What do you do when you’ve lost your only advantage? How do you step up, become a leader and take your company forward? Do you make a decision that will cost you your pride but makes the most immediate financial sense; or do you “walk the left hand path”, the route that will see you break with social convention and abandon set morality?
Richard has always tried to be the good guy and do the right thing, but it’s taken him up to this point to realise that no one else in Silicon Valley is remotely concerned with that kind of thing; like Gavin Belson professing to want to change the world for the better, but only if it’s good for him. Others have lied, tricked, sued and stolen to get one over on the Pied Piper team, and the guys have been culpable in their naivety, even going so far as to fall for (who will become) EndFrame’s trick and basically giving them their prized algorithm.
After discovering that EndFrame had quickly become the only functioning middle-out compression company in the market and hijacked their Homicide streaming deal, Richard is obviously pissed. He and the team march down to their HQ for a showdown with their new nemeses. But Richard has no plan, literally not knowing what to say. They can’t prove that the algorithm was stolen, and even if the Pied Piper software is better EndFrame have the critical advantage of being first to market and a huge sales team bringing in deals.
To compound Pied Piper’s problems Russ is in a bad state, claiming he’s “financially ruined” after a series of bad decisions that his “money guy let [him] talk him into”. He’s no longer in the three comma club and is now “spelling billion with an m”. He wants Richard to help drag him out of a hole and turn the company into a sales-based model so he can get back on the Forbes billionaires list. It’s impossible for them though; they don’t have the time, staff, resources or structure to become that sort of company.
Richard returns to Russ and tells him it’s impossible, but Russ has already come up with an idea. Emphasising that he couldn’t care less about the company he brings Richard into a room with the EndFrame guys and suggests a merger – a better algorithm in exchange for a sales team, and a big fat buyout of Russ’ stake in the company so that he can be one step closer to “rebillionising”. All Russ cares about is getting his money back, and is brilliant obsessed with owning a car whose doors open at unusual angles, a symbol of his complete doucheness.
Richard wants to get rid of Russ, wants to sue him and EndFrame, but his lawyer tells him that he needs the money to fight off the Hooli lawsuit as it’s the biggest threat to the company. Pied Piper is basically screwed from all sides. Sued by Hooli, stuck with Russ and forced to take the EndFrame merger, they will end up working for guys who stole their idea and will make more money from it.
Once again Gilfoyle comes to the rescue though, like he did when all the server companies bailed on them. As a devout Satanist Gilfoyle offers Richard the chance to walk the left hand path, the chance to actually do something. He’s got access to all the details of EndFrame’s deal with the porn company Intersite because the CEO was stupid enough to leave his login details there on the desk in his office. It’s illegal and they’d be trading on stolen information but, like Gilfoyle says, it nothing that they haven’t have done to them – “it’s not a hack. It’s barely social engineering. It’s more like natural selection.” What kind of guy does Richard want to be? Is he ready to do whatever it takes to keep his company alive?
At the Adult 2.0 conference (which brilliantly looks just as boring as any other conference but the attendees have names like “Non Consensual Santa”, “Let’s Try Fisting” and “Poop On My Wife”) Richard approaches the Intersite CEO to tell her that he can save the company millions of dollars, and like her, he just wants a chance to prove it and will do whatever it takes to survive. This leads to a “bake-off” where EndFrame and Pied Piper will each be given a week to compress the same video library, with the winner awarded the $15 million contract. This storyline felt like it had so much more momentum than anything we’ve seen for weeks, massively helped by the fact that the Pied Piper team are actively making decision – they’re not just passengers who keep having things happen to them.
The B and C plots were inconsequential but fun, with Gavin Belson’s story merely showing how deep he’s dug his grave. He tries to bullshit the company into believing that the Nucleus failure was a stepping stone to success, and then realises how useless Bighead and the Hooli XYZ team are. Meanwhile there’s a fun mini-plot between Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Erlic, revolving around the former trying to hook up with a girl from Tinder. It’s an opportunity for lots of good one-liners from T.J Miller and joke seeds that are planted early in the episode only to flower later on (like how these days secrets can be revealed by Wi-Fi and a nice pay-off on Erlich’s Sade recommendation, “the early stuff though, before her arrangements got too baroque”.)
One of the strongest episodes of the season so far, where characters actively make decisions and their actions have consequences. That seems simple enough, but for too many episodes it felt like the Pied Piper team were the object of the story rather than the subject.