Sometimes in business it’s not about the numbers or the metrics, about what looks safe or right, or about what should be done. It’s about heart, feeling, taking a chance and doing what you want – a defining moment when a leader makes that choice. At least that’s what Monica tries to convince her boss Laurie (and her self) when she tells her that Richard rejecting the Hooli deal and taking money from a guy called Russ Hannerman (Chris Diamantopoulos) might not be so bad.
Finally taking charge of his own destiny and no longer being pushed around is something that Richard’s been trying in the first couple of episodes of this season of Silicon Valley. First he took the decision to take a lower valuation offer from Raviga, then last week he privately met Gavin Belson to discuss the future of Pied Piper. At the beginning of “Bad Money” Richard decides that he’s going to take the offer from Gavin to buy them out, even though he doesn’t have the support of the rest of the team. That’s until he’s stopped outside Hooli by Russ, a man who appears to be the embodiment of the qualities that Richard’s trying to find in himself – “Don’t do what you should do. Do what you want.”
All the warning signs are there that this is a man Richard shouldn’t get involved with. He’s not that smart, just got lucky when he was bought out by AOL after putting radio on the internet. He also hasn’t made any more money in the last 20 years and acts like a complete asshole, which Diamantopoulos captures perfectly – “I’ve got three nannies suing me right now. One for no reason.” But Russ appeals to Richard’s vanity by talking about making a billion dollars, kicking Gavin Belson’s teeth in and saying “I’m gonna take you back to those same spineless VCs who said no and I’m gonna shove you right up their assholes.”
Even though Russ appears to be giving the group the freedom they want, it’s soon clear that he’s a joke in the tech world (his Google auto-complete results start with ‘douchebag’ and ‘sexual harassment lawsuit’), incredibly annoying to be around, racist (“Hey what’s up Al Qaeda. No, I’m totally kidding. Just diffusing the tension with humour.” “What tension? There’s tension?”) and not going to be as hands-off as he implied. He argues that Pied Piper shouldn’t be going after subscriptions and money, that companies that lose money are worth the most. He also reveals that the $5 million he gave then isn’t theirs all at once, it’s basically an allowance – he’s the one that will set their burn rate. As Dinesh says, “Well he’s the worst man in America. And now he owns us.”
The worry here is that Russ, a much worse incarnation of Erlich, might impact that character’s effectiveness. Erlich’s demeanor and outrageous speeches offered a great counterpoint to the dry sarcasm of Dinesh and Gilfoyle and the naivety of Jared and Richard. Erlich has an immediate man-crush on Russ but is continually shut-down and ignored by him in his attempts to impress or connect with him, leaving him quiet and unsure in the corner. Hopefully this is just a short-term effect and we get the obnoxious Erlich we hate to love back soon.
Russ’ impact is also felt by Gavin Belson, who he provokes into all out war with an advertising campaign (a meaningless tech brand awareness ploy), placing fifteen huge billboards between Belson’s house and office. Matt Ross’ Belson is proving to be one of the best players of this season and a great antagonist. His rant about the similarities between the treatment of Jewish people and billionaires (taken straight from real-world headlines) and his over-the-top yet shallow apology gesture are perfect, and his overwhelming obsession with being “undermined” by Richard is seeing him lose his already loose grip on the real world.
While Hannerman is a great character in isolation, an archetypal tech douche, his introduction in “Bad Money” upsets the delicate balance of the group and somewhat relegates Erlich, who’s been great in the first two episodes, to the background. The episode also sees Richard repeating many of the same mistakes that he made in the first season, leading to a kind of inertia in the plot. Let’s hope that next week corrects these missteps.
Silicon Valley airs Wednesday nights on Foxtel’s The Comedy Channel.