Silicon Valley, Ep. 3.05: Richard Struggles to Fill “The Empty Chair”

"The Empty Chair" is a Silicon Valley rarity: an episode without any real crisis. Instead of a chance for non-stop jokes, it ends up feeling a little flat.
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Silicon Valley, Season 3, Episode 5: “The Empty Chair”
Written by Megan Amram
Directed by Eric Appel
Airs Sunday at 10pm on HBO

As funny as Silicon Valley can be, it’s rarely a good times show; Richard Hendricks requires a minimum level of crisis in order to reach peak nervous mania, and the show’s writing is at its most inspired when the stakes are highest. Season three of Silicon Valley has consisted of crisis after crisis, allow the show to focus on its strengths. The Empty Chair is a rare reprieve, a lull in the succession of catastrophes.

It’s been 10 days since Laurie fired Pied Piper’s contentious CEO. She’s been meeting with candidates, both qualified and unqualified (Big Head even got an invitation), but no one has gotten the job yet. While Laurie is looking for a new leader, Pied Piper is running out of money. Richard’s solution is to fire all the salespeople, sell all the fancy monitors and office décor, and cancel the lease on the offices. When Richard awkwardly alerts the salespeople that they’re fired, Jan the Man can’t believe Richard is still CTO after a damaging article online speculated that potential CEOs were being scared away by his mediocre code. Richard complains to Laurie about the bad impression the leadership vacuum is creating, then convinces her to let him do an interview with the article’s author. Laurie agrees, but only on the condition that Richard meets with Raviga’s publicity director to give him talking points and prevent him from just transforming into his normal spastic self during the interview.

When Richard arrives at Raviga furious and dressed in an uncharacteristic suit, he blows off the secretary when she offers to lead him to the small conference room where the PR person is waiting, and instead walks into the large conference room where the reporter is sitting. He launches into an impassioned rant and only stops when the real PR person finds him.

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Richard has aired all of the company’s dirty laundry to the reporter (and been a jackass as well), so Monica tries to get him to own up to Laurie before the article is posted. While he’s freaking out, Big Head is signing a contract with Erlich to combine their disproportionate assets and lets slip that Gavin’s is scrubbing the internet of all negative publicity on his search engine. Sensing that Gavin’s behavior is an even bigger story than Richard’s meltdown, they give the story to the reporter, who agrees to spike Richard’s story.

Watching this week’s episode, I was reminded of Futurama, that Simpsons sibling that never really got the respect it deserved. Most episode had to balance all out comedy with action/adventure scenes in which the comedy was pushed to the background. Futurama was well-written and acted, so those action scenes never really dragged the show down. Silicon Valley is similarly driven by conflict and crisis, but takes a different approach: the most dramatic scenes also manage to be the most comedic. Despite having tonal elements, Futurama could take a break for an episode and just focus on the comedy, to great effect. But when Silicon Valley decides to lower the stakes, it’s not quite as funny. There aren’t many television comedies that can be as tension-filled as these two shows, so perhaps there aren’t enough precedents for Silicon Valley to model itself after. The Empty Chair is still a fine episode (the show doesn’t have any episodes that are less than fine), but it doesn’t hold up as well as the most zany and tense episodes of the show.

Stray Thoughts

  • Now that he has access to Big Head’s $20,000,000, Erlich is obsessed with expensive juicers. I’m looking forward to lots of jokes about him wasting Big Head’s money.
  • Jared: “Word to the wise: the Haworths are like a spa day for the buttocks. Yeah, and I have a fragile posterior. My aunt used to call me ‘glasshole.’ So, you can take it from me.”
  • Still Jared: “I made my first sale! I’ve organized a lot of estate sales so this is kind of my wheelhouse. I have a lot of elderly friends.”
  • Sweet, sweet Jared: “We just need to find it. I found my retainer in a school dumpster, I found my biological father in a militia up in the Ozarks, this should be no problem.”
  • I’m pretty sure that Big Head had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with his severance that pretty much prevents him from discussing anythingabout Hooli, much less anything negative. So unless he was quoted anonymously in that article, he’s probably going to lose all his assets. Poor Big Head.

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