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The season three finale of Silicon Valley, “The Uptick,” serves as a case study in anticlimactic serial storytelling. The previous nine episodes of the season ratcheted up the tension with regards to Pied Piper’s success as a company and Richard’s evolution as a CEO. In episode nine, “Daily Active Users” (reviewed here), Richard was forced to confront the impending mortality of his company while giving viewers an object lesson in Icarian overreach. But rather than be made to confront the consequences of his hubris, this episode sees Richard skate away from defeat in a manner so unlikely that you can almost hear the inspirational score swelling in the background. For a show that takes such pride in its verisimilitude, it’s disappointing to see Silicon Valley grasp for the brass ring of the hollow happy ending.
“The Uptick” picks up where the previous episode left off. What appeared to be a miraculous, last-minute uptick in Pied Piper platform users was actually the result of Jared purchasing fake users from a Bangladeshi click farm. Richard confronts Jared with this information, but rather than admit to any wrongdoing they decide to keep the secret to themselves. This decision is consistent with Richard’s season-long turn toward shady behavior, not to mention some self-pitying rationalizing: “Every time I try to do the right thing, I get fucked. And if I do the right thing here, we’re done…doesn’t seem like much of an option, does it?” Jared implores Richard not to “weaponize my faith in you against me,” which is ironic given that Richard has spent all season launching an assault against the cruel tech world that would steal his precious Pied Piper from him.
Richard’s “serial killer” behavior is enough to impress Dinesh and Gilfoyle, who find out about the click farm ruse and give Richard a flash drive that would allow him to cover it up. This scene represents one instance—though by no means the most egregious—where Silicon Valley writers employ a deus ex machina to save Richard’s hide. About the only person not in on the scheme is Erlich, who uses the sudden user uptick to secure a better deal for Pied Piper. Although he does a good job of playing the fool, Erlich doesn’t gladly suffer Richard after he reveals the fake user scam during the signing meeting. Erlich blows up at Richard, and rightfully so, for the deception. Or rather, for deciding to be honest at the last, and worst, possible moment: “[You] suddenly grew a thick, girthy conscience and fucked me with it.” A pretty colorful analysis, though by no means an inaccurate one.
If nothing else, “The Uptick” shifts the dynamic between the two characters so that Erlich, long portrayed as the unscrupulous schemer of the two, has a moral advantage over Richard. That fact alone helps to redeem the improbable resolution of Pied Piper’s woes. After a series of comedic misunderstandings and an uncharacteristic fit of anger from Laurie, it turns out that Bachmanity (aka Erlich and Big Head) have bought Pied Piper by placing a Price Is Right-style bid to beat Hooli’s. There’s a second angry confrontation between Richard and Erlich that leads the audience to believe that, yes, things will really be different this time. But that’s immediately defused by a quick cut of Richard and Erlich laughing together and the Pied Piper gang celebrating their victory. To be sure, for those of us who have enjoyed spending time with these characters, it’s a crowd-pleasing conclusion to the season. At the same time, however, it undercuts much of the growth that transpired on Silicon Valley this season. Instead of being forced to confront the real world on its own terms, it turns out that the real goal was to stay in Erlich’s comfortable incubator and revert back to the status quo.