In tonight’s episode of Silicon Valley, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) takes about a minute to transition from underdog to overlord as PiperChat’s new CEO, getting high on his own hot air. But it only takes him another minute to come back to earth, in a crash landing so humiliating and terrifying it even satisfies the perpetually disgruntled Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), whose rivalry with Dinesh is so deep he’d rather see Dinesh fail than see his own company succeed.
Fortunately for the PiperChat team, if not for the young girls who’re power-using their app, Gavin (Matt Ross) is eager, as always, to gobble up anything of value the team produces. But “Terms of Service” recognizes Gavin’s greed as its own punishment this time around. Dinesh had planned to fold the company, after learning that PiperChat is, as Jared (Zach Woods) puts it, “basically a Sizzler buffet for the sexually deranged.” But Gavin’s obnoxiously aggressive approach changes his mind, and he decides to let Gavin have his albatross, which may be big enough to cripple even Hooli.
That negotiation is played out again, on a smaller and more absurd scale, in would-be strongman Bachman’s (T.J. Miller) deal with Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang). Like Gavin, Bachman is buying a pig in a poke, so his “win” is really a loss. Then again, given how little anybody knows about what will take fire in the tech business (not to mention how many Chinese users there are on the Internet), Jian-Yang’s app may have as good a chance of going viral as anything else. And hey, at least Bachman gets to use the “proper” plural of “hard-on” while he’s making his deal.
Ironically, Gavin may be missing an even better new development from within his own company. When Jack (Stephen Tobolowsky) pops up in Gavin’s office, cheerful and confident as ever after weeks of banishment in the basement, to report that he’s come up with a great idea, Gavin receives the info as an obstacle to be overcome rather than an opportunity to be explored, blinded by his narcissistic determination to get rid of Jack. But Jack’s oblivious, irrational optimism may turn out to be a challenge even Gavin can’t steamroll over—and that might be a good thing for Gavin, whether he realizes it or not.
On Silicon Valley, the way people say things is often more telling than what they actually say, and “Terms of Service” is full of wonderfully wooden nerd-boy stabs at what Donald Trump calls “locker-room talk.” The lingo Dinesh affects when trying to impersonate an alpha male at pitches, delivered with smarmy self-confidence and loaded with gross sexual innuendos, conjures up 1960s-era Hugh Hefner. And wide-eyed, sweetly sincere omega-male Jared sounds like an alien attempting to impersonate a human when he lists topics he and Richard can talk about to avoid the third rail of work, starting with “Sports teams and…their scores. Or pussy.”
Much as he means to help, Jared is the opposite of supportive when he tries to calm Dinesh down by softly urging him not to think about how much money the company—or possibly Dinesh himself—may be liable for if their failure to have registered their tens of thousands of underage users is discovered. “Just think about how to solve this massive, massive problem,” Jared says. “Quickly. Quick as you can.” Surprisingly, Richard is far more effective, in an indication that he’s learned something from his misadventures as a CEO. He exhibits enough emotional intelligence to start his conversation with Dinesh by asking how he’s doing, and he offers the comfort of someone who’s been in his shoes, telling that story about having gotten so nervous at a pitch that he threw up into his pants. Then he gives Dinesh some good advice, telling him not to chase after a nonexistent perfect solution but to choose “the one wrong answer that you can live with.”
A big part of what makes Silicon Valley one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV is the Gilfoyle in its DNA, an irreverent wit that locates the weak spots in everyone and everything, and the humor in those weak spots. But just as important is the show’s Jared-like integrity and generosity of spirit. Delivering underage girls to sexual predators is the kind of scheme that the real man-boys of Silicon Valley all too often stumble into, exposing real people to real risks. It’s impressive that the series can mine something as grim as sexual predation for laughs—both in the main plot about PiperChat and in a subplot about PiperChat’s lawyer (Matt McCoy), a sex offender now serving a work-release program at a car wash. But those laughs work only because Silicon Valley acknowledges the awful gravity of the situation.
The final scene of “Terms of Service,” which leaves the developers’ airless world for a rare look at some of their end users, is an important reminder of the innocent civilians who often become collateral damage in Silicon Valley’s game of thrones. But this wouldn’t be Silicon Valley if even that scene didn’t wind up with a sharp rimshot of a joke, panning from all those fresh-faced Jessicas and Jennifers to skeezy, middle-aged Carl.
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