Silicon Valley Recap: Cryptocurrency Craziness

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Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley

Initial Coin Offering Season 5 Episode 7
Editor's Rating 4 stars

At the beginning of this season, Silicon Valley co-creator Mike Judge said we’d see how Pied Piper deals with success. The opening scene of “Initial Coin Offering” gives us a clue. The guys meet at a swanky joint for a celebratory drink with Monica. Their Series B will put $30 million into Pied Piper’s pockets. Yet nobody but Monica seems to be excited about the milestone, nor is anyone stoked about sipping the ungodly expensive Champagne Bream/Hall has purchased. They can’t even tell if it’s premium booze or not. “What’s the difference between good Champagne and bad Champagne?” asks Dinesh.

“About $500,” says Gilfoyle.

It appears that success has not spoiled Pied Piper. Well, maybe just a little bit. A beaming Danny the Code Review Guy runs to Dinesh to ask if the Series B has come in yet. The coders were promised a nice bonus when it does, and Danny has spent his on a new Tesla. It’s the same model as Dinesh’s, but the latest version. We learned in “Reorientation” that Dinesh’s Tesla had an “insane mode” turbo boost; Danny’s model has “ludicrous mode,” which means Dinesh will now be consumed with vehicle envy. It also means I can make my second allusion to Spaceballs this season!

I love the way this show uses product placement. From Airbnb to Chick-fil-A to Burger King to UFC and Kool-Aid, “Silicon Valley” has found unconventional, occasionally mean ways to toss familiar brands onscreen. Tesla seems to be getting the kid-glove treatment, perhaps because the company can do bad all by itself. Whatever the reason, we get to have more fun with Tesla’s Pied Piper spokesperson, Dinesh Chugtai.

Dinesh needs to outdo Danny, especially after last week’s humiliation. Stephanie, our friendly Tesla salesperson, tells him that he can put $50,000 down right now for the next Tesla model, and in a few years, he’ll be zooming around town in the faster than “ludicrous mode” speed called “plaid mode.” These folks have definitely modeled their cars on that scene in Spaceballs!

“I need to protect my Tesla superiority and I need to do it now!” Dinesh yells. So Stephanie offers an alternative: If he gets three people to buy a Tesla, he’ll get the 21-inch Arachnid rims that can only be obtained via Tesla’s rewards program. Dinesh will be the Grand Puba of the Pied Piper Tesla Crew! He sets out to use his senior job position to bogart some of the coders into buying Teslas. Dinesh is so desperate to win he even pays the first seven payments for one potential buyer! No matter, though: Everybody’s going to be broke at the end of this episode.

There’s a lot of other bogarting going on, too. The most unexpected instance comes from Jared, the only character who’s actually in touch with his emotions. But there’s a downside to being that emotionally “woke” — it means Jared is also quite familiar with his negative emotions. The show gets lots of comic mileage from Jared’s formerly harsh life and the therapy he’s received to normalize himself. But Zach Woods plays Jared as a ticking time bomb whose calm façade occasionally reveals a darker nature. He’s yet to go “full Jared,” but poor Holden, the lawyer turned gofer for Richard, may push him over the edge. Jared hates that Richard is getting his needs met elsewhere, and Holden is terrified by Jared’s passive-aggressive bullying.

“Would you mind telling Jared how much you enjoyed the sandwich?” asks Holden meekly after feeding Richard. Richard senses that Holden is terrified of Jared. Holden confirms as much, saying, “I tend to hold my breath around him. It’s exacerbating my asthma.” Jared pops up soon after, sending Holden scurrying for the exit. Later in the episode, director Mike Judge executes one of his patented “how’d he do that” moments by having Jared appear, horror-movie maniac-style, in the reflection of a glass plate. I don’t like the new, villainous Jared. I hope Holden eventually kicks his ass.

More bogarting ensues over at Hooli. Gavin can no longer make his boxes in China thanks to Yao’s countrywide embargo, nor can he make them in newly unionized Bangladesh, nor Laos, where someone was scalped in a freak Hooli factory accident. One of Gavin’s lackeys mentions making the box in America. “Fuck you!” snarls Gavin. “I felt the same way at first,” says the lackey before spinning the sad tale of Goldbriar, North Carolina, a town whose huge factory has gone empty due to bankruptcy. “They’re really desperate,” says the lackey.

