Every week, critic Robert Ham breaks down the mechanics of a particularly excellent Silicon Valley scene, moment or joke. This week, it’s all about that slo-mo smackdown.
Did anyone really think that Richard and the Pied Piper gang were going to get away with creating a skunkwork to save their vision for the company? For all their hard work, it had to have been apparent that those dudes were doomed from the start.
The biggest giveaway was right there in the final scene when the guys make their triumphant walk into the Pied Piper offices, filmed in slo-mo and set to the boom of a big hip-hop tune. Once they stepped off the elevator, I was bracing myself for the inevitable. Which in this case was Richard, tripping over a hose, and spilling all of his illicit paperwork in front of one of the salespeople.
It all happened so fast. The next thing we know, the salesman is running off to Jack Barker and the guys are being summoned into his office. It may have seemed too fast, but it was the perfect way to complement the ridiculously fast-forwarded evening of the guys coding and planning and getting ready to stick it to their new boss. And just think about the pacing of the last 10 minutes or so of the show. As the guys decided to go all in on this ruse, the show ratcheted up the tempo, then yanked it back, and then kicked us and the gang right in the teeth.
The closing moments again prove the intelligence of Silicon Valley’s writing staff. They’ve watched enough movies—both good and bad—to have seen that trope of the slo-mo walk done and re-done 100 times or more. Just a quick scan of my failing memory and I can dredge up a least a half-dozen examples. The most important of these, though, is Office Space. Judge has already played with this device and used it to similar ends, contrasting the fact that the dudes doing the action are total geeks. The Initech crew were, for the moment, triumphing. They were passing off the disk that would help them skim money out of the company coffers, or more pointedly, giving a beatdown to the printer/copier/fax machine that was the bane of their collective existence. They got their comeuppance, but for a brief stretch, they were kings.
Now, that obviously couldn’t have worked for a TV show. The needs of a half-hour format are much different from that of a 90+ minute feature. The smackdown had to happen much faster and with a little more authority. Hence, Richard’s faceplant and the small Rube Goldberg moment that led to what is most likely going to be a hell of a standoff between the Pied Piper originators and Barker.
That whole sequence is emblematic of how well they are pacing out the entirety of this third season of Silicon Valley, so far. There are moments that are inevitable. Like the one that they kept teasing in the trailers, where Richard accidentally slams his head on a desk. That’s undoubtedly happening in the next installment. And if you’ve been paying attention to the fate of Big Head, you’ll already be ready for him to swoop—or stumble, rather—in and rescue the original Pied Piper with his $20 million severance from Hooli. But they are giving us these little plot gifts at just the right time, right when we need them. Just when the brilliant subplots of Erlich and his Asian housemate, or Gilfoyle’s attempts to stoke as many free gifts out of his tech company suitors run out of steam, along comes the perfect engine to keep driving the show forward.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. Follow him on Twitter.