Russ Hanneman is back!
Chris Diamantopoulos’s name has appeared in the closing credits of every episode this season, so it was just a matter of time before Silicon Valley’s second-most obnoxious character returned to the series. When we last left Russ, he was digging through a garbage dump looking for $300 million in cryptocurrency on a thumb drive that had been accidentally thrown away. As the rabid billionaire navigated enormous piles of trash, he told Richard that 35 of his 36 companies had failed due to his initial coin offerings. “I lost $1 billion but gained $2 billion in wisdom,” says Russ.
Somehow, he made it back into the “three commas club” of billionaires. “Tethics” opens with a Mad Max parody featuring Russ in a souped-up jalopy battling other tricked-out trucks for dominance. The villainous vehicles are spray-painted with words like famine, racism, negativity, hunger, war, and climate change. In a literal interpretation of performative wokeness, each is literally blown up by a wave of Russ’s hands. Director Pete Chatmon pivots from Fury Road to Zabriskie Point by having each car detonate in woozy slow motion. As the word “RussFest” appears onscreen, the scene cuts to Richard and company looking puzzled as hell.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” yells an enthusiastic Russ. “You see the chick in the racism car? I banged her in the famine truck!”
And what is RussFest? “Three days of partying, sucking, and fucking on a plot of land so far out, Nevada barely wants it.” Russ compares his festival to Burning Man, but it sounds more like Fyre Festival. No matter, Russ wants Wi-Fi coverage for RussFest. And he wants it for free.
Thankfully, Richard has a much better offer on the table: AT&T is interested in using PiperNet to buoy their 5G rollout. Their meeting goes so well that Richard bumps into walls with excitement. All Pied Piper has to do is ace the Hawaii rollout currently being overseen by Dinesh, and PiperNet will be on over 100 million phones. “I don’t know what to do when things are going well,” Richard tells Monica. “It’s not natural.” Don’t worry, the show will fix that momentarily.
Richard walks past a giant TV where Gavin is appearing on a morning show. “This turd is not gonna ruin my day,” says a beaming Richard. Not so fast, Hendricks! Gavin has gone from failed author to very successful anti-tech evangelist and is now parroting the same philosophies Richard brought before Congress in the season premiere. He calls his new religion “Tethics,” a combination of tech and ethics that is admittedly catchy.
Richard is incensed that Gavin has commandeered the very ideas he has been championing for the entire series and making a mockery out of them; Tethics requires each of the big-tech companies to sign a loyalty oath honoring its tenets. Knowing that it’s complete bullshit, Richard refuses to sign. He’s the only tech company CEO holdout, which makes him look hypocritical to the public. Gavin uses this as a cudgel to batter Richard into submission. Worse yet, AT&T won’t sign with Pied Piper until Richard becomes “Tethical.”
Let’s stop here a second and ruminate on loyalty oaths, chastity pledges, and other contractual obligations that cannot be duly enforced in any court of law that possesses one iota of common sense. They’re only binding in the court of public opinion, and that court has a hanging judge who just loves dropping naysayers through the gallows floor. Lew Morton’s script cleverly mocks this notion of performance-based influence, zeroing in on how easily people can be manipulated by the most simplistic of gestures. Back in medieval times, one’s word carried a lot more weight. Nowadays, promises carry some ridiculous power on social media and in the news, when in reality, a promise is the easiest thing to break. How can we continuously fall for this malarkey?
But I digress. While Gavin asks the musical question “Are you Tethical?” Tracy the HR manager calls Gilfoyle into her office yet again. “No!” says Gilfoyle preemptively. “But you don’t even know what she wants,” argues Monica. What Tracy wants is for Gilfoyle to get his Piper Pulse numbers up. Piper Pulse is an anonymous survey that allows underlings to rate their senior managers on things like acumen and interpersonal skills. As you might expect, Gilfoyle’s acumen rating is spectacular — 9.9 out of 10! But his interpersonal skills are at 1.5, with descriptions like “unapproachable, rude, and capable of great hurt with an unflinching stare.” (Martin Starr’s immediate imitation of that stare is why I love Gilfoyle with all my heart and soul.)
