Silicon Valley Season-Finale Recap: War and Peace in the Valley

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Photo: HBO
Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley

Fifty-One Percent Season 5 Episode 8
Editor's Rating 5 stars

It’s launch day for PiperNet, the world’s first decentralized internet! Proud CEO Richard Hendricks, dressed as the Pied Piper of Hamelin, leads his team of stallions through the office in celebration. He’s so happy he even imitates Pipey, the ill-conceived Clippy clone that once assisted confused users of Pied Piper 1.0. As the countdown clock ticks down, Pied Piper’s hard-working employees pose for a group picture taken by Jared’s whipping boy, Holden. Writer-director Alec Berg’s camera captures the happy moment as a snapshot, then slowly backs away to reveal a nearly empty, seemingly bankrupt Pied Piper HQ.

This effective sequence opens “Fifty-One Percent,” the season finale of “Silicon Valley.” And it’s the biggest shock the show has given us. As Berg pans across the carnage of a pile of empty office chairs and a whiteboard that screams “IT DOESN’T MATTER,” we’re left to contemplate if Richard finally dreamed too big. Was the world just not ready for PiperNet? Or had Professional Badass Laurie Bream managed to usurp Pied Piper’s glory with “New Pied Piper” aka YaoNet? The answer comes quickly via a severely bearded Dinesh. “Richard, you have to see this!” he says with a hesitant voice. Richard turns around to also reveal a massive beard, courtesy of two months of sitting in the office night and day while trying to salvage his vision. All that misery is about to pay off; PiperNet has reached its inflection point due to an influx of new users!

Normally, this would be a cause for celebration—and Richard has a modest party to honor the milestone. But, as we know from episodes like “The Uptick,” not all users tend to be legitimate. These most certainly aren’t. Over in China, Yao’s company has manufactured 40,000 phones and signed them all onto the Pied Piper network. This explains the spike in users. But Yao’s workers have to sign each phone into Pied Piper manually, which takes a lot of time. You’d think it odd that Laurie would do something that helps Pied Piper, especially since it would aversely affect her stake in YaoNet. Hold on to that thought, as it’s a crucial plot point later.

For now, let’s get back to that inflection point party. Dinesh is once again singing Crispian St. Peters’ “I’m the Pied Piper”, minus the hideous Pied Piper jacket he wore in Bachman’s Earning Override. Gilfoyle is away from the party sipping Pappy Van Winkle from a mug emblazoned with “Drink Coffee, Hail Satan,” a slogan which has now become my life’s philosophy. As he sips his Kentucky whisky, Monica stops by to ask if it seems odd that the coin value hasn’t gone up despite the influx of users. “I thought there would be a correlation, at least a little bit,” she says. Gilfoyle agrees.

“But I don’t mean to rain on your parade,” Monica cautions.

“Parades are impotent displays of authoritarianism,” replies Gilfoyle, proving yet again that this show coins the best t-shirt slogans.

As Gilfoyle investigates the cryptocurrency issue, Richard runs into K-Hole CEO Colin in the office lobby. During the party, Richard thanked “the Septopipers,” which is one less than “OctoPipers.” Turns out Colin’s the reason Richard had to change ordinal prefixes—he ditched PiperNet as soon as hard times befell it. But Colin has a valid excuse for his actions. “Laurie was our VC,” he says. “It was she who made us pull the game and bail on you.”

Colin also casually mentions that Laurie fired him from his own company. In desperation, Colin pitches Richard a side project called “The Gates of Galoo,” a game with 80,000 players who will instantly become PiperNet users. Colin is so shaken that he humbles himself before Richard in ways unknown to most techbros. He pleads to Richard, telling him “I really need this.”

“Take him back, Richard!” I yelled at the screen. “Go to him!”

Now, you’d think Richard would understand. After all, Laurie once fired Richard from Pied Piper. But as I’ve told you before, I.T. folks are some petty-ass people! And Richard is our reigning king. “Karma’s a bitch!” he tells Colin after ruthlessly mocking his downfall. Richard then dances around in terrifying fashion, chanting the R. Kelly-inspired phrase “kiss my piss!”

The next day, Gilfoyle and Monica create a ledger program that shows a mysterious eighth user on PiperNet. That user is the reason for the uptick. But Richard hasn’t authorized anyone new, and he’s the only one with the admin rights to do so. “The only way in is if someone stole our software,” says Gilfoyle. “And nobody’s stolen our software,” says Monica, “except for…”

Cut to Jian-Yang! He’s at a Chinese casino gambling away the last of his savings. Wesley Snipes told us to “always bet on Black” when it comes to roulette, but Jian-Yang shouldn’t have listened to him. As the wheel lands on 00 (which is green), Jian-Yang loses his dough but gains a phone call from Big Head. As much as I love Big Head, his new role as deus ex machina is wearing a bit thin. Gilfoyle is able to track down Jian-Yang because he and Big Head play “Words With Friends” on a regular basis.

“I do not want to talk to Gilfoyle!” Jian-Yang tells Big Head. “He’s a racist and a witch!”

