Pando

Episode three of HBO’s Silicon Valley is the darkest yet

By Sarah Lacy , written on May 10, 2016

From The Disruption Desk

I’m a day late to my weekly review of HBO’s Silicon Valley and much has already been written about the episode.

The New York Times wrote how the entire “Oceans 11” build up of the skunkworks plot to “take back” Pied Piper, where we along with Richard and his crew envision months of hijinks and skulking, all to be undone by Richard tripping and dropping a folder detailing the plans at the very end of the episode showed just how much the creators are willing to eviscerate Richard’s hopes and dreams. It’s a brutally callous way to toy with the main character, especially when that character is the young brilliant engineer founder -- the thing that Silicon Valley is ostensibly built around.

That in and of itself is a stunning observation.

Vanity Fair, Reddit, and others have made an argument that Paul made to me as well. That “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” (signaled to be important as the name of the episode) doesn’t actually mean what Jared says it means. Jared says it refers to continuing to act the part, camouflaging a secret plot. It doesn’t: It refers to pretending to lose secret plans of a secret plot as a diversion to the actual plot.

In other words: Was the real twist that Richard meant to spill the plans all over the floor? Is the Twist still to come? Or is Judge just doing that to fuck with us in triplicate, and Jared was just wrong?

If that’s the case, wow… this show really is designed for comic-book-guy like nerds. You now have to watch it with Wikipedia open.

Either take shows just how upped the game is from dick-joke riddled episodes of Silicon Valley’s past.

I guess my own small observation watching the episode is pretty pedantic in contrast. While critics for the New York Times and Vanity Fair find their sympathy and respect rising for Richard, I find mine falling. The biggest takeaway I had: Yep, he deserved to be fired as CEO. And he probably deserves to be fired as CTO too.

Let’s forgive Richard the early gaffes of the company, and focus on what has happened since being replaced. In his great stand to Jack Barker on why the engineering team can’t abandon the platform for an enterprise box, he caves in about five seconds. Another tactic could have been calling Barker on his bullshit flattery of “I can’t take this job if you are out” in episode one and saying he’ll quit and take his engineering team if Barker doesn’t trust his vision.

How much does Richard really believe in this? Not enough to even risk his job? When a few episodes ago, he was willing to walk away from Pied Piper because of nothing more than a bruised ego?

No, instead he turns to the board. Now, admittedly if you have actually tried to talk some sense into the CEO and he will not listen, the management turning to the board isn’t a bad strategy. But again, you show a small degree of balls. Hash it out at a board meeting. Bring the rest of managment with you to back you up. Don’t skulk into a meeting and then ask your investor not to say you came to talk to her. My four year old shows more courage in ratting his sister out.

Then he lets Erlich go talk to Barker, which he doesn’t think is a great idea but sort of sighs and says “If it’ll make you feel better.” Is this about Erlich’s feelings or tactically trying to save the company?

And then there’s the painful scene in Barker’s office, where Barker shows Richard exactly how he should have handled it. When his “boss”-- the board member-- tells him he should abandon the box, Barker threatens to quit and she backs down. And then he confronts Richard, telling him he knows he went to Lori.

Voila. There is a reason one of them is in the CEO chair, even though his product vision is atrocious and his technical knowledge is non-existent.

If this is how Richard deals with a threat, what future would this company have under his leadership? Still Richard’s plan is to stay at Pied Piper, not take a stand, and just undermine the CEO and build what he wants gambling that Barker will have to embrace it. If Barker had no balls, yes. That is what Richard would do as CEO, yes. But Richard has shown he hasn’t even learned how different Jack is as a CEO from the interaction they just had.

The emphasis on “continuing to act the part”-- the mistaken explanation for Meinertzhagen’s Haversack-- is fitting in this sense too. Because all of our protagonists -- Richard, the engineers, Erlich-- all they do is “act the part.” That’s all they’ve done for three seasons.

The one thing that has consistently bailed them out is the technology. And when people like Monica defend sticking with Pied Piper or backing Richard it is always in the name of the technology. What is the best use for this technology? It’s certainly not in Barker’s hands, nor is it to stay in Richard’s hands. Arguably, the best use of the technology would have been that original offer Hooli made.

As Silicon Valley dramas go, that’s about as dark as the office getting exploded at the end of Office Space or the country being ruled by an unintellectual moron in Idiocracy… oh wait, that one might be actually happening.

Dick Costolo-- a consultant this year who was in the writing room every week-- has worked hard to downplay his role in the show. But it’s hard not to see Richard as either an Evan Williams or a Jack Dorsey: A non-confrontational founder who felt aggrieved at losing his company, built divisive tribes inside it, and did end-runs behind the CEO’s back with the board to get his job back. Meantime, continually bailed out by a great product everyone loved.

Yeah…. Costolo was just sitting in the room adding nothing...