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Silicon Valley, Ep 2.09: “Binding Arbitration” thrives without all the clutter

Silicon Valley S02E09

Silicon Valley, Season 2, Episode 9, “Binding Arbitration”
Written by Dan O’Keefe
Directed by Mike Judge
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on HBO

One day, someone is going to have to write a small episode recap of “Binding Arbitration” for the info card on a cable network, and it is going to read “On this episode, Richard tells the truth, and Jared may have killed a guy.”

What that recap gets at is that simplicity is what makes Silicon Valley work best. As was mentioned last week, the biggest issue with season two has been that the show is juggling too many storylines; the arbitration tonight may have landed stronger than it already did if the Hooli lawsuit were the main thrust of the season, as opposed to being just another ball thrown up in the air. But when it actually gets down to the nitty-gritty, “Binding Arbitration” is aces simply because the audience gets to see something set up and knocked down within one episode.

Ok, that’s not totally fair to everything that has come before. It’s not as if the whole season has been a slog. Individual episodes have had plenty of pleasures, making Silicon Valley either the first or second best thing on HBO on Sunday nights, dependent on how drunk Peter Dinklage gets on Game of Thrones. And even though season two will leave several stories unresolved unless A TON of stuff happens in the finale next week, the arbitration serves as a welcome venting of frustrations that have built up in the incubator ever since Pied Piper’s runaway devaluation.

Richard has been dealing all season with what kind of CEO he wants to be. His big speech in the episodes centers on how he just wanted Pied Piper to be different from all the other assholes in the valley, personified by the greatest of shit-eating grins sitting on Gavin Belson’s face during Richard’s testimony. But up until now, Richard has walked the left-hand path: He’s gotten in bed with a douche and his money, he’s stolen a rival company’s deal with a porn site, and he’s mouthed off and put people in their place. All of this conformity to an ethos of BS has landed Richard on the witness stand, forcing him to choose between lying to protect his company or telling the truth and risk losing it all. By choosing to take the powerful to task, in his own little way, by telling the truth, Richard has, for the first time since TechCrunch Disrupt, set Pied Piper apart as a company that is worthy of being called a game changer.

Richard is able to have this moment of clarity because the story is so expertly crafted around the simple premise of the trial. Act I: Richard gets a peek at Nucleus and uses it as leverage to get the binding arbitration; Act II: Trial prep; Act III: Trail and the three testimonies. The lack of clutter around the edges gives all the main players an arc, like the lawyer (don’t call him an attorney) seeking redemption after going on one hell of a bender, Erlich coming to terms with his ineptitude, and Richard paying for his hubris. It also makes it easier for jokes to organically occupy the space, like Erlich declaring in a bid of desperation that “I was in the shop for three days because [Richard] hit it so hard I needed a doctor”, a line-reading that Critic’s Choice award winner TJ Miller absolutely crushes.

This clarity of structure also dramatically benefits the B-plot, as Gilfoyle and Dinesh use Schrödinger’s Cat to mess with Jared and his precious condor egg. The first act introduces the concept; the second complicates the issue; the third has Jared being directly responsible for possibly murdering a guy. While being trapped on a robot island will forever be the epitome of polite Jared, causing a technician to fall several stories off of a cliff may be the epitome of inept Jared.

The truth is out and a guy is at the bottom of a canyon. For as exciting as “Binding Arbitration” may be, it has set up Silicon Valley for one hell of a season finale next week. Hopefully with all of the clutter theoretically out of the way, the show will have plenty of room to explore the consequences of those dual cliffhangers.

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