Greetings from Chicago, where I am attending an I.T. conference not unlike the one depicted in this season’s penultimate episode of Silicon Valley. I’m on the attendee side this time, which means no setting up booths, no last-minute equipment and/or logistical nightmares, no freaking out when my company’s swag doesn’t get delivered, and most important, no demos! As I told you back in “Proof of Concept,” demos always blow up. “Hooli-Con” takes this notion to its literal, Galaxy Note 7–worthy extreme.
But how did we get to this explosive moment? Let’s go back to the previous night, when Richard and the gang hatched a plan to infiltrate HooliCon’s server to install Pied Piper: The New Generation to piggyback on the Hooli app required to connect to the convention center’s free Wi-Fi. Now, I can tell you that this free Wi-Fi is always terrible — it’s as slow as molasses running down a hill in winter — but speed doesn’t matter to Richard. All he needs is 123,000 phones to successfully store Dan Melcher’s data. Users will unknowingly be running PP:TNG in their phones, and no one will notice because they’re used to the shitty nature of free Wi-Fi.
Of course, Jared, our resident empath and conscience, objects to this breach of computer etiquette. He correctly refers to Richard’s programmatic intrusion as malware. “Think of it as forced adoption through aggressive guerilla marketing,” counters Richard. “As a product of forced adoption, I can tell you there will be consequences,” warns Jared. But in order for the plan to work, the Pied Piper app must stay resident in everyone’s phone. “They’ll delete the Hooli app after the conference,” says Dinesh. “Nobody deletes their old apps,” says Richard. How many of you looked at your phone’s app list after this scene and discovered Richard was right?
“I like it,” says Gilfoyle of the plan, “but we need a black-hat ninja for this.” Everyone looks at Dinesh. Cut to him visiting his super-hacker ex-girlfriend Mia in prison. A fearful Dinesh continues to lie to her about his whereabouts, because if she were to find out he’s the reason she’s incarcerated, Mia will make his technological existence a never-ending nightmare. For now, Mia provides the answers Dinesh needs. “You’d just launch a man-in-the-middle attack with pineapples,” she says. “Google it.”
Then, as she used to do during their post-coital cuddling, Mia tells Dinesh of her latest illegal plan. “I think I can get online at the prison library,” she says, “If so, I will track down who ratted me out. I will destroy that motherfucker!” As Mia rants, director Mike Judge executes a slow, scary zoom toward Dinesh, injecting the frame with a shocking jolt of claustrophobia. The camera movement makes us feel Dinesh’s panic, but he still comes off as a ripe bastard when he drops yet another dime on poor Mia to ensure she’ll wind up in a maximum-security penitentiary.
“No wonder Mia’s in prison,” says Gilfoyle upon hearing her suggestion. “She’s brilliant!” Everyone’s optimistic about pulling this tech heist off … except Erlich. After burning down his palapa in last week’s episode, Erlich has concluded that both he and Richard are cursed: “Every time we got a whiff of success, a giant pelican by the name of fate takes a four-and-a-half-pound shit on top of us!” Erlich’s choice of bird is a nice in-joke: Alcatraz, the setting of Erlich’s biggest disaster, is also an archaic Spanish word for pelican.
“There are people who are destined for greatness, and there are not,” continues Erlich. “Richard, it seems you and I are not.” Using a postcard from Gavin as an invitation (“That postcard was addressed to me,” whines Richard), Erlich decides to join the disgraced former Hooli CEO on his Tibetan quest for inner peace. So this is how Silicon Valley handles T.J. Miller’s departure, though it initially seems in doubt because Erlich is too broke to afford a plane ticket. As he tries to pass the hat for donations at Hacker Hostel, I asked myself, “Hasn’t this guy ever heard of GoFundMe?”
“I’ll pay for it,” volunteers Jian-Yang. “Premium economy, one-way ticket.” Erlich takes him up on the offer. “Don’t you need a visa?” asks Dinesh. “I can call my uncle in Beijing,” says Jian-Yang. “He’s very corrupt.” Writer Chris Provenzano gives Erlich the unsentimental exit one expects, and Gavin’s response when he realizes he’s trapped with Erlich makes for a nice denouement. Though I wish Miller the best of luck as he exits the show, I’ll still miss Mr. Bachman. I’ve spent many of these recaps defending him in one form or another, and I wonder how season five will proceed without him.
