As the two horses copulate (in graphic detail) behind him, Richard talks to his new CEO Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), an experienced hand brought in to help grow Pied Piper into a gigantic company. Richard lays out his dream for his software to Jack: a world where Pied Piper could grant super high-speed Internet to the poorest, most remote areas on Earth, all while turning a profit. Jack gently corrects him. “The product isn’t the platform, and the product isn’t your algorithm either, and it’s not even the software. Do you know what Pied Piper’s product is?”
“Is it me?” Richard asks, as inspirational music builds behind him. “Oh, God! No! No!” Jack shrieks. “Pied Piper’s product is its stock. Whatever makes the value of that stock go up, that is what we’re going to make.” And with that, he returns to his stallions. Richard’s efforts throughout the first season of Silicon Valley were all geared toward avoiding an acquisition by a big company, since it would corrupt his utopian vision. The lesson of the show this year is that the tech industry’s start-up model makes those evils unavoidable. Richard needs money and resources to make his software globally available, a situation that leaves him handcuffed to a mundane business he never wanted.
Jack is the perfect villain for that narrative: a benevolent, avuncular steward for the company’s depressing “business-facing” goals. Richard wants Pied Piper to be like Dropbox, a free piece of software anyone can use with profits coming from premium features for businesses. Jack lends these ideas a sympathetic ear before quietly quashing every one of them, telling Richard the tech bubble could pop again at any moment and it’s better to just make money fast, selling software straight to businesses and leaving the general public out of it.
The delights of each episode of Silicon Valley are mostly in the beautiful creativity of its bad language. Richard, his programmers Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) and Bertram (Martin Starr), and his advisers Erlich (T.J. Miller) and Donald (Zach Woods) find new, incredible ways to insult and undermine each other every week. But the show’s larger plotting can be more frustrating. Dorky testosterone jousts are always amusing to watch, but Richard is such an idealistic wet blanket that the early struggles of Pied Piper were too halting and pathetic to really root for. The show works much better with Richard as a successful figure: His aspirations are the same, but they may not be enough to halt the compromising tide of money that comes with success.
Richard’s Sisyphean efforts to be “different” in an industry where being different has been turned into its own homogenous concept are the tragic heart of Silicon Valley. Its creators, Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, have managed to squeeze that sad narrative of the American business model into a show that also features explicit horse sex and whole scenes devoted to masturbation algorithms without missing a step. This season will certainly feature many more such antics, as Pied Piper’s ship of fools sail ever closer to multi-billion-dollar success, but without losing the pathos of Richard’s fight to keep his integrity.