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 excellent season finale.
The boys of Pied Piper have much to look forward to here at the end of Silicon Valley’s third season. They’d just dodged another bullet that could have spelled the company’s doom and were looking forward to a potentially lucrative future. It was very much like the end of the show’s first ever episode, when Richard decided against selling his algorithm for a quick payout from Hooli, for starting his own operation with some guidance from Peter Gregory.
Respect is due, then, to Alec Berg, the writer/director of this week’s season finale that wrapped up with a scene that was almost a mirror of the one from two years ago, right down to Dinesh playing with his Hoberman Switch Pitch ball and Erlich intoning, “Big… Head…” with the gravitas that only a very stoned man can attempt. The team has grown by two with Laurie deciding to jump on board this new video chat venture, and trusty Jared holding down his neurotic yet excitable end. Otherwise, the core group is the same, with the same excited gleam in their eyes.
Watching that debut episode of Silicon Valley again, though also provides a chance to see how these characters have (or haven’t) evolved. The core three engineers—Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyl—are essentially the same, albeit with a little more life experience to go with the bags under their eyes. Erlich, naturally, seems more beaten down and rough around the edges. His facial hair may be more defined, but there’s a lot of extra stubble and chubbiness around it. The poor guy has seen his dream of becoming the next Steve Jobs grow, recede, regrow, get smashed to bits, and then get dangled in front of his face like a carrot on a stick. That he still has a house and some sliver of dignity is a minor miracle.
It’s really Laurie and Jared that have changed the most throughout. When we first met them in Season One, they were both the lackeys of tech billionaires and trying to woo Richard to either Hooli or Raviga. You could sense the steel in their spine and a bit of bloodthirstiness in their spirits. They wanted to land a big whale like Pied Piper for their bosses. At this point, they are a little looser and a little more frazzled and fearful about their futures. Sure, things are looking good now for Pied Piper as a company, but in the uncertain tech world, anything can and does happen.
So you have to hand it to Silicon Valley, for the way it has allowed its characters evolve naturally over the course of these three seasons. There’s a tendency for a lot of sitcoms to start piling on the quirks and outrageous behavior by the supporting cast as the seasons toil on. Just look at how Kevin from The Office went from being a slightly monotonic but smart character, to a complete bumbling idiot by the time that show wrapped up. That has a lot to do with the writers learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the actors and catering their work to them. Not a bad idea at all. Yet, the results often tend to come off rougher and more outlandish than they should.
So far, Silicon Valley has avoided those traps. The evolution of their characters feels as natural as anyone’s real life experience. Mostly, it feels respectful of both the actors and the viewers. Everyone can look back on a show’s past with incredible ease these days, thanks to our many streaming services. We can watch how quickly a series can devolve from, say, the early, grittier seasons of Sex & The City to the glamour porn that was the last days of that show (and the two awful spinoff movies they made). You needn’t fear such disasters with Silicon Valley. Things within the show are going to unfold at their own pace and with an eye on capturing the current temperature of the times, rather than shooting for the 100 episode mark so they can nab that sweet syndication deal. It bodes well for future seasons of this delightful sitcom, that are hopefully coming sooner rather than later.
Robert Ham is a regular contributor to Paste and the author of Empire: The Unauthorized Untold Story, out now via Regan Arts. Follow him on Twitter.