In the season-two premiere of Silicon Valley, Peter Gregory, the tech genius played by the late Christopher Evan Welch, is found dead. The major angel investor in Pied Piper, the music program turned data-compression algorithm created by Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch), Gregory acted as a mentor to Richard, and the implications of his death hang over the first episode, especially at Gregory’s company, Raviga Capital. At one point, Gregory’s successor, Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer), meets with Gregory’s assistant, Monica (Amanda Crew), to discuss the future of Riviga’s investment in Pied Piper, and struggles to express her feelings about Peter’s death through her near-robotic disposition. Laurie says, “Peter Gregory is dead,” a number of times in their discussion, but their talk is all about Riviga, less about how she feels about his death than how the passing has affected her profession and career. This exchange evokes a central satirical philosophy for co-creator Mike Judge and his King of the Hill cohorts John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky in regard to the titular West Coast tech hub: that even the most progressive form of capitalism hinges on a want to sublimate personal feelings, desires, and opinions.
A similar battle between volatile, personal emotions and manipulative, strategic business decisions is seen when Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani) attempts to sabotage Bro, a crowd-funded app created by his cousin, Aly (Aly Mawji). Dinesh uses technical know-how, business jargon, and fear of failure to push Aly to give up on Bro, but when Aly brings up doubts about Dinesh’s place as the “cool cousin” in their family, the cousins begin speaking heatedly in their native language and familial rifts rise to the surface. Beyond his intellect and fiscal worth as a member of Pied Piper, Dinesh has an incessant need to debase those he deems intellectually inferior. This smugness may have given him the confidence to work and build Pied Piper alongside Richard, but it can’t hide the scared, lonely nerd that Dinesh still is underneath the braggadocio—and as Judge sees it, no amount of money ever will either. The show’s view of the generation that created Snapchat remains incisive, skewering everything from moronic apps to half-baked progressive politics to opportunistic philanthropy, but Judge is careful to not allow this cynical outlook to become his default position. For every time Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) compares the plight of tech billionaires to that of the Jews in Nazi Germany, there’s also a warm, borderline sweet moment, such as when Dunn (Zach Woods) attempts to rally the Pied Piper team with his newfound usage of the word “bro.”
The series has always shown a fascination with terminology and slang, and thankfully, Judge and his writers have a firm grip on technological parlance, and more than a passing familiarity with how tech-based companies are made. Gregory’s passing sends Richard and Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) on the hunt for new investors, and early into the round-robin, they realize that all the investors are “negging” them, a dating ploy repurposed to force Pied Piper’s asking price down. Like Dinesh, Erlich has made money and intelligence his way of veiling a history of alienation and excusing his crassness, and when investors belittle his company and attempt to undermine him, his basest instincts lead him to whip out his testicles at one meeting. In contrast, Dunn is lured into a near-betrayal by the promise of sincere friendship with a would-be investor and respect via Bro, only to find out he was used so another company might pilfer the engineering work in Pied Piper that he, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) worked on.
Every time Miller’s vulgar monster of privilege opens his mouth, one gets a clear sense of Judge’s derision for millennials, but that’s not his only agenda. For all his grotesque crudeness, Erlich comes off as weirdly empathetic, especially when he’s faced with the emptiness of his reputation in front of Russ Hannerman (Chris Diamantopoulos), the obscene inventor of radio on the Internet and Pied Piper’s latest investor. Judge’s grimace can be similarly felt with the introduction of Hannerman, who is first seen ridiculing hybrid cars, calling passersby “lemmings,” and blaring Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie.” For whatever his intensely off-putting persona, Russ is seemingly exactly the freakish attack dog that the team needs to take on Belson and Hooli. Russ and Richard couldn’t be more different from one another, but business still makes strange bedfellows in Silicon Valley. The amiable, unlikely empathy and neuroses that separate the members of the Pied Piper family from the pack are the same elements that give this gleefully sardonic comedy its distinct, bittersweet tone.