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Silicon Valley Recap Season 4, Episode 3, "Intellectual Property"

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Silicon Valley Recap: Season 4, Episode 3, “Intellectual Property”

John P. Johnson

Tonight’s episode of Silicon Valley takes a satiric look at some of the ways that the all-important yet elusive concept of intellectual property plays out in the Valley, starting with Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) and Bachman’s (T.J. Miller) pitch to the Coleman Blair venture capitalists. Jian-Yang’s modest recipe-app idea is quickly passed over and replaced by a purely theoretical but more exciting one: SeeFood, the kind of potentially transformative app every coder dreams of inventing. It’s a hook so sharp and shiny that the VCs throw $200,000 in seed money at it and Monica (Amanda Crew), aware there’s no substance behind the flash, uses it to try to lure in her douche-bro nemesis, Ed Chen (Tim Chiou), in hopes of triggering a failure big enough to take him down—or at least take him down a couple of notches.

That’s pretty high stakes for the result of a minute or two of blue-skying between Bachman and the VCs. And whose intellectual property is it, exactly? One of the VCs comes up with the enticingly vague concept (a camera app that lets you take a picture of food and then analyzes something about it, or maybe supplies some recipes), though it’s Bachman who supplies the zazz, giving the app its market-ready tagline (“Shazam for food”) and name. That’s a surprise, since Bachman’s ideas are usually anything but market-ready.

If it’s rare for Bachman to have anything useful to offer besides the house he provides as an incubator, Jack (Stephen Tobolowsky) has never had an idea of his own, at least as far as we know. Yet he easily shoves yet another CEO out of the company he founded, as he did to Richard (Thomas Middleditch) last season, by doing the one thing he’s good at: managing upward.

As satisfying as it is to see Gavin (Matt Ross) banished from his kingdom, the contemptuous ease with which everyone at Hooli turns their backs on him is nonetheless chilling. Even his seemingly gung-ho right-hand man, Hoover (Chris Williams), has no regrets, judging by that exquisitely awkward moment when Gavin goes in for what he thinks is a hug only to realize that Hoover’s just leaning over to pluck the parking tag off of Gavin’s rear-view mirror. But Gavin won’t be down for long. After all, as Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) points out, he’s a force more powerful than Congress: “a spiteful and vindictive megalomaniac with unlimited funds.”

The latest episode of the show takes a satiric look at the all-important yet elusive concept of intellectual property.

What’s more, Gavin now owns the Pied Piper algorithm, the most precious piece of intellectual property that Richard has ever developed. Ironically, Richard loses ownership of his idea just as the perfect application for his algorithm, a decentralized Internet, is within tantalizing reach, thanks to Monica’s help. But all roads still lead to Gavin even after he’s been ignominiously dethroned—at least for Richard, who heads through Gavin’s heavy security gates and down his winding driveway in the episode’s final scene, presumably planning to plead for access to his own creation.

Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce. Silicon Valley subverts that saying a bit, since everything in the series is a blend of tragedy and farce, but its subplots often double as echoes of a main plotline in which the stakes are lower and the farce factor higher. In “Intellectual Property,” Monica’s attempt to undermine Chen echoes what Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) did to Gavin. Her plan backfires almost instantly, though, as Chen sees the trap she set for him and gets Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) to pass the account back to her.

That looks like very bad news for Monica, but it may turn out to be good news for both her and SeeFood. Monica is one of the few people in Silicon Valley who actually knows what she’s doing—and, not coincidentally, one of the few who is barely hanging onto her job, since this world rewards good work far less than it does self-promotion, brownnosing, and pure dumb luck. If anyone can find a way to transform SeeFood into a functional demo, she can—though it’s hard to imagine that even Monica can pull that off by Monday.

The rest of the episode’s subplots are there not to echo the main plot, but to keep other storylines moving. Dinesh starts out still braced for disaster, but he begins to relax as the Internet greets him as a hero (“A giant-slayer!” says Jared) for his impulsive decision to give Gavin the toxic property that took down the head of Hooli. He may be in for a heartbreaking fall, though, since smart, pretty Mia (Phoebe Neidhardt), whose interest gives him such a lift, is striking way more sparks with Gilfoyle than with him. Meanwhile, Big Head (Josh Brener) gets brushed aside by Bachman when he offers to create the image-recognition software for the SeeFood app—the one thing he might actually be qualified to do—and winds up instead as a guest lecturer at Stanford, yet another lofty, totally unearned position he doesn’t want and has no idea how to handle.

Middleditch, who’s perfected a blend of perpetual frustration and earnest determination so stiffly kinetic that it brings to mind the great Buster Keaton, has a wonderful slapstick sequence in this episode. After learning that he no longer owns his own algorithm, Richard crams all his papers relating to his Internet idea into a box, jams the box in a closet, and then goes to war with the door when it won’t stay shut. He kicks the flimsy plywood so furiously that his foot goes through it and then gets stuck, leaving him to hop awkwardly on one leg until he ditches his shoe inside the closet and stalks off. It’s a laugh-out-loud sight gag and a brilliant visual metaphor for this episode’s central truth: Intellectual property may sound like a dry, legalistic concept to you and me, but it’s a matter of career life and death in Silicon Valley.

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