While last week's episode of "Silicon Valley" smacked of tired sitcom tropes and predictable outcomes, this week the show manages to put the TV writing 101 textbook away and let character dictate both the humor and the direction of the plot. Crazy, right? Most importantly, Gilfoyle and Dinesh are able to do something other than lob semi-funny co-worker jokes at one another. Note to the writers' room: Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr are two of your greatest assets. Use them wisely. This episode was a step in the right direction, if only a step.
Instead of staying stubbornly tied to their computers, Dinesh and Gilfoyle actually have a reason for their bickering: Tara. While Tara isn't much of a character, she doesn't have to be more than a walking silk bathrobe to unsettle the testosterone-centric house. Just the news that Gilfoyle has a girlfriend rocks the geek collective; the fact that Erlich, as he puts it, would have sex with "it" once he "hosed the Gilfoyle off of her" adds jealousy to the mix.
Yes, most of the jealousy comes from Erlich, but I'd argue the actual laughs come from Dinesh's internal battle after Gilfoyle tells him something downright shocking. According to the free-thinking Satanist, Tara thinks Dinesh is cute and wants to have sex with him -- which, according to the Satanic rule (which is a directive to do whatever the hell you want, though a scene of Satanic indoctrination is less decadent and more adorable), is just fine with Gilfoyle.
Dinesh is initially terrified, then intrigued, then creates a pros and cons chart (the one pro, ejaculation, overwhelms all of his concerns about following in Gilfoyle's footsteps). Dinesh's conversation with Tara and then Gilfoyle's confession that he fabricated Tara's interest while high are cringeworthy but almost sweetly amusing as Dinesh wrestles with embarrassment and disappointment in equal measure before Tara dubs him "adorable" and he feels genuinely insulted. Erlich's frustration about Dinesh being "picked" over him is more predictable and one note, though T.J. Miller commits to the storyline (and awful swim trunks) admirably.
Richard's storyline is the most Silicon Valley specific and yet more relatable than plenty of broader storylines in the past. While Richard's doctor informs him he's aged "forty years in seven weeks," the decision to hire "the Carver" to build a part of the Pied Piper platform Richard just can't untangle is what really makes him feel old.
The Carver, aka Kevin, is a smart kid fueled by Adderall and the promise of big money (Jared agrees to cough up $20,000 for a weekend's work). While prodigies are usually portrayed as jackasses we want to see fail, Kevin is a little more nuanced than that, though he does, of course, screw up and fall apart. That Carver nickname is both a compliment and a warning. Just as he's close to finishing the project, Kevin can't control his impulse to tear apart most of Richard's work. He hides under the table, as a kid would, and Richard is reassured that there are some advantages to being an "old" man in a youth-worshipping industry.
He also discovers yet another advantage to having Erlich around. When he tries to buy Adderall from a snot-nosed brat in his neighborhood, Richard gets fake pills and a bitch slap for his efforts and his fifty bucks. When he brings the "Shaggy Man" to settle the score, Erlich has a fit right out of a hard-R movie. Yeah, he gets the Adderall and probably a few extra, just so the kid can rest assured Erlich doesn't kill his mom and rape his dad.
The reason Richard and Erlich have to go hunting for black market Adderall is because Jared never returns from his pharmacy run, a detail Richard barely notices and about which he doesn't seem overly concerned. Jared, of course, is on his own high-tech adventure, a possibility that would never occur to the co-workers who think him too responsible and vanilla to get into trouble.
A theme of this series seems to be taking easy potshots at technology fails, and this week the driverless car (and later, the driverless forklift) is in for parody. Monica lets Jared use Peter Gregory's latest toy to run errands, but a clueless assistant programs it for Eastern time, not Pacific, and thus Jared finds himself being driven to a dock and shipped 1,300 miles to Peter's new island.
It works because Jared (Zach Woods) is too nice to beg for help even when he gets through to Monica and too high strung to laugh at his entrapment. If any frustrated commuter has ever pined for a driverless car while stuck in traffic, this snafu is all about the downsides. While Jared is a character not dissimilar to others Woods has played, that doesn't make him any less perfect in the role. His scream of frustration when realizing he's trapped in a dark shipping container for 1,300 miles is funny enough to watch twice. Sure, it seems Jared could have texted someone or climbed out of the hatchback sooner, but that's nitpicking.
While I'm still feeling a little uncertain about "Silicon Valley," which seems to be struggling with that first season issue of consistent tone, there's no faulting the cast (despite the complete lack of Christopher Evan Welch, an absence we'll have to accept soon enough) and some of the humor is dead-on. When the story stays true to our dedicated Pied Pipers, the humor usually follows. Add in the high tech issues and glitches and we've got a program that works.
Did you suspect Gilfoyle was lying to Dinesh? What did you think of the Carver? Would you get in the backseat of a driverless car?