“Adult Content” is the first episode of Silicon Valley’s second season that feels focused on storyline over character, though not to a point where the relationships Mike Judge has been building this season feel as if they have plateaued. The realization that End Frame, the company founded by (arguably) stealing elements of Pied Piper’s algorithm, is now working with a full sales force puts Richard in hot water with Russ Hanneman, his major benefactor. When the Pied Piper team storms the End Frame offices, the head of the new company is quick to point out that he didn’t technically steal it, since Richard and his team essentially wrote out the entire route to the algorithm in front of them. It’s another distinction between the personal and business: trust between people is necessary and good for society, but trust between businesses is hugely rare, bordering on non-existent.
If any character does seem to grow in “Adult Content,” it’s Richard, and the episode features Thomas Middleditch’s character adapting to not only his role as Pied Piper’s CEO but also to the ruthlessness of modern-day capitalism. The narrative backbone of Judge’s series is, in fact, the creation of a potential industry leader, and part of the great joy of this show is seeing how a relatively decent person (and genius) like Richard must compromise his values and philosophies to survive in a cutthroat environment. In this case, he’s faced with the egomaniacal Hanneman’s need to generate big sales since the billionaire has been downgraded to a millionaire via some bad investing ideas. The fact that Hanneman’s net worth is well over $980 million dollars pulls him out of an elite club, and it’s the dissolution of that public image that panics him, rather than the fact that he abandons his child regularly, refuses to clean up his dog’s shit, and, most troubling, has a penchant for Crazy Town’s “Butterfly.” Hanneman is a vision of Richard without scruples, driven only by money and a need to continuously inflate his own clout.
Image making is the chief focus of Silicon Valley, and it connects directly to what Twitter, Google, Facebook, Instagram, and the rest of the major internet start-ups have allowed everyone with a computer and Wi-Fi to do: produce a public version of themselves at odds with their private selves. “Adult Content” sees Dinesh taking particular advantage of this ability, as he attempts to woo a woman by pretending to be a traveling, artistic scholar by making each one of his messages to her look like it was sent from an iPhone. His created self is nothing like him, which Gilfoyle is happy enough to remind him of at every turn. When the woman actually shows up at their house, seemingly ready to go out to an animation festival, it turns out she was essentially looking for Erlich, who she has hooked up with in the past. It’s a rather simplistic “be yourself” message, as Dinesh is not all that different from Erlich in real life, but it’s an interesting note that Judge plays, conceding that some women, for one reason or another, lust after men like Erlich.
Sex is something that the show has largely avoided outside of punch lines, and this case is no different, as Judge employs a Sade song to symbolize sex. And yet, sex is exactly what ends up saving Richard and the team after Hanneman attempts to have Pied Piper merge with End Frame to get him back up to a billion. For a moment, it seems like the only logical choice, considering the breadth of lawsuits that would have to be filed to get Richard justice with Hooli, Hanneman, and End Frame, until Gilfoyle reveals that, out of vengeance, he stole End Frame’s sales plans and reports. Martin Starr’s character is the series’ deadpan face of logic and reality, and here, he asks Richard bluntly if Pied Piper is worth stealing and cheating over, a question most companies have had to ask themselves at one point or another. In the first season, Richard would have almost certainly refused, but he’s been through the wringer now and is willing to play dirty, which leads him to undermine a deal between End Frame and a major pornography site, by promising the porn company’s CEO that the Pied Piper algorithm offers better compression. It’s a lot of plot, which would seemingly set-up the narrative arc of the next episode or two, but there’s still substance in the moral trajectory of Richard in “Adult Content,” the title of which could easily refer to that which Richard both literally and figuratively needs.
★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism