In a New Yorker article about Silicon Valley published last week, readers learned that TJ Miller, who plays incubator owner and eccentric bong collector Erlich Bachmann, once met Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX, more) and didn't know who he was. It was, according to Miller, an aggravating encounter for Musk.
Apropos of this week's Silicon Valley episode, the anecdote is maybe even more interesting. Erlich, whose personal spending spree has left him in debt, was forced to sell his shares of Pied Piper just before the company's product launch. Like Musk, Bachmann is motivated by a need to be recognized, and taken seriously — not to mention a deep fear of obscurity, or worse, infamy. In an entreaty to Richard (where he's wearing the above costume, no less), Erlich invokes Ron Wayne, an Apple investor who sold his shares and, according to Erlich, became the laughing stock of the Valley.
Erlich's sellout is also a problem for Richard and the Pied Piper team. In part, it's why Erlich hides it from him for ten days (and the first half of the episode). We start out on Bloomberg TV live from Pier 3, where Erlich appears as the company's "Chief Visionary" beside Richard, pronouncing "Embarcadero" with a hard, Spanish-inflected "C." That might be a better showing than Richard's: Of Pied Piper's 100,000 installs so far, Richard says it's nice to be the "belles of the balls."
Eventually, and in the middle of a bevy of press coverage leading up to a Vanity Fair event, Richard learns, through a possible head of PR, that someone — unclear who — is selling their 5 percent stake. This could, the PR person explains, lead the public to believe something is wrong with the company, screwing them in terms of more fundraising and bad word of mouth.
At first, Richard assumes the culprit is Monica. "Monica fucked us," he says, adding troublingly that, "she pulled down our pants and fucked us in front of our parents," leading Jared to go into crisis counselor mode. However, when Richard confronts Monica, she reveals it's Erlich who sold. At last, after so many failures, he's getting no sympathy, only comeuppance, for his general bullshit.
Here, Richard has to make a very real choice between personal relationships and business prospects. "My dignity is in your hands," Erlich tells Richard sadly and soberly. "Do with it what you will." Thus, Richard drafts a press release to explain away the sale. "I think it reads well, I think it's all in there," says Jared. "This will definitely set the record straight. Then again, you're basically lighting Erlich on fire." Richard will wait to release until he's sure that the rumor is really out there, but he's made up his mind about Erlich's involvement with Pied Piper. "From this point forward you will have nothing to do with this company going forward." Jared will serve on the board, Richard declares, leading Jared to hilariously undergo a series of conflicting emotional responses.
But what about the Vanity Fair event, Erlich says, mentioning Meinertzhagen's Haversack, a callback to episode three. "What do you think would happen if i didn't show up to this Vanity Fair event?" He doesn't want people to speculate and adds that he's "already RSVPd and given them a list of phony dietary restrictions to cause a scene." Indeed, Erlich will only eat fish who eat other fish, or so he's said, making him a pesca-pescatarian.
Over at Hooli, where we're taken briefly, the board is finally fed up with Gavin Belson (Pied Piper is a hit and Endframe/Nucleus a mess) revealing to him that he's out as CEO. Like Erlich, Belson is pissed, and somewhat scared. "I built his company with my bare hands in my fucking garage," he rages. In need of a "walk," Belson prepares to fly on his private jet to Jackson Hole, and whom should he run into on the tarmac but Jack Barker, the erstwhile Pied Piper CEO. Get this: Barker is also headed to the Jackson Hole! "There's this great little hiking trail near my lodge in J-hole," says Barker (I love this line the most I think). This little set piece is so great because, while you expect the two billionaires to hop on the same flight, they don't even consider it, instead just complimenting each others' jets. "Really is a small world," says Jack. "It's crazy," Belson agrees, neither acknowledging the tiny circle to which they belong.
Meanwhile, in another side plot, Jared gets the team a prototype of a ridiculous Pied Piper varsity-style jacket, complete with rats in rows on the sleeves. One of these garments is too many, says Dinesh, as in, too many in the whole world. Gilfoyle is willing to borrow Jared's prototype in order to torture Dinesh by wearing it near him at a Philz coffee shop. But that backfires, sort of: Strangers recognize the Pied Piper name and logo, having downloaded the hot new app, and ask to take a picture with a dumbstruck Gilfoyle. The tech celeb theme continues!
At the Vanity Fair event at the Nob Hill Fairmont, though I'm pretty sure — feel free to fact check me on this — that they filmed in a different lobby/interior, Richard runs into Russ Hanneman, the blowhard former Pied Piper investor of last season, a character molded in the Marc Cuban/Sean Parker vein. Or, put it this way: The guy with the car with the doors that go like this. Russ is, unsurprisingly, still blowing hard, and the encounter does a bit of exposition work, too. It turns out Erlich tried to sell Russ half his shares for $5 million, which would have gotten him out of debt but kept him involved with the company, but the deal didn't work out because Laurie Bream/Raviga killed it.
From Laurie, Richard learns the details: She has to approve any sale of Erlich's shares, and she would only approve a sale to herself. Harsher still, she paid Erlich just what he owed in debt — exactly $713,000. Basically, Richard learns that Erlich is penniless at the moment he was about to disgrace him. Plus, Erlich is a no-show at dinner, although his pesca-pescatarian order creates a buzz and soon everyone is ordering it (including Dick Costolo, the former Twitter CEO who is a consultant on the show, and has a cameo here).
Feeling bad for Erlich, Richard returns home to find that he won't need to issue that press release. After receiving a call from CJ, the reporter at the blog Coderag which he heedlessly bought, Erlich delivered a self-deprecating and even masochistic tell-all explaining his personal failures. (CJ said she received three reports of something ugly going on at Pied Piper, forcing his hand).
Richard finds Erlich smoking a distinguished Sherlock Holmesian bong in the back yard, defeated but somehow noble. Richard recognizes what Erlich has done for him and takes pity. In the interview with Coderag, Richard recalls, Erlich said his head was so far up his own ass that he he "can see the future." Maybe this will come in handy, Richard tells Erlich encouragingly, "if we need a precog..." he trails off, and offers Erlich a job, for which he'll actually have to do something for once, as the company's PR.
Erlich suggests his title be "Chief Evangelism Officer" calling CJ to deliver his first release and telling her to "feel free to abbreviate that." Last, in a final note of irony, CJ thanks Erlich for the story, revealing a misunderstanding. "Three different people told me that Pied Piper had the ugliest jackets," she tells him: She was going to write an article about "swag fail."
Returning to that New Yorker article, one thing I've been thinking about is how the show's verisimilitude is the product of pretty serious, thoughtful research. Jonathan Dotan, an entrepreneur, now serves as the show’s lead technical consultant, and he oversees ***more than two hundred other consultants*** from technical researchers who consulted on middle-out compression to, yep, Dick Costolo. All of that shows in this weeks' episode, and furthermore, as these characters make realer, harder decisions — as Erlich and Richard do — the show's effect is realer than ever.
Previously: Silicon Valley Ep. 3.7: 'Betas'