“And then his eyes went dead, like when I tell him I love him.”
This is a quote from last week’s episode, one of those Jared lines that Zach Woods is so good at tossing off nonchalantly. He was talking about Richard, and while the line is yet another acknowledgement that the showrunners are aware of that sexy Richard-Jared fan fiction on the ‘net, the line also supports a running theme of this show: Feelings are as terrifying as that song Morris Albert sang about them. Silicon Valley sees friendship and love as either weaknesses to be exploited or uncomfortable elements to be avoided at all costs.
Think about it: Whom would you consider friends on this show? Certainly not Gilfoyle and Dinesh, who at best are frenemies and at worst, brutal adversaries. Last season’s “Intellectual Property” showed that Gavin and Peter Gregory were once buddies until Gavin took out the revenge patent for the decentralized-internet idea. Since the series premiere, we’ve been led to believe that Big Head and Richard are best friends, but it’s a rather one-sided relationship. Goofy Big Head would do anything for Richard despite being fired by him back in “The Cap Table” and nearly getting fired from Stanford because of him in “Server Error.”
Jared is the only person comfortably in touch with his emotions and the feelings of others. It’s ironic, considering the horrible life he endured before he came to Pied Piper. Silicon Valley plays Jared’s miserable former ordeals for laughs, but there’s an underlying sincerity to his empathy that no mockery can distill. Woods’s last scene in this episode is a wonderful outburst of emotion that almost made me cry. So, I believe that Jared tells Richard he loves him, just as I believe that processing that emotion would send Richard to the Sunken Place. Like almost everyone else on this show, Richard can only truly love the work he does; it saves him from having something that loves him back.
Writer Carrie Kemper structures “Chief Operating Officer” like an adulterous romantic comedy where the love affair involves cheating on a job level rather than a romantic one. The love triangle involves two CEOs and the chief operating officer who secretly bounces between them. Richard and Dana from Quiver are the CEOs. Dana’s COO, Ben, is Richard’s object of affection. Ben is also a huge monkey wrench in Jared’s plans to platonically hook Richard up with Dana. Despite Richard’s protestations, Jared thinks he needs friends and that Dana would be a perfect playdate partner. More on this later.
Since Jian Yang’s Hacker Hostel takeover rendered the Pied Piper gang homeless, Dinesh hasn’t been able to find affordable new accommodations. While I’d be tempted to blame the exorbitant housing prices in the Bay Area (if you want a good heart attack, look into San Francisco rents), the real reason is that Dinesh spent all his dough on his currently “frucked up” Tesla. Rather than live in his car and risk electrocution, Dinesh flits around the office trying to find someone with whom he can room. Nobody wants to deal with the quite often obnoxious Dinesh, but Hooli spy Jeff Washburn is caught off-guard and offers Dinesh half his place.
Once in Jeff’s apartment, Dinesh reveals himself to be desperate for a friend. At first, Jeff hates Dinesh’s attempts at bonding. But when Dinesh tells Jeff he cannot hold his liquor, Jeff sees an easy way to get info to deliver back to Gavin. Under the guise of friendship, Jeff starts handing Solo cups filled with vodka to Dinesh, who tells him how Gilfoyle’s smart fridge prank back in “The Patent Troll” eventually saved Pied Piper’s ass. A giddy, drunk Dinesh thinks he’s found a BFF.
Richard is not so giddy about the new friend Jared set him up with, because Dana (Dan Mintz, whose voice you might recognize from Bob’s Burgers) is a boring dolt who barely says anything. “He’s just like you!” Jared says, much to Richard’s disagreement. Dana invites Jared and Richard to his party, where Richard first meets Ben. Ben expresses intense interest in PP:TNG, which leads Richard astray. Jared pulls Richard back into Dana’s orbit by pointing out Richard’s job-related, glass-wall-breaking injuries. “Dana injured himself on the job, too,” says Jared, trying to find valid connections to keep Richard interested. “How did you injure yourself?” Richard asks. “I tried to commit suicide,” says Dana, an unfortunate, cringeworthy punch line in an otherwise stellar episode.
