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Most comedy showrunners would rather take career advice from Erlich Bachman than have their lead character be unlikable. But then again, most comedies aren’t Silicon Valley. For the greater part of this season, Mike Judge and company have been unflinching in depicting Richard’s evolution from nebbish wunderkind to egomaniacal asshole. While recent events (specifically a near-exposé from intrepid tech blogger C.J. Cantwell) humbled him somewhat, “To Build a Better Beta” makes a plot point of Richard’s narcissistic belief in his own genius. Although everyone, including experts in the field, assure him his platform is flawless, Richard doesn’t feel fully satisfied until he receives Monica’s approbation. Richard ends up cornering her at a hookah bar, where she’s forced to admit, much to his surprise, that she’s not a fan.
“But that’s the fucked up thing about what we do,” Monica says. “Sometimes our opinion is wrong. And no matter how good something is, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t get it.”
Of course, those lines beg for the audience to read between them—as much as Monica is speaking generally on behalf of artists of all stripes, she is also delivering the creative mission statement of the show itself. For better or worse, Silicon Valley is all about marching ahead narratively and never looking back. If you don’t “get” why the show would make Richard a jerk, or feel that the geeky camaraderie of the Pied Piper team has been stifled under the Raviga corporate banner, the show just metaphorically shrugs its shoulders and says, “that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” Except not with the laconic stoner confidence of The Dude, but rather with the mumbled demurral of Richard. Or, at times, with the steely contempt of a Gilfoyle.
As Richard grows more arrogant with each success, “To Build a Better Beta” finds Erlich humbled as his sudden wealth (through his unequal partnership with Big Head) suddenly vanishes. In the wrong hands, a character like Erlich would be beyond insufferable, but T.J. Miller portrays him with enough wit and warmth to make audiences appreciate the humanity behind the bluster. Judging from scenes from next week’s episode of Erlich posing for a photo shoot in a Peter Pan-ish outfit, it doesn’t appear that the would-be entrepreneur will be crying into his Fage yogurt anytime soon. Still, the seeming reversal of fortune for Bachmanity should be an interesting development to follow as the season nears its end.
With the exception of Erlich, “To Build a Better Beta” ends on a winning note for the Pied Piper team as they successfully launch their platform. But on a deeper level, it’s indicative of the show’s willingness to let success change it. Viewed in this light, the first two Silicon Valley seasons were a beta test for this season. Sure, it’s fun to follow the misadventures of a plucky startup, but the real story is seeing that startup go through fits and starts, stumble from one boardroom crisis to another, and watching the company’s resident genius morph into a paranoid megalomaniac. Will success ultimately spoil Pied Piper? Undoubtedly—and more than a sizable portion of the fun will be in seeing them pick up the pieces afterwards.