“I’m not a witch!” says Gilfoyle, before threatening Jian-Yang unless he spills the beans. Jian-Yang does so with one condition: He wants to move back into Hacker Hostel.

Richard arrives just in time to hear that Yao and Laurie are the reason for the spike in users. “Why would they want to help us?” he asks.

Suddenly, light bulbs go off over Gilfoyle and Dinesh’s heads. “It’s not help!” begins Dinesh. “It’s an attack!” finishes Gilfoyle. The “Fifty-One Percent” in this week’s episode title is an attack based on a simple business principle: If you own 51% of a company, you can override any other stockholder. If we look at PiperNet user percentages like stock, then whomever has 51% of the users can effectively replace PiperNet code with their own. But if Richard can counterattack with users, he can stave off the takeover while Gilfoyle writes a preventative measure patch. Colin’s users would be a great stopgap; that is, if Richard can find him. So like all the prior season finales, we’re in for a rollicking race against time before fadeout.

Colin is not the only CEO fired this week. At Hooli, Gavin is facing an upset board of directors wondering where their merchandise is. “The last two months have been tough,” explains Gavin. As a result, Gavin has only made 40 prototypes of Hooli Box 3: The Domination. The board reveals that Gavin’s mortal enemy, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, wants to buy Hooli. “If Jeff buys us, I’m gone!” says Gavin. The board votes for Jeff, sending Gavin on yet another mansion-destroying tantrum.

“Mind the glass,” Gavin tells his surprise visitor, Richard, paying homage to “Teambuilding Exercise.” Richard’s there to beg Gavin’s help by catering to Gavin’s inner pettiness. If Gavin uses his 40 boxes to “attack” PiperNet, he’ll have enough power to override YaoNet’s percentage and really stick it to his former manufacturer. This battle becomes a Mexican standoff between Laurie and Gavin that plays out on the Skype-like Hooli Chat.

However, once Gavin spins up his boxes, he double-crosses Richard by having his Hooli coders write a patch to give his 51% attack control of Pied Piper. He’ll use this to partner with YaoNet and wrest control of Hooli from Amazon.

At the same time, Jared and Dinesh look for an “off the grid” Colin in the California woods. They find him, but can they make it back to headquarters in time to upload the users and save PiperNet? Leave it to Tesla to answer that! Dinesh convinced the woman whose Tesla payments he’s making to let him use her car to help find Colin. Dinesh also convinces her to let him use “Ludicrous Mode,” which hilariously warps everybody’s faces once employed.

Unfortunately, Gavin now has 51% of the users and, adding insult to injury, he’s making ice cream to celebrate the destruction of Richard Hendricks. But Gavin executes what my mentor Roger Ebert referred to as “The Fallacy of the Talking Killer.” He wastes valuable time taunting Richard before issuing the patch that will erase Richard’s hard work forever. Richard takes advantage, offering to sign over Pied Piper to Gavin for free to save it from destruction. Richard caters to Gavin’s ego, telling him that he’s the only one who knows what PiperNet can truly do. If Gavin owns PiperNet, he becomes YaoNet’s competitor, not its partner.

Richard makes an impromptu contract that Gavin vindictively shakes at the Hooli Chat screen. He tells Yao and Laurie to go to hell before reading Richard’s contract, which simply says “Kiss my piss!” Turns out Richard was stalling for time until Colin transferred his users. Gilfoyle executes the patch and all the users switch over to Pied Piper’s channel, saving PiperNet from hostile takeover!

“Fifty One Percent” ends with a scene that mirrors the season premiere. Pied Piper HQ is moving to a nice new location, but it’s not the office we originally see. “The new space is behind this door,” says Monica. But rather than a scary old former mainframe room, this new office is much bigger. As the camera pulls back so we can see the scope of the four floors Pied Piper will now occupy, Monica mentions that this real estate “used to belong to Hooli.” Seems that YaoNet partnered with Amazon, leaving Hooli to go bankrupt!

In response to finally making the big time, Richard does what we expect him to do: He pukes.

This was an uneven season that benefitted from some very strong episodes (including one of the series’ best) to counter the low points. Erlich Bachman wasn’t missed at all, and villainous replacements like Jian-Yang and Laurie did a fine job keeping things tense and worrisome for Richard. The show hid some pointed warnings about losing net neutrality and the evils of the Internet as a manipulative force. Though I thought Dinesh’s plotlines made him too needy, the show eventually reined that in and made him a worthy hero who ultimately saves the day. Though Thomas Middleditch gave yet another stellar comedic performance, both physically and verbally, Martin Starr is this season’s MVP for the subtle changes and shadings he applied to Gilfoyle.

And though I have loved being your humble recapper these past five seasons—and would gladly cover Silicon Valley forever—this season finale feels like the perfect way to end this show. What do you think? I’d rather miss it than lament that the show jumped the shark. Maybe I’m just being sentimental. See you next season?

Silicon Valley Season-Finale Recap: War and Peace