Pied Piper isn’t the only thing getting a major upgrade this season on Silicon Valley. Action Jack Barker’s signature move, the Psychological Foot Massage, has undergone an extreme metamorphosis at the hands of Keenan Feldspar, the twinkle-eyed hipster bear played superbly by Haley Joel Osment. Keenan’s use of the PFM is so effective that it has its own name, the “Keenan Vortex,” and not even Action Jack can resist being sucked into it. The Keenan Vortex is almost Biblical in its power, and while it won’t make the lion lie down with the lamb, it does get Dinesh and Gilfoyle to wear matching pajamas while attending a three-day sleepover at Keenan’s house.
Back in “Founder Friendly,” I described the PFM as Action Jack’s ability to read a person, stroke and soothe their emotional weaknesses, and lull them into doing his bidding. Keenan does all this, but he adds a sense of fun and peer pressure to the mix. Keenan looks at his victim with those twinkly eyes and coos words of encouragement like a tech-savvy cheerleader. “C’mon, you wanna do it!” he says. “You know you wanna! C’mon! You’re gonna do it!” It makes perfect sense that virtual reality is his thing. He’s that cool friend who can talk you into anything. And like that cool friend, he is evil.
This is Keenan’s episode, so let’s follow him into his vortex. His first stop is Erlich’s new Bream/Hall office. Erlich’s been looking for Keenan all week, as he hadn’t signed his contract. Keenan explains that Laurie and Monica fought him on the one provision he was adamant to keep. “I was bummed,” Keenan says, “so I turned my phone off, went kite-surfing in Fiji, and then I was chill again.” That provision, which Bream/Hall eventually agreed to, sends Erlich careening through the office halls on the scooter the doctor provided for his broken leg.
“FUCK YEAH!!!” Erlich screams after learning Keenan fought for him to be his key man on this project. As key man, Erlich will get no extra money, no promotion, and no percentages of Keenan’s VR company — but if Laurie and Monica decide to oust Erlich, Keenan’s deal will be automatically voided. Erlich’s deep-seated desire to be deemed important makes him putty in Keenan’s hands. Score: Keenan Vortex: 1, Pied Piper Crew: 0.
Richard is far from impressed with Erlich’s news. “VR is just a fad,” he says. Dinesh and Gilfoyle are similarly unenthused about key man clauses, though Gilfoyle points out that Keenan’s demo is “making Reddit shit itself.” Also shitting themselves are Californians freaked out by the cold snap plaguing the state. The fear of frozen citrus trees and slippery roads sends insurance claims at Dan Melcher’s firm skyrocketing. The stable, sustainable amount of data that Pied Piper: The Next Generation could afford to store has now blown up to epic, very expensive proportions.
Panicked, Richard calls Dan, who tells him that the flat rate they agreed upon cannot be altered. “While everyone else’s costs rise, our deal is making me look like a genius,” Dan says excitedly. Had Richard been Keenan, he would have gone over to Melcher’s firm and sexed him up like Color Me Badd. But as we’ve seen time and time again, Richard is not very good at walking the left-hand path. If Pied Piper can’t pay its bills, Richard’s entire scam of getting customers before finishing PP: TNG will implode. Realizing the gravity of this situation, Dinesh implodes in almost operatic fashion, giving Kumail Nanjiani his best scene of the season so far.
It’s Keenan to the rescue! Richard’s hatred of VR doesn’t prohibit him from asking Erlich if PP: TNG can also store Keenan’s data. The cash infusion from the deal will keep the company afloat. “That’s like getting a new credit card to pay for your old credit card,” Dinesh says. “As CFO, I have to tell you we’ve already done that,” Jared adds. “Seven times.” After making Richard grovel in his palapa, Erlich takes him to Keenan to pitch the deal. While Richard tends to contract details, Dinesh and Gilfoyle try the VR demo. Like the folks on Reddit, they figuratively shit themselves. When Richard tries it, he literally barfs.
