans to sell. His new internet concept will make server space obsolete, and Hooli’s biggest product is server space. This sets up the central conflict of season five: a fight between two CEOs who learned a lot about themselves since their last battle. Let the games begin.
Postmortem: This wasn’t Silicon Valley’s best season, but it was its funniest and its most well-acted. Kudos to Thomas Middleditch and Zach Woods, who bent their characters at Emmy-worthy weird angles. Woods was phenomenal and Middleditch fearlessly embraced Richard’s douche bro status. Martin Starr added new shadings to Gilfoyle with microscopic precision, as did Matt Ross with Gavin. Kumail Nanjiani remains a comedic master of matter-of-fact dialogue. And while I can’t imagine Silicon Valley without T.J. Miller, Erlich’s ultimate five-year fate in an opium den gives us hope he might return. See you next season!