TV RECAP: Silicon Valley, S02E09, Binding Arbitration

This season Richard has tried to take on the attributes of those around that he thinks will make him, an awkward nerd, into someone who can successfully run a company. He’s acted in ways that are alien to his character – he’s tried to be assertive, combative, ruthless and deceptive. He’s wanted to be like Gavin Belson and sue everyone around him. In “White Hat/Black Hat” he tried to walk the left hand path but couldn’t help acting on his guilty feelings.

These decisions all come back to what type of company he wants to run, and all season Richard has fretted over what to do. Sure he wants the company to be successful but is he willing to compromise his vision to achieve that? He was unsure about Pied Piper being associated with someone like Russ, of doing a livestream with Homicide, of ‘negging’ potential investors. He went back and forth over whether to use the (semi) stolen information on the Endframe/Intersite deal to their own advantage. In all these situations he went against his gut and they turned out badly. The investors slammed their tactics, the Homicide deal blew up, Russ isn’t giving them any money and then he deleted all the Intersite data. In the season’s penultimate episode Richard has one final big choice to make. Does he lie under oath and save the company, or tell the truth and kill it? But at least kill something he can still be proud of.

Richard has his chance to get Pied Piper out from under the Hooli lawsuit thanks to Bighead, as their stories finally combine. In a plot point taken straight from the tech headlines, one of the Nucleus team accidentally leaves their phone loaded with their secret OS at a bar with Bighead. After a season spent just looking incredibly dumb all the time Bighead finally does something smart and meets up with Richard to give him the phone. It’s a nice scene where the two friends reminisce about the past and look forward to the future, and Bighead finally shows some self-awareness in realising how he’s fallen to the top thanks to Richard. With this beta Richard has the information that would crush Nucleus if it went public. The question is, how will he use it to get what he wants from Gavin Belson?

In a great little scene that has the two CEOs on a more equal footing, Richard and Gavin trade explicit and veiled threats over the phone while their lawyers try to moderate their speech to make it hold up in court. In return for the phone finding its way safely back to him, Gavin agrees to the process of ‘binding arbitration’ – an accelerated court case that could quickly bring about the end of the lawsuit. Their lawyer Ron manages to get them one of the best lawyers around, but of course it’s not without a catch. In a greatly delivered speech, the lawyer Peter Monahan reveals that technically he can only call himself legal counsel due to all the sex charges hanging over his head (“Did I have sexual intercourse with two women under the age of 18? Repeatedly”) and he ravine he’s driven himself into. “Were you in an emotional ravine, or did you actually go into a ravine?” “Both.”

Peter could have been another big-egoed, ultimately useless character (like Russ) that will bring down the boys. Instead, despite the pending charges, he’s really on the ball and quickly pinpoints the one area of weakness in the Pied Piper case from the Hooli document dump. Peter realises that the girlfriend Richard mentions in his emails to Bighead is the only warm thing that touched his crotch in years – his laptop. This reveals that his computer was in the shop for three days, meaning he ran a Pied Piper test on a Hooli machine. So the whole case rests on arguing that Richard had a girlfriend. “We’re fucked” says Dinesh.

Hooli’s strategy of building up Bighead to look like the real genius behind Pied Piper looks to have fallen at the first hurdle as we enter the drama of the courtroom. Bighead get confused by the legal speak and denies any hand in anything good, ever. But the lawyers have anticipated this. They spin it that he’s pathologically humble, unable to take any credit for any work. And the judge laps it up. Finally an unegotistic tech entrepreneur.

Throughout the episode Erlich has been dying to finally take his part in the ‘big show’, to get up on the stand, have his moment in the spotlight and prove how he’s mentored Richard to this moment. Peter had shut him down, but now he gives him the chance as part of a new strategy. Unfortunately for Erlich it’s not for the reasons he thinks. The counsel rips in to him and his investment ideas, especially Bighead’s ridiculous app Nip Alert, in order to discredit Bighead’s standing. It’s fun to see Erlich try to talk himself out of a bind, but in his anger and confusion over the line of questioning he accidentally reveals that Richard’s laptop crashed due to that ridiculous app. The Hooli lawyers pounce and that’s it. It looks like the whole thing is dead.

And here’s the critical moment. Will Richard lie under oath and save the company, or fall on his sword but die with honour? This time Richard goes with his gut before it can betray him later on anyway. He says that he wants Pied Piper to be different, to not be built on lies. If in this system the fact he used a Hooli computer once means that he’ll lose everything, then maybe it’s a system he doesn’t want to be part of. So is this the final end of Pied Piper?

Well, back at the house Jared, Dinesh and Gilfoyle are having a great little sitcom of their own in one of Silicon Valley’s fun diversions, this time based around the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment. It all ends up with Jared calling the museum to get the condor egg stream taken down, only for the guy removing it to fall down the cliff. Until Jared called the egg was both alive and dead, so by calling Jared basically threw the guy down the cliff. Except the stream’s still running, and people can watch. Could Jared’s worrying have brought around Pied Piper’s salvation?

Let’s see how successfully Mike Judge and his team wrap up the season. Could all those dangled plots and dead ends actually be part of a long game?

Silicon Valley airs Wednesday nights on Foxtel’s The Comedy Channel.

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