Silicon Valley – To Build a Better Beta Review
"Sometimes our opinion is wrong."
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.
- Here’s a speech Gilfoyle gives after Richard discovers that Monica did look at his platform after telling him she didn’t: “People like to lie, Richard. It’s a war of all against all. The history of humanity is a book written in blood. We’re all just animals in a pit.” Gosh, Gilfoyle, I know you’re a LaVeyan Satanist and all, but that’s awfully dark!
- Speaking of dark, this episode treated us to another installment of Gilfoyle’s long-running psychological war against Dinesh. It was starting to feel like Dinesh, much like the Coyote, was doomed to be at the perpetual mercy of Gilfoyle’s Road Runner. Thankfully Jared—secretly the M.V.P. of Silicon Valley—was able to get us as the audience to realize that the reason they’re so terrible to each other is because that’s how best friends treat each other. Awww!
- As much as we in the audience may feel sorry for Big Head for being manipulated so blatantly by Erlich, can we agree that his babe in the woods/deer in the headlights/other wild animal metaphor shtick is getting a bit old? Get it together and find your two cannonballs, man!
- If Richard is growing into his arrogance, Gavin Belson is the fully realized end result. In fact, he’s becoming so cartoonishly dictatorial, one expects him to grow a handlebar mustache just so he can twirl it (or, more likely, have someone twirl it for him as he subjects his employees to an interminable meeting about whether a mustache is the best thing for his brand).
- This week’s laugh-out line comes from Jared: “When I was little, I used to pretend I shared a room with Harriet Tubman. We were always planning our big escape.” As always, Jared is the best.