Monica is all but going “nyaah!” in Gilfoyle’s face until Tracy lowers the boom on her schadenfreude: Monica’s interpersonal skills suck too! She’s barely at a 2 out of 10. Tracy doesn’t read any of the survey’s responses about Monica, but I bet they all say “because she has a hooha instead of a whooziwhatzit.” You may think I’m trying to score points with the truth here, but later, some guy tells Monica he’s upset she makes more money than he does. Another mansplains definitions to her.
Gilfoyle challenges Monica to a friendly game of “who can get their interpersonal numbers up to ten first.” He bets he can do it in two days. Monica takes the wager enthusiastically, because if you’ve watched even one episode of this show, you know Gilfoyle is not a people person. He hates everybody. Keep reading for the results!
Boarding the plane to Hawaii, Dinesh is horrified to discover that his least-favorite employee, Gabe, is not only on the plane with him, but in first class. Gabe is still wearing his K shirt and pestering Dinesh with inept questions. An angry Dinesh snatches Gabe’s first-class lei once they land, but the fresh flowers give him a violent rash. After being injected with an antihistamine, Dinesh is informed that he cannot go outside for four to six weeks, ruining every opportunity to partake in Hawaii’s outdoors. While Gabe goes scuba diving, Dinesh seethes in the office.
Back at Pied Piper HQ, Richard is bombarded by Tethics. His employees wear Obama-inspired shirts with Gavin’s face on them and badger him about signing the oath. When Richard calls Gavin to surrender, the former King of Petty takes a shot at reclaiming his crown from Dinesh. “Wear pants comfortable enough to kneel in,” says Gavin, referring to the public groundbreaking of the Belson Institute of Tethics he’s forcing tech CEOs to attend.
Leave it to Jared to once again save the day. Taking a break from his one-sided feud with Holden, Jared helps Richard realize that Gavin’s entire Tethics platform is plagiarized from the mission statements of companies like AARP, Starbucks, and Applebee’s. This is odd, because Gavin is this show’s master of bullshit phrases. This is the guy who once said, “We can only achieve greatness if first we achieve goodness.” Now he resorts to stealing subpar material? Nonetheless, Richard plots blackmail at the groundbreaking.
Meanwhile, Monica can’t get an inkling of friendly interaction from the male engineers, even after she dons Princess Leia’s hairdo. (Thank goodness she didn’t dress as Rey!) But everybody loves them some Gilfoyle! She gives up, but Gilfoyle has an explanation: “Gaining someone’s confidence is easy. Appear open and interested by mimicking their body language and repeating what they say back to them.” Turns out Gilfoyle was social engineering everyone so he could figure out their passwords, log into Piper Pulse, and give himself all 10s. “Can you do that for me?” asks Monica. “Because I don’t want them to like me. I fucking hate them!” Gilfoyle has a better idea: He changes Tracy’s Piper Pulse numbers to pure crap. A panicked Tracy cancels the entire Piper Pulse metrics project, and Gilfoyle and Monica toast to their treachery!
Speaking of treachery, Richard confronts Gavin at the ceremony. “What do you want?” asks Gavin. “All I’ve ever wanted was for you to go away,” begins Richard. “You’re a billionaire. You could run for president or buy a basketball team.” This dialogue highlights one of the show’s tenets: A bored billionaire will make life a living hell for everybody else. Shockingly, Gavin confesses to a litany of crimes he has committed, then asks the California attorney general to investigate his actions at Hooli. Richard at first thinks this is noble, but Gavin’s confession is purely malevolent. Because since Pied Piper owns Hooli now, the AG will go after Richard and make him pay the exorbitant fines Gavin’s actions racked up. Pied Piper faces financial ruin yet again.
It’s Russ to the rescue! He’s got some horrific blackmail material on the AG, which he’s willing to deploy provided RussFest gets free PiperNet coverage. The show ends with Richard’s crew in the desert, with nothing around for miles. I seriously doubt the results will be Tethical.