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In last week’s review of Silicon Valley, I remarked that the show has been unafraid to have the Pied Piper gang enjoy the spoils of their success. However, this week’s episode, “Bachman’s Earning’s Over-Ride,” focuses on the downfall of Pied Piper’s resident blowhard, Erlich Bachman. After divesting himself of company stock in order to pay his outstanding debts, Erlich is not only broke but risks having his reputation—such as it is—ruined. When he’s confronted by Richard about selling his stock, Erlich reacts in his usually officious manner.
“Erlich Bachman, the name that used to be synonymous with success, went broke and was forced to sell. I got royally fucked, Richard.”
In typical Silicon Valley fashion, Erlich’s tender and revealing speech is undercut by the fact that he’s wearing a bright green Pied Piper costume with a stuffed unicorn around his waist. Still, “Bachman’s Earning’s Over-Ride” lays bare Erlich’s fears and vulnerabilities in a manner most shows wouldn’t dare. Writer Carrie Kemper has Erlich evoke the name of ousted Apple co-founder Ron Wayne as a way to remind viewers that the glitz and glamour of the real-life Silicon Valley conceals its fair share of disappointments and defeats. It’s that sort of verisimilitude that enables Silicon Valley to shed its hardened tech-geek exterior to find the moments that anyone who’s ever had to work for a living can relate to.
Shamelessly egotistical and self-absorbed, Erlich should be the sort of character audiences love to hate and want to see fail. Thankfully, the role is in the more-than-capable hands of T.J. Miller, who tempers Erlich’s bluster and brio with the right amount of “even I know that at this very moment I’m bullshitting you” playfulness. Despite his faults, we’re charmed by Erlich’s Harold Hill-like hucksterism and his quasi-sagacious delivery of business aphorisms that sound like The Dude stumbled into a TED talk. But above all, we accept Erlich because we relate to his yearning for respect and a place to belong. What ultimately redeems Erlich is his love for his metaphorical life partner, Richard, and his willingness to sacrifice his pride in order to retain his place within the Pied Piper family, even if that means adopting a different role than the one to which he’s accustomed.
In sharp contrast to Erlich’s self-depreciating humility, Gavin Belson stridently refuses to accept neither defeat nor his role in said defeat. After a less-than-inspiring presentation with a tortoise and a hare, the Hooli board does something that any self-respecting Google analogue would’ve done seasons ago: relive Gavin of his duties as CEO. Or, to quote the nameless board member who clearly has her Masters in Orwellian doublespeak: “Our intention is simply to transition you into a more appropriate role within the company, one with less oversight of day-to-day operations.” This leads to his banishment to the roof, which is the show’s subtle way of reminding the audience that, pretensions aside, Gavin is really not much brighter than Big Head.
A later scene between Gavin and “Action” Jack Barker, as played by the splendiferous Stephen Tobolowsky, acutely captures the existential loneliness of being a deposed CEO who has all the resources he could want at his disposal, but with no one to enjoy them with. Like two ships (or planes, as the case may be) passing in the night, the two ex-captains of industry have a pleasant enough conversation about their shared love of Jackson Hole, but as a result of their selfishness they’ve also precluded themselves from the path of warmth of community and camaraderie that Erlich chose. Even if Erlich doesn’t become the Jobs-like icon he’d hoped he would, at least he can take comfort in his friends. Because, as the great Michael Stipe reminds us, everybody hurts sometimes. And, Silicon Valley suggests, it’s the people that acknowledge it and move past it that are the true successes.