Dinesh’s description of the demo sounds obscenely dull: “I walked up a hill, and at the top there was a tavern. I walked into the tavern and I was able to look all around. And there was a barmaid. I walked right up to her … and I just LOOKED AT HER for a long time!” Gilfoyle has a much better take: “I’m not one to gush, but the possibilities of your conscience-free reality are darkly promising.” Thanks to Keenan, we have consensus among the show’s two most antagonistic characters, a consensus that leads to a truce and the wearing of those aforementioned identical pajamas.
“You look like you’re in a cult,” says Richard upon seeing Silicon Valley’s Doublemint Twins. As if that weren’t enough of a surprise, Richard learns that the reason his second attempt at the VR demo was vomit-free was owing to his own compression algorithm. Without permission, Gilfoyle and Dinesh applied it to Keenan’s code, which improves the software so much that Keenan wants to acquire Pied Piper. Richard is madder than a wet hen that his precious algorithm is now in service to a technology he despises, but Gilfoyle and Dinesh are all for the acquisition. Good tech can make the most jaded of programmers unreasonably giddy. Keenan Feldspar strikes again. Score: Keenan Vortex: 3, Pied Piper Crew: 0.
Let’s check in with PFM originator Action Jack Barker. HooliCon is a week away, and the Maleant storage box set to debut there is two quarters behind schedule. Action Jack is suitably irritated, as his entire showman’s performance is a series of puns on boxes. He was going to descend to the stage in a box (“Jack in the box!”), then Floyd Mayweather and Mike Tyson were going to box to see who gets to take home the first Maleant box. “Now I got nothing!” Action Jack screams.
I can only hope that the conference I am attending next week in Chicago is as entertaining as HooliCon’s box-filled agenda. But as a veteran of conferences, both as an attendee and a participant, I can tell you these things are more about show than tech. As Keenan tells Richard later in the episode, the key is to get people excited for the product. Action Jack realizes he needs a miracle. Unlike Gavin, though, showmanship just isn’t his thing.
Back in the vortex, Richard tries to short-circuit Keenan by making a ridiculous counteroffer for Pied Piper. If he gets Keenan to say no, the Pied Piper crew will direct their disappointment at him instead. Keenan balks at the price. “This feeling sucks!” Keenan says when he realizes for the first time that he won’t get what he wants. “You get used to it,” Richard replies.
Back at the heatless Hacker Hostel, Richard tells his disappointed team that Keenan rejected his counteroffer. “How much was it?” Gilfoyle asks accusingly. Before a hemming and hawing Richard can answer, Keenan busts in the door. “Twenty-five million fucking dollars!” he yells. “That’s crazy!” Dinesh says. “What’s even crazier is that you’ve got yourselves a fuckin’ deal!” Keenan replies. Ed Chen at Raviga offered Keenan three times as much for his company, and to negate the Bream/Hall deal, key man Erlich resigned.
Sensing that Richard is still uneasy about partnering with him, Keenan reveals that he knows he has a vortex. “Richard, I know you think I’m a bullshit artist,” he begins. “It’s okay. I totally am. I can make people do what I want.” Shocked by Keenan’s honesty, Richard surrenders. The cycle is complete. Score: Keenan Vortex: 4, Pied Piper Crew: $25 million.
Alas, the reign of Richard “Richie Rich” Hendricks is short-lived. “You don’t think him discussing the vortex is his way of pulling you into the vortex?” Monica asks Richard. She then tells him that Keenan does what last week’s patent troll did: He uses tech to get more money until the scam runs out of steam. Keenan will then dissolve his company, leaving Richard’s Pied Piper algorithm irreversibly damaged in the corporate sector. Richard has to refuse the offer.
Before Richard can decline, however, Jared tells him that Keenan has moved on, dismantling the Pied Piper/Raviga deal in favor of Hooli and Action Jack Barker. The two biggest psychological manipulators are together at last! Relieved, Richard is way too giddy for Gilfoyle’s comfort. But Erlich is destroyed. When I saw the burning palapa with Erlich sitting inside, I thought my colleague at Vulture was right that T.J. Miller’s departure from the show meant Erlich had to die. My heart sank into my shoes.
Erlich turns out to be okay, at least for now. And so is Pied Piper. By episode’s end, Richard hatches a plan that involves harvesting the cell phones of HooliCon attendees for storage space. PP: TNG has escaped the Keenan Vortex and gone rogue.