“Runaway Devaluation,” the second episode of Silicon Valley‘s second season, ends with Richard Hendriks (Thomas Middleditch) finally sitting down to a one-on-one conversation with Galvin Benson (Matt Ross), the all-powerful CEO behind Hooli and Pied Piper competitor Nucleus. The lawsuit that Benson filed against Pied Piper at the end of “Sand Hill Shuffle” has caused a slew of investors, including Riviga Capital, to flee from Richard’s company, a ploy that the Hooli head utilizes to attempt to absorb Pied Piper at his meeting with Richard, which takes place at a Mexican restaurant. When they sit down, Gavin is huddled in a dim booth, and its clear that he’s brought his own food into the establishment. It’s a telling detail about how Belson thinks, specifically his theory that being progressive and having good intentions gives him the unfettered freedom to ignore other business practices.
Even more revealing is that the very last act of the episode, after the credits even, is Richard picking at the basket of tortilla chips on the table. It’s a subtle reaffirmation that Richard, no matter how tempted he may be, will never simply turn Pied Piper over to Belson, a position that is becoming increasingly untennable. The episode opens with the Pied Piper team searching for new funding after Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) and Riviga bail on them, causing Richard and Erlich (T.J. Miller) to meet with the same investors they “negged” in “Sand Hill Shuffle;” one investor even reciprocates Erlich’s decision to whip out his testicles at their previous meeting. In sequnces like this, the show continues to sharply skewer capitalism as a barely veiled outlet for the worst kind of misogynistic competition, where talking about the super-rare lumber your meeting table is made up of is just another way of casually discussing the size of your manhood.
Creator Mike Judge also clearly sees capitalism as the repression of the personal in the dubious hope of creating for everyone else rather than yourself, a line of thinking that’s underlined by Dinesh’s (Kumail Nanjiani) interactions with his cousin, Wajeed (Avi Nash). Nash’s character has created an app that Dinesh has backed through Kickstarter, a way of Dinesh securing his reputation as the “cool cousin” in his family. Due to the entire investor pull-out, Dinesh needs his funds back and though he is essentially successful at getting Wajeed to give up, he ends up encouraging his cousin to double-down on his app when his sense of respect and reputation come into question. There’s a thoughtful bit of nuance in their discussion too, as they speak English until their family’s inner workings come into question, at which time they switch over to their mother tongue. In essence, Dinesh’s unique background and personal perspective only really come to light when his ego and stature are called into question.
Later in the episode, Dinesh further attempts to derail Wajeed’s app, which simply texts the word “bro” to people, by telling prespective investors that “bro” is an offensive word in other cultures. His plan doesn’t work, but understanding what “bro” symbolizes is part of what ultimately makes “Runaway Devaluation” one of the more endearing episodes of the series thus far. When Dunn (Zach Woods) discovers Wajeed’s app, he quickly makes friends with a member of the engineering team at a popular tech firm, thinking that he’s made a friend. It ends up being a ploy, a way of stealing proprietary information by guising their interest as the beginnings of a partnership rather than an outright pilfering. The root of the word “bro” is, of course, brother, but in the context of the modern American lexicon, it’s become something far more nauseating and insidious, a symbol of deep, irreperable falseness. Much like the “new” capitalism that powers Silicon Valley, “bro” looks and sounds friendly and casual, but from Judge’s viewpoint, it’s nothing short of a coded threat against everything you are and have created.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good