Silicon Valley, Season 2, Episode 8, “White Hat/Black Hat”
Written by Dan Lyons
Directed by Alec Berg
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO
Richard Hendricks can’t have nice things. It’s not that he doesn’t allow himself to have nice things, or even that he doesn’t want to have nice things, it is that he is almost karmically incapable of having nice things. Through either incredible worry or the incredible stupidity of others, Richard is never allowed to be an unqualified winner. Part of this is due to Richard being a dweeb who lacks confidence, but it is also due to the fact that Richard is the main character on a TV show, and thus can’t be top dog for very long. Stories of winners constantly winning become boring because watching deserved success is boring. It’s fun to watch a single arc of a story be about winning (Friday Night Lights season one) but eventually that team has to start losing (Friday Night Lights season two). So, by the transitive property of TV trope math, because Richard Hendricks is a main character on TV, he can’t have nice things.
Watching Richard slowly tank his company sure as hell is entertaining though. Thomas Middleditch has always done a good job in the role, but having Richard slowly unravel gives Middleditch the chance to play something other than just twitchy and neurotic. At Richard’s first meeting with Seth Lee in the park, Middleditch has to play apologetic, proud, and terrified without betraying Richard’s inherent beta nature, and he accomplishes all of this in subtle changes in his posture and voice: He sits up a little higher once he feels like Seth has accepted his apology, and alters his speech from half-mumbled stutters to half-projected stutters.
But because a skullfuck has been placed upon his house, Richard can’t take the calm, sage advice from Dinesh and Gilfoyle, and immediately follows through on the self-sabotage he unwittingly started by contacting Seth. Or so it would seem: Seth never actually does anything to get revenge on Pied Piper. The only major fuckup of the episode occurs because Richard rightfully fires off on Russ Hanneman for being an unhelpful asshole with “fucking metal chunks on [his] jeans”, causing Russ to set down his bottle of Tres Comas tequila down on the delete key of a computer. This causes Pied Piper to delete premium porn form the Inter Site servers “at a rate that until now was unthinkable.” Richard Hendricks can’t have nice things.
That’s ok, though, because Richard not having nice things gives Silicon Valley the structure it’s desperately needed all season. Individual episodes and moments have been brilliant, and the show has always felt like it was building to something, but it seemed to not know how it wanted to get there, sometimes introducing new characters that have been underserved and sometimes repeating the same story beats. By taking away all of Richard’s successes, big and small, Silicon Valley has once again made Pied Piper the underdog. Watching Richard and Co. struggle with success was fun for a few weeks, but fish out of water plays better with Gavin Belson, who is slowly going mad from being the sole witness to the glorious slow-motion trainwreck called “Nucleus”.
The best moments in the show thus far have displayed how Pied Piper has dealt with seemingly impossible tasks, like Erlich sleeping with a judge’s wife so that they are automatically sent to the final round of TechCrunch Disrupt, or the brainstorm about jerking off an entire auditorium of people that led Richard to develop the middle-out compression algorithm. Now that shitty tequila and Richard’s karmic fate to not have nice things have lost Pied Piper the bakeoff, the company is wholly positioned to fail, meaning that it will have to dig in its heels and pull of something spectacular in order to succeed. Richard may not be allowed to be a winner for very long, but watching him overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve a fleeting moment of victory should be one hell of a story.