So Gavin goes down to the Tar Heel State and turns on the Trumpian flair. “Being in North Carolina feels like a bit of a homecoming for me,” he says. “I own a house in Bermuda, which is off the coast. Technically, it is my primary legal residence.” He then tells the factory workers that if they’re not allowed to make the Hooli box, it’ll be their mayor’s fault. After turning the workers against the mayor, Gavin proceeds to screw them all with a list of demands that will surely bankrupt Goldbriar. The mayor protests, saying he’s lived in the town all his life and that he’d do anything for his constituents. He then offers to rename the local high school after Gavin. “Rosa Parks has never ever visited Goldbriar!” he says.

Gavin is unmoved. He suggests the mayor cut essential services from the town in order to obtain an 80 percent profit margin for Hooli. The mayor acquiesces. “I can’t afford to pay a penny more than this,” says Gavin just before getting into his private jet. Outside the jet, a few townspeople sing the Folks Brothers’ classic, “Carolina” to Gavin. The juxtaposition of Gavin’s wealth against the small town’s poverty is vicious satire at its best. His plane nearly blows his singing well-wishers off the runway.

But karma is a bitch, dear readers. A bitch who loves Rube Goldberg. Gavin’s comeuppance is so hilariously complex that writer Clay Tarver deserves this week’s MVP award. Please indulge me as I directly quote Hoover’s explanation, a chain of events that start after the mayor has the factory repainted on Gavin’s orders:

“Apparently, the painters left some oily rags in a garbage can. But due to cuts to the sanitation service, the trash was not collected. And the rags smoldered and they caught fire. And because of cuts to the fire department, the blaze spread. A number of concerned citizens volunteered to help fight the fire, but because the water was cut off, they could not. The majority of our rare Earth metals survived the fire, but because of cuts to the police, the locals started looting.”

The National Guard was then called in, but they couldn’t get to the factory due to dangerous road conditions that would have been repaired had the mayor not cut that service. “So, we lost everything?” a stunned Gavin asks. Yup! And somebody tipped the IRS off to Gavin’s illegal Bermuda home too!

While Gavin gets spanked by the fates, Gilfoyle bogarts Richard into listening to his PowerPoint presentation about cryptocurrency. The PiperNet credits that Laurie sold are now worth $1.2 million dollars, which gives Gilfoyle the idea that Pied Piper should bypass Laurie’s financing and use a Bitcoin-style knockoff called “Pied Piper Coin” to finance PiperNet. But when they run the idea by Monica, she flips out. As a VC, cryptocurrency funding is Monica’s sworn enemy, which is why she has an encyclopedic knowledge of it. To dissuade Richard, she sends him to a familiar source of misery: Russ Hanneman!

Russ is in the city dump trying to find a thumb drive that contains $300 million worth of Bitcoin. Apparently, his maid accidentally threw it out. Russ is a cautionary tale: He made Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) for all 36 of his companies, and 35 of them failed. It cost the former Three Comma Club member a cool $1 billion. “But I gained $2 billion in wisdom!” says a delusional Russ. That seals the deal for Richard, who goes to dudebro lawyer Ron LaFlamme to sign the Series B paperwork.

Over at Bream/Hall, however, Monica discovers that Professional Badass Laurie Bream has added villain to her résumé. She wants 70 percent of PiperNet revenue to come from ads, a renege on her original promise to Richard that PiperNet would neither sell ads nor mine data. This sends Richard into Gilfoyle’s Pied Piper Coin funding plan and Monica into a new job as Richard’s cryptocurrency expert. Let’s hope Pied Piper Coin can value itself at $68 next week. Right now, it’s at seven cents.

Laurie calls Monica and tells her there’s no hard feelings about parting ways. “You should work with companies that share your values, just as I should work with companies that share mine,” Laurie says. And Laurie has found a new company that shares her values: She’s gonna finance Yao’s New Pied Piper!

Silicon Valley Recap: Cryptocurrency Craziness