Silicon Valley wrapped up its Season 1 finale with an absolute romp of an episode, mixing up a bit of innovativeness with absurdity of the highest order. The core of the episode is the Techcrunch Disrupt finals and Pied Piper’s presentation but it’s some of the moments leading up to it that really deliver the kind of humor we expect from Mike Judge. And just when you think things couldn’t have ended better, you’re left with the sense that there are a lot more possibilities with the show going forward.
What starts out as a humorous digression on Erlich jerking off every single man in the conference room, turns into a more serious discussion that actually inspires both the episode’s title, and Richard’s revised compression algorithm for Pied Piper. Yep, as insane as this sounds, that’s exactly how it happens, so kudos to showrunner Mike Judge for pulling it off with stable director Alec Berg. Despite the hilarity and strangeness of the plot device, you actually buy it, thanks to Judge infusing some programming mumbo jumbo to make Richard’s epiphany sound convincing.
The next major bit, where the majority of the lengthy final act stays, is at the Disrupt Conference where Richard and co present their newfound findings with a potentially higher Weissman Score. To make matters worse, one of the judges throws at them, the one file that could throw their algorithm off course: a 125 GB 3D video file. And yet, the algorithm is able to handle it with flying colors and despite there being an air of predictability to the final outcome, you do sense some palpable tension when the compression stops mid-way. The final file comes out compressed, 24 GB in size, giving them a Weissman Score of 5.2, much much higher than the already higher theoretical limit that competition at Hooli had reverse-engineered.
The beauty about this finale is that winning the contest should actually come across as a sigh of relief for Richard. A win, with all his cash problems solved. Instead, as Monica’s final pep talk suggests, Richard is now in for a whole lot more worse than he bargained for. From running an incubator, Richard has to graduate to running an entire company, getting office space, hiring employees, setting a vision, mission and direction, those and plenty of other thoughts are enough to induce paranoia in Richard, leading him to puke. It’s probably the perfect manifestation of his character, and a really good way of showing how a victorious ending need not wrap up the series but potentially open up more possibilities for the future.
And that it will. This season took Pied Piper from an idea and concept to an incubator to finally, possibly, a full-blown startup. There’s plenty of humor to be mined with those possibilities, with Erlich’s attempts at interfering with the day-to-day operations, with Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s rivalry against each other, and against the swarm of other excellent coders that could be hired to sustain Pied Piper. And in the process, we as viewers get to go on this journey through the comfort of a viewing screen, without having to resort to run anything but our browsers / media players. Cool.
As great as the performances and production values are, it’s worth noting yet again how terrific and detailed the writing on the show really is. Showrunner Mike Judge worked with a graduate student in conjunection with a Stanford professor to come up with the show’s fictional metric, a “Weissman Score” that indicates how effective an algorithm’s compression is. While it may seem like an off-shoot of the term “compression ratio”, these minor details, the interfaces of the apps, the thoughtfulness of the tech jargon thrown at us, really convince you that the characters are living, breathing programmers who know their stuff.
This was also the episode where the showrunners acknowledged Peter Gregory actor Christopher Evan Welch’s untimely death, dedicating the episode in his favor. He’s still alive in the show’s context so it’ll be interesting to see how they handle that (I know, I’m just pretending not to). Overall, yet another win for a fantastic season of Silicon Valley and I can’t wait to (re)see where they head next.
Silicon Valley Season 1 Episode 8 Rating: 9 out of 10
I’m doing individual episode reviews of HBO’s Silicon Valley in light of the upcoming final Season 6. While I’ve seen Seasons 1-4 before, I’m still writing with a fresh perspective, keeping references to future episodes down to a minimum.