Silicon Valley, Ep. 3.04: Richard Starts to Lead in “Maleant Data Systems Solutions”

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Silicon Valley, Season 3, Episode 3: “Maleant Data Systems Solutions”
Written by Donick Cary
Directed by Charlie McDowell
Airs Sundays at 10pm on HBO

At the end of last week’s very funny but somewhat stuffed episode, Richard’s plan to circumvent Jack’s wishes had been discovered and he was in danger of being fired for his insubordination/fraud. This week, Richard retains some of his cunning in negotiations with Jack. Part of what makes Thomas Middleditch so funny as Richard is that he has resisted any kind of major character evolution. Richard never became a confident leader, and his position as CEO of Pied Piper was solely based on the fact that he created the product, not any kind of leadership skills. In “Maleant Data Systems Solutions,” Silicon Valley starts to present a version of Richard who’s actually capable of leading a company in a successful direction.

Rather than being fired, Richard suggests a compromise, which Jack reminds him is “the shared hypotenuse of the conjoined triangles of success.” Richard suggests that they work on the box, but do the bare minimum required; Jack will have to hire other engineers to help with it. As soon as the box is finished, they’ll be free to work on the platform as much as they want. It’s a good deal, as Jack gets his box, which was never required to be that impressive, and Pied Piper will still have its algorithm, potentially the most valuable part of the company.

Turns out it’s a lot harder for everyone to make a mediocre box than they originally thought. Guilfoyle ends up making a much faster processor than he really needs to, which prevents the parts that Richard has engineered from working with it. Instead of having Guilfoyle go back to the original plain code, he decides to speed up his own parts. He even starts to take more of an interest in the look of the box.

Just as the group is crafting a box they might actually be proud of, Jack announces the deal has fallen through; Maleant was going to purchase the box, but the negotiations were really just to lower a competitors prices. What they don’t realize is that Richard’s new box is nearly three times faster than the competition. When Jack updates them on the specs, Maleant agrees to stick with Pied Piper’s box, but on one condition: Maleant will have exclusive rights to use Richard’s algorithm for five years. That means he won’t be able to develop his platform. Jack is determined to sell the box and make a short-term profit, and Laurie agrees with him (possibly because she doesn’t want to look weak). But Monica steps in to save the day. She voted against Richard as CEO in order to please Laurie, but this time she sides with Richard to save his algorithm. Laurie ends up seeing the wisdom of that position, and after being insulted by Jack, she fires him. She originally resisted firing him for fear of creating an atmosphere of chaos. Her solution this time: just don’t appoint a CEO. The position will remain unfilled for the near future.

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Silicon Valley continued its strong run with “Maleant Data Systems Solutions.” The show is at its strongest when it focuses on how foolish and short-sighted (and hilarious) large corporations can be. Sonia Saraiya writes compellingly at Salon about how the show has adopted Randian themes of inspired creative individuals lifting themselves up by their bootstraps, but instead of being blocked by the government, clueless corporations work to limit their reach. Mike Judge has examined similar themes throughout his career, perhaps most famously in Idiocracy. I’ve always been turned off by the way that movie seems to blame poor people for their desperation and lack of education, but it’s sharpest when showing how corporations exploit anyone who will give them an inch.

Judge also knows how to subvert the Randian elements, even as he pays homage to them. After all, Richard isn’t exactly Howard Roark or John Galt. Considering that Ayn Rand was a cruel quack and a terrible writer, that’s probably for the best. Silicon Valley succeeds where she fails because it understands that monstrous corporations can also be completely ridiculous.

Stray Thoughts

  • Some fantastic physical comedy from Thomas Middleditch when he manages to fall on his face while standing still and leaning on a desk.
  • Sometimes Silicon Valley uses racial humor that doesn’t really seem to have any particular purchase (most of Guilfoyle’s cracks about Dinesh’s ethnicity just seem plain ol’ racist). Richard’s confusion about the Asian designer’s name rang false; it was hard to understand how someone as young as Richard could be so clueless.
  • Gavin really hates bull dogs. “Hideous face!”
  • Once again, Erlich is responsible for the “a-ha!” moment late in the episode. Last time, no one heard him the first time he spoke up. This time he’s coughing so hard after taking a huge bong hit that he can’t spit it out and Jared has to translate. I loved how he continued to cough non-stop through the whole scene.

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