Richard first hints at his “romance” with Ben while he and Jared are standing in their underwear on opposite sides of Jared’s bed. (Is this another shout-out to the fan-fiction folks?) Before retiring to his own bed, Richard gets a text from Ben asking to meet for lunch. Richard starts to ask Jared if it’s a good idea, but thinks better of it and makes the date.
Meanwhile, Gavin is up to no good at Seppen Appliances, makers of the smart fridge that Gilfoyle hacked. Using Jeff’s recon, Gavin offers a Hooli partnership to save all the data the smart fridges collect in the cloud. “In exchange, I need you to do something for me in regards to the people who hacked your refrigerators,” says Gavin. “I’m going to destroy their lives.”
Back in “Server Error,” Gilfoyle’s hack proved the saving grace of Pied Piper, as Dan Melcher’s data was distributed across hundreds of smart fridges. Now, it’s the subject of a $10 million lawsuit suggested by Gavin, though Gilfoyle questions how Seppen could have known anything. He deleted every line of extra code from their servers. Richard doesn’t believe him, and sees this as a possible means to get rid of an increasingly insubordinate Gilfoyle. Especially now that Gilfoyle’s computer disruptively plays a very loud sample of a Napalm Death song every time he gets a Bitcoin price notification.
At lunch, Ben tells Richard that Dana doesn’t know about their meeting. Ben also explains his Radical Candor philosophy, which requires him to tell the truth no matter how much it hurts the other person. “My mom believes in that!” I said to the screen, but she was doing this long before they called it “Radical Candor.” And yes, this philosophy really does exist — it’s a book by Kim Scott. I haven’t read it, but Silicon Valley makes it sound like How to Succeed in Being a Prick Without Really Trying.
Ben Koldyke and Thomas Middleditch work overtime to make their lunch scene play like a lovers’ seduction. When Ben flatters Richard, Middleditch subtly bats his eyes and purses his lips — it’s the most unabashedly romantic gesture I’ve seen in five seasons. “What are we doing?” Richard asks coyly. “Whoa, we’re just talking!” says Ben. Everything goes swimmingly until Dana shows up. “Radical Candor says I have to tell you I’m going to sneak out the back door before he sees me!” says Ben before running off. Dana ends up having lunch with Richard.
“How’d lunch with Dana go, you little minx?!” Jared asks. Richard deflects by asking Jared if Pied Piper needs a COO, and if so, should he hire Ben. Though he warns Richard that Ben went to Quiver under nefarious circumstances, Jared acquiesces with one demand: Richard must tell Dana he’s running off with his COO. “We need to talk about Dana,” Richard texts Ben before heading to Ben’s apartment, the same place they met for a midnight rendezvous the night before.
In that meeting, Ben offered to help throw Gilfoyle under the bus to save Pied Piper. Gilfoyle would be prosecuted and deported. (Remember: Back in season one, we learned he’s a Canadian illegally working in the U.S.) When Richard arrives at Ben’s place this time, Dana is already there. Seems Ben has lied his ass off, telling Dana that Richard relentlessly pursued him until he gave in. An angry Dana yells at Richard before riding off on his motorcycle. Turns out Dana really is cool! He was on cold medication, which made him sluggish. Richard realizes he ran off with the wrong man. When Ben shows up at Pied Piper for his first day of work, Richard uses Radical Candor to send him packing: “Cheating on your CEO and then blaming it on me is not the kind of behavior I like to reward!”
Meanwhile, though he’s a real ass in this episode, Gilfoyle redeems himself by tearing apart Jian Yang’s fridge to discover that Seppen has been recording every single thing said in front of their smart fridges, a clear violation of their terms of service. (See, I TOLD y’all Alexa was recording everything you say!) Without Richard’s knowledge, Jared takes the initiative to draft up paperwork forcing Seppen to drop their lawsuit and then partner with Pied Piper. Richard is so impressed, he makes Jared his COO.
Here’s the kicker: Gilfoyle realizes that since Seppen had no idea about the hack before Gavin told them, there must be a Hooli mole at Pied Piper. Dinesh can’t wait to share this information with his new BFF, Jeff “The Mole” Washburn.