long jokes

Thomas Middleditch Breaks Down the Silicon Valley Finale’s Response to Season One’s Dick Joke

Delete it all. Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO

Near the climax of tonight’s Silicon Valley season-two finale, vexed protagonist and Pied Piper CEO Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) finally tasted justice. After a tense arbitration battle with billionaire adversary Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), underdog Hendricks successfully secured ownership over the underlying tech fueling his revolutionary streaming-content algorithm. One problem: Moments earlier, convinced he’d lost the case, Hendricks texted his team with instructions to delete all the software to spite his foe. And in a bitter irony, he couldn’t call them and undo the damage, because his iPhone’s battery was out of charge.

What ensued was both a tense action sequence and satire of tense action sequences. As Richard fumbled and flop-sweated across town in an effort to stop his act of self-sabotage, his misfit colleagues sat with their finger on the button, only delaying in search of a perfect lemon to complement the beer they’d be toasting sayonara with. It was instantly classic Silicon Valley, and a touché of sorts to season one’s beloved, epic “dick-joke” sendoff.

Middleditch spoke with Vulture about its centerpiece scene’s hilarious suspense, the art of acting out-of-breath, and wishing he had just one dick line.

When you first read the script, was it clear that scene was intended to be so harrowing?
Yeah, of course. The end of season one was this elaborate dick joke to get out of the pickle they were in. And I think the [writers] knew they couldn’t just try to do the same thing again, otherwise that would make it the format of the show: Every season ends with an elaborate dick joke! That would feel really forced and strange. That finale’s gonna live on its own, and everyone’s gonna be okay with that. I would say part of the mantra of this second season is a lot of those episodes end on such cliffhangers. That carries in through that last chunk of the season.

So suffice to say director-writer Alec Berg and crew wanted to one-up or rival the dick-joke scene.  
Knowing Alec, he puts a lot of pressure on himself. Mike [Judge] does, too. No one’s after not one-upping themselves. No one’s like, “There’s the bar. Next time let’s aim a little bit below it.” [Laughs] Everybody wants to keep surprising, and I think this show is not afraid of shaking things up, as is shown by the last couple minutes of [the finale].

Were you bummed not to be playing off the other actors during their parallel shenanigans in the scene?
That was kind of the same thing with last season’s finale, where they get to take part in the elaborate dick joke, and you cut back to me and I’m having my epiphany. Which is fine. It’s all a contribution, but I would have loved to have a line just mentioning a dick at least. [Laughs]

Was the idea to stage a suspenseful action sequence that’s also kind of a satire of suspenseful action sequences?
It’s small actions with big consequences. It’s not as if it’s not tense for these people. You see it for what it is, and it’s just people running around doing pretty tame stuff. But at the root of it is a guy potentially losing his whole company, potentially losing millions of dollars.

Is the trick for that scene in knowing the stakes, but not necessarily being filled with dread since it is a comedy?
I don’t know. You’d think you don’t have to be filled with dread, but I get a lot of comments from fans being like, “It’s super stressful to watch the show.” They go in from Game of Thrones being like, “Ah, now a comedy to chill out a little bit,” and they leave as stressed out as they came in. I like that it’s a comedy with something else. I like that it’s serialized, that you give a shit what happens next week.

I didn’t even understand 80 percent of the finale’s dialogue, but was on the edge of my seat.
Yeah, that’s the dream as well. I mean, you watch a doctor show [and] do you know what 200 CCs of “stitrapicathol” is? [Laughs] Sometimes it feels like we’re doing that. “I need 10 CCs of gigabytes stat, otherwise our servers are gonna melt down!”

So really, your show is just ER transplanted to the Valley.
Yeah, that’s the best way to sell it: ER meets Silicon Valley.

Back to the scene in question, was there a particular line or moment in the script that made you laugh and say, “This is gonna be good”?
Oh, yeah, lots of stuff, but it’s a lot of physical stuff. In the script, you’re just seeing descriptions of what’s happening and mentally picturing it. “An ax through the wall, that’s great. Kicking the keys through the gutter. Okay, we’re gonna do that.” When we did our table read of that, we were all reading it fast and got caught up in the suspense. When we closed the last page of the script, we were all like, “That’s cool.” It’s got such a different pace from the rest of the show. I think that’s just interesting.

Since your action was separate from everyone else’s, how did Alec direct you to heighten the tension of these small actions?
If I’m not playing it the right way, he’s like, “This needs to be more, because this is the part in the episode where you’re frantically trying to get home as quickly as you can and nothing’s working.” But it’s pretty rare he has to tell me to go bigger. [Laughs] He’s usually like, “Hey, go smaller.”

Is it odd or unnatural to act so out of breath for a scene like that?
Yeah, I guess it kinda is. It’s definitely not the most challenging thing an actor would have to do, but I have, believe it or not, physically exerted myself at points in my life and there is experience I can draw on. I think most people do a few jumping jacks or something before they roll.

And invariably, people might ask: Why didn’t Richard just login to his own e-mail account when he used the bus driver’s phone?

That is a great point. [Laughs] I’m sure the internet will set itself ablaze. There are plenty of people who can argue about everything, and I hate gaps in logic as well. But there are some things you have to go, “Well, cause there’s a story we’re trying to tell.” If you solve the problem, then it’s over. When you’re panicked, you don’t think of all the options.

That’s the real humor of the scene, that after retaining your visionary technology, you almost undo it because your phone isn’t charged.

I bet I’ll have people coming up to me like, “Dude, that almost happened to me, or that did happen to me.” I bet they’ll be more solidarity than contrarianism.

Silicon Valley Response to Season 1’s Dick Joke