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Silicon Valley – Daily Active Users Review

"The problem is Terminator"

This season of Silicon Valley has been a meditation on a question ripped directly from the Book of Mark: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Whether it’s been Richard’s rise to power or Gavin’s desperate attempts to retain his, Silicon Valley is a show concerned with the dynamic between material success and how characters react (and change) in the face of it. For the first time this season, the Wheel of Fate rotates in favor of Gavin and, despite some seeming successes, against Richard. How they, and the characters orbiting them, respond to these shifts in fortune makes episode nine, “Daily Active Users,” the strongest in an already Herculean season.

One of Silicon Valley’s more astounding feats is how effortlessly it translates tech jargon into a language anyone can understand. In fact, this theme is central to the plot of “Daily Active Users.” During a launch party for the Pied Piper platform, Richard and Monica identify a key problem: although other engineers, i.e., those inside the tech bubble, love Pied Piper, it’s never been beta tested by so-called “regular people” who would be the company’s customers. As a result, Monica arranges a focus group that goes from bad to worse once a panicked Richard decides to intervene. As a character, Richard is often at his funniest when he’s forced to confront situations which make him wholly uncomfortable—and, as is so often the case, that situation is talking to other people, particularly crowds.

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Both Clay Tarver’s script and Thomas Middleditch’s acting mined the comedic gold of Richard’s discomfort for all its worth. When one focus group member confidently (and ignorantly) intones in reference to the platform that ‘the problem is Terminator,” Richard tries to assure him that there’s “no Skynet type of situation.” (There’s a great sight gag later on in the episode of a presentation slide entitled “Addressing Fears” that reads “Yes, kind of like [the Terminator] but only a little.”) It takes Richard several hours to explain the platform before the focus group can see the platform’s merits, and even then it’s a sort of pyrrhic victory as their data has been “corrupted” by Richard. It’s at that point both Richard and the audience realize that even his self-apparent genius won’t necessarily be enough to win the day, which in this case means securing the daily active users he needs for Pied Piper to be a success. Considering that Richard’s been acting like an arrogant dickhead this season, making him fail in this manner grounds the character so that his likely ascent in the season finale will be more uplifting.

An important subtheme in “Daily Active Users” is the nature of truth. Of course, since Silicon Valley is a sitcom and not a philosophy class, the episode handles the theme in a light yet subtle way. This involves a running gag where Jared tries to deflect Gilfoyle’s attempts to interrogate him about the fate of Pied Piper, to which Gilfoyle invariably responds by calling it a lie. As the most direct and intense character on the show, Gilfoyle is the ideal character to peel away at the underlying insecurities of others.

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At one point, Gilfoyle tells Jared that he’s “made comfortable by untruth,” which, OK, isn’t exactly an earth-shattering revelation as far as Jared goes. But the line has a deeper resonance by episode’s end when Jared’s scheme to inflate Pied Piper’s daily active user numbers is revealed. If even poor, sweet Jared can be tempted to the dark side, what does it say about the kill-or-be-killed nature of the tech world? Should you do whatever is necessary to survive, even at the cost of your soul? We have one more sermon—er, I mean episode—of Silicon Valley left to find out.

Final Thoughts:

  • Along with the late and lamented HBO series Six Feet Under, Silicon Valley excels when it comes to commercial parodies. The latest example of this is the amazing Pied Piper promo that begins this episode—you’ll never look at tables the same way again.
  • So, if I understood Richard during his explanation of Pied Piper to the focus group, the platform he’s designed is basically the Cloud, right? If so, then no wonder the focus group was so confused.
  • Gavin’s animal-centric presentations to the Hooli board are simply the best. The question is, how can he possibly step up his zoological game in the season finale? Maybe he brings in the near-extinct angel shark as a metaphor for his own rare genius, before turning full-on supervillain and feeding it board members?
  • The cost to create Pipey—the Pied Piper mascot that is an unmistakable parody of Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistance—may have been in the $100,000 range, but the sneers from the Pied Piper gang toward it were priceless.
  • And once again, the quote of the week goes to Jared, who tries to reassure Richard by saying this: “A lot of animated characters have rough starts. Early Bugs Bunny cartoons were just garish displays of anti-Japanese hysteria. And now he’s the face of Warner Bros.” As always, Jared is the best (and a lot darker than we even imagined).
Rating
9.5
Pros
  • Nice to see Richard taken down a peg - it humanizes him
  • Whip-smart Clay Tarver script with several hilarious running gags
Cons
  • The only black male character in show history, and he leaves Pied Piper almost immediately - bit of a bummer
  • Waiting one more week to the season finale!

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