The Silicon Valley Series Finale Fittingly Rewards Failure as SuccessPhoto Courtesy of HBO TV Features Silicon Valley
In Silicon Valley’s penultimate episode, Pied Piper lost out on a mega-payout deal to put its technology onto AT&T’s phones and network because of a powerful but flawed Chinese knockoff. In a fit of despair, the men (plus Monica) ended up partnering with Russ Hanneman to use their tech for his Burning Man-esque “Russfest.” While most of that was a disaster, it did lead to Pied Piper’s compression software being merged with Gilfoyle’s AI creation, Son of Anton, which then created an incredibly smart and complex system that won AT&T back to their side. (It’s worth noting that AT&T is also HBO’s parent company, which is another fun bit of meta narrative layering.)
And thus, Silicon Valley’s final season has followed a familiar but successful format that has seen it through its previous five: Pied Piper does something extraordinary, there are unexpected consequences and a lot of cringe tension, and then at the last second everything is saved—which is extraordinary, and leads to unexpected and cringey consequences, etc.
Naturally, that is exactly where we found the company in “Exit Event,” (written and directed by Alec Berg) which (like most of the show’s season finales) amped up that formula to an incredible degree. The Pied Piper deal with AT&T was saved, and yet, it was also discovered that with PiperNet the guys had built a monster capable of decrypting every digital stronghold in the world, including nuclear codes. The robot revolution has arrived, hurried on by Pied Piper.
This was firstly a great callback to the start of the season, where Richard gave a moving testimony before Congress about the importance of privacy online, and how only their system could provide it. That was the initial, pure intent. For all of Pied Piper’s faults and problems, most of it was not done maliciously (as was the case at Hooli with Gavin Belson’s greed and ego). But it was the show’s ultimate cynical commentary on the “change the world” mentality of the tech industry that a small group of coders who actually wanted to create a free internet, one that could be used outside of the prying eyes of corporations and governments, would end up creating something that would actually destroy the world.
The question of whether or not this world-killer would be unleashed was answered in part by the “10 years later” framing documentary. The world hadn’t ended, so presumably, there was a twist in the rollout that was yet to come. And it was, of course, perfect: The frequency the team deployed to nuke their own dangerous system ended up making rats take to the streets in droves, just like in the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend where a rat catcher was hired to lure rats away with his magic pipe. Silicon Valley thankfully didn’t take things as far as the legend and the death of the stingy villagers’ children, and was content to close things out with Ratmaggedon and the end of the company. But the documentary bookends also meant that we got an update on where everyone ended up 10 years later, which is as follows:
- Richard is a “Gavin Belson Professor of Ethics in Technology” at Stanford. (Tethics!)
- Dinesh and Gilfoyle started a cyber security firm together, and are still bickering (and live next door to one another).
- Monica works for a DC think tank that is definitely the NSA.
- Jared works with the elderly and seems content.
- Gavin Belson is now known as an “author and philanthropist.”
- Nelson (Big Head) is the President of Stanford, whose name he can’t pronounce.
- Laurie Bream is incarcerated, and we don’t know why, which is hilarious.
- Russ lost most of his money in the PiperNet fail, but got it all back by investing in the hair replacement industry.
- Erlich was probably killed by Jian Yang, who stole his identity and money and is living abroad.
“Exit Event” worked as both an homage to what the show has done before and a swan song that brought everything full circle. Though faulted for its repetitive formula, there’s something to be said for the series’ consistency over the years, especially as it remains, somewhat bafflingly, the only true satire of the tech industry on television. Its blend of sophomoric humor with deeply on-point criticisms of an industry that is completely (and mostly discreetly) overtaking our lives has been a necessary counterpoint to a culture that worships the PR that corporations put out to convince us they are all trying to make the world a better place. They aren’t. And even if they are, like Pied Piper, it never really works out that way. You don’t make that much money and amass that much power by doing anything good. In that, Silicon Valley’s voice will be missed in a TV landscape that needs more smartly-crafted dissension.
In a nostalgic scene, the original Pied Piper guys (and Monica!) return to the house where it all began, which is now owned by a family who has no idea who they are. Within 10 years, the PiperNet fiasco is not even a footnote for the next generation, even those looking to break into the tech industry themselves. It’s not about history or learning from the past, but just pressing forward with the next new thing. And yet, think about how much has changed in just the five years since the show began.
The guys play a game of Always Blue at the dining room table and reminisce about past glory, where they achieved something wondrous but brief. Their failure saved the world. Eventually, Richard admits to the documentarians that he still has one copy of the PiperNet code—perhaps one of the greatest and most terrifying ever known—on a thumb drive that he has, of course, misplaced.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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