Tonight was HBO’s Silicon Valley Season 4’s finale. For this review, I decided not to delve too deeply into every episode but provide an overall look at the season as a whole. This is one of the few actual reviews for Silicon Valley I’m doing, although I hope sometime in the future, I’m able to do more.
First off, Season 4 was odd in that unlike previous seasons the whole thing felt less focused. The primary plot throughout the season was seeing Pied Piper working towards building a new version of the internet, which is a very lofty goal as any engineer would tell you. The actual building of this new internet as a process only makes tiny plot points here and there as the producers more than likely glanced over the details just to keep things moving forward. They might pull a few interesting ideas out here and there but the overall technical accuracy is vague and lacking, making this idea seem completely infeasible to a veteran engineer.
Instead, we’re tossed into the predictable loop of the series where one high meets and equal low. Although I believe that the intention is to embrace the so-called perception that Silicon Valley (and the tech world) values failing fast and often, the way the show implements this design wears out the viewer quickly as each episode is not so much the pitfalls of running a start up but just the stereotypical quirks that an outsider might project onto the personalities of an engineer from the Valley.
Worse yet, a few episodes just become irrelevant and irreverent in their attitude towards engineers by highlighting our sex lives (or lack thereof). For instance, Richard has awkward sex with Dan Melcher’s wife, which apparently allows Richard to secure a massive contract with Melcher’s company. Then you had Dinesh with the hacker girlfriend, which I felt killed one of the most defining traits of his character. In that situation, it felt gratuitous. Aspects like these felt more like petty insults towards engineering culture that Hollywood enjoys tossing like the stereotypical high school football jock bullies hurling the straight A kid into a locker.
Part of the initial charm of the first two seasons for me was really nailing the true idiosyncrasies of engineering culture such as the group of 5 (which surprisingly is true), the bullshit micro managing practice called SCRUM, the research into business cases of how other companies in the Valley (and Silicon Beach for that matter), etc. By comparison, this season doesn’t have the same level of acumen and has gone off on a tangent in its own pivoting from video chat to an inconceivable idea that more than likely has caused the writers the inability to expand upon.
Now, one thing that the actors/actresses had mentioned is that this season was focused more inward on the relationships between the characters as opposed to the company fighting external forces. So there is some character growth as we have seen Dinesh evolve from a sexless, no life racial joke into a joke of a CEO and lover or rather becoming more and more of the asshole Erlich desires him to embrace.
The real problem that I see in the show at the 4th season is that it feels the writers don’t know how to grow this plagued company. Perhaps, TJ Miller’s recent departure (though rumored to be about money) was intentional in forcing Pied Piper out of the comfort zone of the little incubator space into a real office environment. The previous season showed the possibility of Pied Piper moving on but those plans were removed. And the move felt very artificial as it might have been the desire to keep the company in that tiny space due to the familiarity of the environment.
Logically speaking though, the way Pied Piper is structured it would have been long dead. No sensible engineer would stay on that low of a pay structure in that situation, living like a college drop out flunky. Also, some of the actions in Pied Piper such as Dinesh, Gilfoyle and Jared getting slapped around wouldn’t stand without serious legal repercussion.
But it’s those points that make the series feel that it loses the moment for me as an engineer just because it isn’t as real as the first two seasons. The best jokes for me were the ones that accurately reflected the world I deal with as a worker in tech on a daily basis.
The way the season ended with Gaven returning to Hooli, Jack Barker being effectively excommunicated permanently, Erlich perpetually abandoned smoking opium in Tibet and Pied Piper beginning to start another war with Gaven in all honesty leaves me with low hope for season 5. Sure, Richard’s situation ended on a high note where deux ex machina (literally a machine saving the day) entered into the picture and resolving his latest crisis is a mimicry of past seasons where we see Richard and Pied Piper built up at the last episode only to be immediately torn down once the new season starts.
What I did like was seeing the new side of Richard, the animal survivalist who will do anything to keep his company alive. The parallels between him and Gaven that manifest are not coincidental because the point is demonstrating how both manage to retain their positions and make headway in an industry built upon utter ruthlessness rather than raw merit. But will he sustain this new persona or return to his meek, pathetic and awkward form just because the writers possibly perceive that is what the audience can relate to?
The show does need to grow as do the characters and Pied Piper. How this manifests in the next season is very curious. But this season really needed something more and if there’s one thing I’d pinpoint is simply better focus with an emphasis returning to the engineering culture aspects that made me laugh in the first two seasons.