While Jian-Yang unceremoniously dumps Erlich at San Francisco International Airport, Jared tells Richard that he cannot support this iteration of Richard’s walk down the left-hand path. “Remember when we said we didn’t want to wind up like Hooli?” he asks. When Richard protests, Jared twists this particular knife. “You’re shrugging off large-scale cybercrimes against innocent civilians,” he responds. Rather than respect Jared’s decision, Richard asks him to play a mind game that Jared used to employ to deal psychologically with the horrible hell of his upbringing. “Uncle Jerry’s game,” Jared calls it, where he pretends that everything around him is normal.
If HBO ever decided to do a Better Call Saul–style prequel starring Jared, it will be more terrifying than Oz. Zach Woods plays Jared’s acknowledgement of his hard life with a mixture of self-awareness and delusion. He delivers a master class of suspenseful, tightly wound control. Jared’s empathy springs from the well of his past traumas, but it’s an empathy tinged with darkness. When he finally cracks near the end of this episode, Woods perfectly balances the comedy and pathos of the outburst. He is definitely this week’s MVP.
Across from Pied Piper’s HooliCon booth is a booth run by Winnie, Richard’s ex-girlfriend from “Bachmanity Insanity.” She was Richard’s first opportunity to get laid on Silicon Valley, an opportunity he squandered because she used spaces instead of tabs in her code. Winnie’s got a new man, a snooty narcissist named Joel with a mobile-phone game called “Peace Fare.” Users can virtually give money to the homeless or grow virtual corn for a virtual starving village. You get to feel good about yourself without doing a damn thing of worth, making “Peace Fare” a very sharp commentary on things like changing one’s Facebook background or using a Twitter hashtag instead of actively doing something in real life.
High above the conference floor, Hooli’s security guy Hoover notices Dinesh and Gilfoyle dropping pineapples in strategic locations. But when he suggests calling the Tactical Review Team (TRT) to sweep for rogue Wi-Fi, Action Jack Barker chews him out for interrupting him. “Four days ago, I spent $2 billion on a piece of shit VR gadget that’s never gonna work,” Jack begins. “I had to rebuild the operating system just to get a 90-second demo that can play on a phone. And by the grace of God, I just may have pulled it off. And now you wanna talk to me about Pied Fucking Piper?!”
Thanks to Richard’s petty jealousy, the TRT shows up anyway. As Joel snaps promotional photos of his bare feet (“Start with the toes,” he says), Richard changes the Peace Fare screensaver to say “Poop Fare.” Joel thinks he’s been hacked and calls for help. Not only do the TRT get a cool entrance, they also get all the pineapples. During their sweep, Richard and Dinesh enact what looks like a suicide bomber’s last stand. “We’ll all be rewarded in the end,” says Richard, handing a backpack-wearing Dinesh a kill switch for the pineapples. (I am sure HBO will get letters for this.)
Sitting in the security-holding area, the Pied Piper crew vents their anger at Richard, and not just for “Poop Fare.” When Keenan responds to Gilfoyle’s earlier snub, Keenan reveals that Richard was going to cancel the $25 million VR deal before Hooli made Keenan a member of the three-comma club. It’s up to Hoover to restore harmony among the crew. He releases them in the hopes that whatever they’re doing will reflect badly on Action Jack. And boy, does it!
After Jamiroquai sings a reworked version of “Virtual Insanity,” Action Jack opens his keynote address by walking across a floor covered with his Conjoined Triangles of Success diagram. He introduces Keenan, who tells the HooliCon audience to put on their VR goggles. “Say hi to that barmaid for me!” he says as everyone powers up. We never find out if it’s PP:TNG, the Hooli app, or a virtual-reality barmaid that causes the mass explosion of the audience’s cell phones, but they go off like roman candles on the Fourth of July. Like I said, demos always blow up. Even ones that cost $2 billion.