After a secret plan to divert their efforts was discovered at the end of last episode, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and Richard are being forced to deliver on a decidedly un-thrilling box project. And yet, the trio finds humor and encouragement in the uninspiring task, and so, for that matter, does the show's writing team. For example, this perfect little joke: "Fuck this," says Gilfoyle, "I've been writing quick, bullshit, subpar code for 48 hours and I want to kill myself. How do you do it every day, Dinesh?"
"What a coincidence?" Dinesh fires back. "I've also been writing bullshit code for 48 hours and want you to kill yourself."
Really, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and Richard are lucky to have their jobs at all, since their mutinous behavior was uncovered. It was Richard who managed to cut a deal with CEO Jack Barker to save them: "If we're gone I don't think you're ever gonna get your box," he says, playing hardball in a rare moment of confidence. His ultimatum: "The second we write code that satisfies the basic minimum requirement of the deal, we are off the box and onto the platform." But, as Jared puts it, the team is like Audrey Hepburn — they can't help but be elegant. "Just cause making the box sucks doesn't mean we have to suck at making the box," Dinesh decides for the group, and they manage to make its central compression algorithm impressive. Here, the show revels in the idea of the team's real technical prowess, and clear, if accidental, delight in their work. Their work has so often been foiled, and so its refreshing to see a little success from the group. Even the design of the box, which Richard initially shrugs off when a designer shows him seemingly random nature images so they can "develop a shared aesthetic vocabulary," becomes important to the team.
But before Pied Piper can sell their device to a buyer, "Maleant Data Systems Solutions," the board needs to sign off on the deal. Raviga Capital's Monica, who owes Richard a favor, notices that, in the terms of the deal, Maleant would be entitled to all the technology in the box — the increasingly powerful compression algorithm. That's a nonstarter, but Jack wants to take the deal anyway, and since Laurie Bream,can't put a price on the value of the platform, she's willing to go along with the deal in hand.
Not Monica. "Richard," she says, "You know how I voted to fire you a couple months ago, and I said that I did it so that I could stay in the game so that maybe in the future I could do something to help?" Her "no" vote saves the technology, for the moment: As Jared puts it: "What you did took incredible guts. The fact that it probably won't make a difference makes it all the more meaningful. I saw this nature documentary where a bison fought a lion to protect the rest of the herd. And it was so moving. It didn't work. The lion tore into the bison and laid waste to the herd. But what courage!"
Interspersed with the main drama of this episode is a side plot that's also about competition. Erlich can't score new tenants for his incubator because of a new rival: that's Big Head, Richard's former pal and the onetime "Co-Head Dreamer" at Hooli's Nucleus Project. Big Head has a pool at a brand new house he's renting out as an incubator, courtesy of his severance package from Hooli.
Meanwhile, Jared is still stuck at Erlich's spot: The Airbnb guest who's squatting in his apartment is now Airbning it himself. And he's scaring away possible tenants: "It's funny we're named Pied Piper, but we're beset with rats," Jared declares after noting that there were "fresh droppings" in the garage space where he lives. "Little rascals!... I was thinking maybe we could just pick a day and just drench it in hawk urine, because the scent of a predator can keep rodents at bay.”
After Erlich barges in on Big Head's incubator, he concocts a plan of the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" variety. "What are we doing here?" he says. "Why are we fighting like this" I'm going to steal your guys, you're going to steal my guys, we'll both wield the heft of our considerable fortunes until each of us have nearly nothing left. Is that what you want?" Obviously, Erlich is somewhat impecunious while Big Head is flush with cash. But Big Head might be stupid enough to partner up. "I'm big enough, are you big enough, Big Head?" They shake on a vague deal.
Over at Hooli, Gavin's spiritual leader, who has not conferred with the CEO in months, goads him into fighting back against the perceived threat of Pied Piper. At a board meeting, Gavin cites a bulldog as the ultimate example of dangerous inbreeding, explaining that Nucleus would have been successful if it had looked beyond current Hooli employees. So, ironically, Gavin hires the "outside" help of Endframe, the middle-out compression rival who just scooped up all of Hooli's outgoing Nucleus team. In fact, the CEO doesn't even recognize his former employees when he rehires them, buying Endframe for $250 million.
Gavin calls Richard to taunt him with the news, but Erlich, in the middle of a bong-induced coughing fit, realizes that Hooli has unintentionally saved Pied Piper. By putting a price on a similar company, he's justified their work, giving Laurie Bream a figure that Pied Piper's platform might be worth. When the team arrives at the Pied Piper offices the next day, "Action Jack" Barker is out. The CEO's chair will remain empty, Bream tells them, but "you are all at liberty to commence work upon the platform."
Silicon Valley's fourth episode reminds us, as did episode three, how fun it can be to see the Pied Piper team confidently work on a project. While the show is reflexively barbed when it comes to its background — the industry of technology and innovation — it can also be gently optimistic about a group of people working together on something, whatever that thing may be.
While "middle-out" compression is just a symbol for advancement, for a group of people coming up with something new and exciting, it's one we can readily believe in, especially when the characters we trust do so. Now that the countervailing idea to middle-out's platform — a nothing box — is out the window, there's further room for the team, and the show, to innovate. Dreamers, dream away.
Previously: Silicon Valley Ep. 3.3: 'Shawshank Redemption'