TV RECAP: Silicon Valley, S02E08, White Hat/Black Hat

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My feelings towards Silicon Valley change greatly not only from episode to episode, but scene to scene. I can’t pin down whether I’m really frustrated with the fact that the writers dangle some story progression and success for the Pied Piper team in front of us and then pull it away and placate with jokes; or if I actually enjoy watching one step forward-three steps back, these characters continually bring about their own downfall through arrogance, social awkwardness or pure ineptitude.

This week’s “White Hat/Black Hat” is the perfect encapsulation of those contrasting feelings, as the exciting feud that the Pied Piper team instigated in the last episode comes to an abrupt halt already, albeit by way of a funny mis-directional pay-off. There were so many paths the writers could have gone with the Intersite bake-off story, but instead we’re back exactly where we were two episodes ago; I can’t shake the feeling of frustration.

Richard thinks that Russ is going to be frustrated too when he’s confronted by his backer at the house. Instead Russ sees the bake-off as the perfect opportunity to ‘re-billionise’ and brings a bottle of his own brand tequila ‘Tres Commas’ (brilliant attention to detail – even the bottle top is comma shaped) to celebrate. After hilariously trying a shot of the tequila, Richard asks for more money to pay their lawyers and engineers but Russ refuses; he thinks that his refusal to give Pied Piper any money has guided them into this bake-off by making them lean and hungry.

Someone else who’s trying to mold the narrative to suit them is Gavin Belson, who’s lying to the Hooli board about the progress of Nucleus and suggests scrapping a huge ad campaign in favour of an ‘innovative’ secrecy shroud until launch. Knowing that the project is destined to bomb and to distance himself from it he tells the board that “if it fails to be everything we need it to be someone will be held responsible”, rehiring Dr Bannerchek with the promise that he’ll get all the credit for the project’s success. Bannerchek is the only one of the supposed geniuses on the show (the others being Richard and Gavin) who actually shows any common sense, quitting 11 minutes after meeting with the doomed Nucleus team and three minutes later “clocked at 73 in a 25 zone going past our day-care centre.” “Now the world will know that you are responsible for Nucleus. You and you alone.” Gavin’s world is splintering around him like the piece of wood he furiously smashes with a hammer after hearing the news.

Seeing the mighty brought low and the common man raised up is always a pleasure, but those involved with Pied Piper never get out of their own way long enough to enjoy any success. Richard, in a mistaken belief that face-to-face meetings always make things better, contacts EndFrame’s former security engineer Seth whose unemployment he feels guilt over. Richard reveals to him that Gilfoyle didn’t hack his system, causing Seth to explode with anger and promise to ‘skull-fuck’ Pied Piper’s system. That Richard makes this mistake once is understandable, but when he makes it a second time by having another meeting with Seth after his paranoia has got the best of him is stretching plausibility beyond its limits. What makes this almost acceptable is the plot’s pay-off. In what is actually a quite intense scene, the team realise that hundreds of hours of Intersite data is being deleted when it’s meant to be uploading to their server. At first this seems like such an obviously telegraphed plot step, but instead the whole Seth thing was a big piece of misdirection. Russ, who’s appeared at the house with his tequila to celebrate once again, accidentally places the bottle on the delete key of Richard’s laptop, deleting 9000 hours of premium content.

It’s quite bold to essentially set-up an entire episode just for one joke at the end and while it was funny, it kind of made everything that came before it feel pointless. All that time invested in building this conflict, all the stuff that Richard said about doing whatever it took to keep the company alive, that this Intersite deal was the only lifeline for the company, was a waste of time as we’re back to the status quo. I don’t want it to feel like I’m flogging the point about plot progression every week but stories have to move forward. Pied Piper is in exactly the same position as they were back in episode three when Russ first backed them. With only two episodes of the season left I don’t hold out much hope for any change in the situation.

The Silicon Valley cycle of peaks and troughs continues. Erlich and Jin Yang’s C-plot contained a couple of great one-liners but was otherwise unremarkable, while the A-plot was all essentially in service of one joke. A stronger end to the season, with some meaningful progresses (bad or good) for Pied Piper, is vital.

Silicon Valley air Wednesday nights on Foxtel’s The Comedy Channel

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