Unlucky start-up company Pied Piper returns to HBO for the fifth season of Silicon Valley minus one of its primary investors. Actor T.J. Miller, who played Erlich Bachman, left the show at the end of last season to pursue ventures like The Emoji Movie. Though Erlich is physically gone — I assume he’s still holed up in the opium den where Gavin left him — he is certainly not forgotten, at least not by Jian Yang, who plans to become Erlich 2.0 by somehow getting Erlich declared legally dead. Your guess is as good as mine as to how this will play out.
This year, director and co-creator Mike Judge has said we’ll see how Pied Piper deals with growth and success. The growth part is the addition of 15 new programmers, a task that will consume much of this episode. But first, our beloved Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks has to find some place to put them: “Grow Fast or Die Slow” opens with Richard and his crew walking into an office space that, I kid you not, looked exactly like the Palo Alto headquarters of my current job.
“I’m being trolled!” I thought as Richard’s right-hand man Jared marveled at the “intuitive kitchen layout.” (Intuitive my ass! I still don’t know how to turn on the fancy, new-age faucet.) “It’s hard to believe your pathological inability to make a decision has finally paid off,” says Gilfoyle, our resident Satanist and crank. Dinesh, our resident brown person and Gilfoyle’s frenemy, agrees. Alas, this isn’t the new office.
Richard takes them to a small, ridiculously bright room with no windows and dangerously exposed electrical outlets. This was probably a mainframe room 30 years ago. They were filled with machinery far less powerful than your average cell phone, surrounded by white walls and lighting that even Stanley Kubrick would have found extreme. I should know: 31 years ago, I started my programming career in a room just like this. It was so bright in that room that it turned my skin color from Terrence Howard to Taylor Swift. So when the camera cut to a similarly affected Dinesh, I almost peed myself laughing.
As Richard trips over an outlet, Jared pulls him aside and politely asks him what the hell he’s doing. Richard fears that he’ll screw up the finances by extravagantly spending on creature comforts like Action Jack Barker did during his short reign at Pied Piper. Or even worse, by blowing all the profits on swag like former Three Comma Club member Russ Hanneman did in “The Lady.” Jared responds to Richard’s explanation by having a claustrophobia-induced panic attack while the other guys leave the room in protest. Richard relents and buys space in the nicer office.
A month later, Pied Piper is still short 12 programmers. This is due to Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s rejection of 63 applicants. The three programmers that make the cut are a scary-looking but effective lot that Dinesh refers to as “our stallions.” An angry Richard says he shielded them from the worst of the list, which included an annoying guy with a pizza-app idea, “alt-right guy, and closeted alt-right guy.” Don’t worry, Republicans! Alt-right Guy will be reconsidered later. Pizza Guy will be back too.
“We have to work with these guys while you’re out doing CEO stuff!” Gilfoyle says of his harsh screening tactics. Funny he should mention “CEO stuff,” as Richard is attending the Innovation Hall of Fame ceremony that evening. This year’s inductee is Richard’s mortal enemy, two-time Hooli CEO Gavin Belson. Wait, let’s take a quick detour to summarize how Gavin earned his second CEO tenure. Cue the squiggly flashback visual effect!
Last season, Gavin got canned at Hooli, entered into a temporary partnership with Pied Piper, then went off to find himself in a Buddhist temple in Tibet. Before he left, he gave Richard the patent he needed to create the newest iteration of the Pied Piper algorithm, henceforth known as Pied Piper: The Next Generation. While in Tibet, Gavin was joined by Erlich, who told him that then–Hooli CEO Action Jack Barker’s missteps had gotten him kidnapped by the Chinese factory workers who made phones for Hooli. Gavin left his Buddhist quest and saved Action Jack in exchange for his old job.
And now, Gavin is being honored for being an innovator. His speech is full of the patented Gavin bullshit that Matt Ross is so good at reciting. “The ideal version of myself was the man I already was,” he tells the audience, which translates to “vindictive, petty Gavin is way, way better than enlightened Buddha-lovin’ Gavin.” Richard crosses paths with original-recipe Gavin at the Hall of Fame reception, where Gavin informs him that he’s hired all 63 of the programmers that Gilfoyle and Dinesh panned. “I did it just to see that look on your face,” Gavin tells him before walking off.
One of the candidates Richard rejected is also at the reception. It’s Duncan, the pizza-app guy. Unfortunately, Duncan tells Richard that his Sliceline app is about to take off, so he doesn’t want to be considered for Pied Piper anymore. Sliceline’s entire premise is absurd: Like Priceline does with travel arrangements, it finds you the best price for a pizza and the quickest means of delivery. I suppose this could work if Duncan got William Shatner as his spokesperson, though a better choice might be Pizza the Hutt from Spaceballs. Like Richard, I think Sliceline is an exceptionally dumb idea, but what do I know? Once, I interviewed at a start-up, and when they told me what their software did, I said, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You guys won’t last two months!” You may have heard of this place. It’s called Twitter.
But I digress. Sliceline manages to get $8 million in funding, which Duncan casually reveals while Richard is trying to convince the CEO of Optimoji to let him acquire her failing company. She has 30 programmers, and Richard only needs 12, but she’s a stickler for keeping her crew intact. The deal is almost set before Duncan and his big mouth shows up. Optimoji decides to go with Duncan, leaving Richard high and dry.
Meanwhile, Gavin has own staffing problems. The 63 coders he usurped from Richard are only interested in doing the decentralized internet protocol that PP:TNG represents. They all agree that the Hooli Box will become obsolete once Richard succeeds. Gavin curses everyone out before rehiring a blast from the past: Patrice, the outspoken board member Gavin fired in “The Uptick” is back. And she apparently hasn’t learned her lesson about giving Gavin upsetting fact checks. When a board member suggests that Gavin pivot from the Hooli Box to a new, sexier product, Gavin reminds everyone of the previous Hooli products he used as pivot points. “But they were all failures,” says Patrice, sealing her employment doom yet again.
There is a bright spot for Gavin in this episode: Presales of Hooli upgrade product Box 2: Electric Boxaloo have gone through the roof, proving that PP:TNG might not be the threat to Hooli’s business model that Richard thinks it will be. That is, if Richard can get the programmers he needs to build his platform.
Of course, Richard gets his new employees, and how he does it proves that he’s learned some things from his tour of his Gavin-like dark side last season. After cursing out Duncan at the Sliceline office, and telling all his employees to have sex with themselves, Richard discovers that Sliceline’s business model is mathematically unsound. They order $10 pizzas from Domino’s, rebox them in a $4 box, and sell them on the app for $9. Sliceline is losing $5 per pizza. So, Richard orders enough pizzas to bankrupt them, which allows him to take over Sliceline and its acquisition Optimoji. This gives him 50 programmers. Richard pulls this off while in the presence of both Duncan and Kyra, the Optimoji CEO — a dickish move to be sure, but I’m giving him a pass on this one. It is badass!
Speaking of badasses, Professional Badass Laurie Bream makes a brief appearance here to approve Richard’s dastardly acquisition. “This woman got pregnant just to prove she could do so without missing a day of work,” Monica tells Richard. Laurie goes one better: She shows up to sign Richard’s papers just hours after she has given birth by induced labor. Richard should just let her whip Gavin’s ass. But I guess the series would end a lot quicker.
By the way, Richard’s tough act is short-lived. When faced with having to address his new gaggle of employees, he nervously pukes up his lunch. Looks like the old Richard Hendricks is back. I’m back too, for my fifth go-round as your humble recapper. Readers, place your bets. I say Richard becomes head of Hooli by the end of this season.