‘Silicon Valley’ Season 4, Episode 2 Review: ‘Terms Of Service’

This post discusses the “Silicon Valley” episode “Terms of Service,” which aired on April 30.

Last week, I wrote about the way this season of “Silicon Valley” appears to be taking on a particular version of tech-industry myopia that pushes talented people to develop apps and products they can monetize quickly, diverting them away from work on genuinely world-changing projects. This week, and in hilarious fashion, the series is setting up Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) to be done in by a myopia particular to him: his need to avenge himself on anyone and anything Pied Piper-related that comes into his field of vision.

Gavin is a fascinating character, whose presence on the show has always been a test for Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller) and the guys who live in his grungy incubator. At first glance, Gavin is who all of them want to be: someone who built a huge and influential tech empire, and now has the wealth and influence to pursue projects that influence him and to do good works around the world (even if that goodness is mostly virtue-signalling). But a closer look at how Gavin operates has always revealed that as his company has grown, he’s become more crabbed and paranoid as a person.

To a certain extent, it’s clear that he knows this. Back in the second season of “Silicon Valley,” he warned Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) that Richard was at risk of turning his young company into yet another “soulless corporation.”

But Gavin has never been able to save himself from the worst parts of his personality. He’s promoted Richard’s best friend, the feckless Big Head (Josh Brener), to head an innovation team in hopes of hurting Richard’s feelings, while ignoring Davis Bannercheck (Patrick Fischler), a genius who has actual ideas that could drive Hooli forward. He insists that his engineers tweak Hooli’s famously neutral algorithm to hide bad stories about him, resulting in a massive scandal. He stole Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky) from Pied Piper, inadvertently giving his ailing rival a boost, and now, driven by a mania to undercut Barker’s potential as a rival, has saddled Hooli with a crippling legal liability. He’s the best mind of his generation, destroyed by aggressiveness.

That all of this happens in an episode in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) essentially goes through an entire tech CEO’s career over a period of a few days makes Gavin’s worst mistake yet especially funny, and especially sharply punctuated.

Dinesh is a jerk to pretty much everyone — except Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), who is confident enough that this will all end in a wildly entertaining disaster to enjoy the whole spectacle — during his brief stint as the chief of PiperChat. But it’s impossible not to feel dreadfully sorry for him as he curls up in Erlich’s horrible, dingy bathtub. “Move fast and break things” might be a catchy slogan, but it doesn’t exactly tell you what to do when the thing you break is yourself and the opportunity for your own creation to really mean something. Dinesh behaved the way he’s been led to understand that successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs behave. It’s Richard, who finds himself drawn toward a different way of doing business and creating things, who spots that problem, and who is decent enough to alert Dinesh and the team to the trouble they’re in.

Aside from the big ideas animating “Silicon Valley” this year, “Terms of Service” is also a great opportunity to take a moment to appreciate Jared (Zach Woods), who has become a wonderful textbook example of how to create a deeply weird character without having him become a gimmick.

Jared has always been slightly off as a person due to a backstory that isn’t entirely clear though definitely includes a stint as a homeless manicurist, and “Silicon Valley” has always wrung a lot of humor out of his attempts to unlock the codes of masculinity. I got my best laugh of the week out of his declaration that the latest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover model “has the most lovely, enigmatic facial expression.” But one of Jared’s quirks is also his lodestar as a character: Like Richard, he’s a decent person who wants to do things differently. And unlike almost anyone else in the Valley, he finds meaning out of being of service to things and people he truly believes in. He’s an odd duck, but a profoundly decent one in the general tradition of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) on “Parks and Recreation” or Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero) on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

In ways large and small, this is what I love about “Silicon Valley.” It’s a dark show where characters manipulate and bully each other, and an extremely funny one. But ultimately it’s a hopeful series rather than a nihilist one. If only Richard could find a way to apply middle-out compression to human decency.

Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2017/04/30/silicon-valley-season-4-episode-2-review-terms-of-service/

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