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‘Silicon Valley’ Review: ‘Hooli-Con’ Is Another Complicated Step Toward Mutually Assured Implosion


After the last few weeks, when the Pied Piper team spent most of each episode riding high, only to be brought down by the show’s patented combination of hubris and impossible luck, this week’s episode of “Silicon Valley” effectively flipped the script, leaving the team in better circumstances than when they started. It’s an odd change for Season 4, which has put its characters through repeated tests of commitment and resilience to test their mettle. “Hooli-con” showed a group of people on both sides of this tech-based feud who are having less and less to show for their efforts.

Mia, Chekov’s lovesick hacker, worked her way into the fold again, unwittingly helping the team with their newly hatched scheme to siphon off new users from Hooli-con attendees. Even though Dinesh was able to wrestle some technical assistance from her, something about their interaction points to idea that we haven’t seen the last of her attempts at revenge against who she thinks put her in prison.

READ MORE: ‘Silicon Valley’ Review: ‘The Keenan Vortex’ Shows Why These Guys Might Never Really Be Happy

With a plan in place and a very morally conflicted CFO in Jared, the gang goes to Hooli-con with a single goal, blinded by the potential for added attention from watchful Hooli eyes. Some of those other eyes also happen to belong to Keenan Feldspar, who spots Dinesh and Gilfoyle on the exhibit floor before the world’s most prolonged double-take. (Considering the pair had just spent the preceding minutes arguing over logistics of pouring molten liquid in an unpleasant orifice, Dinesh and Gilfoyle’s trepidation at seeing the object of their anger is understandable.)

When Gilfoyle runs into Keenan a second time, it gives him the rare chance to engage with someone from outside the Pied Piper inner circle. Often charged with playing the aloof, disapproving player in the Pied Piperverse, seeing Martin Starr get the chance to show some stronger emotion felt like another hint at possible developments to come. Given that the show has used Erlich and Richard as primary intermediaries between the boys from the incubator and the outside world, it’s refreshing to see one of the coders getting a chance to make their presence known in the wider world now that Erlich has departed, seemingly for good.

Kudos to “Silicon Valley” for being able to capture the twin banality and massive scope of a convention, a place where fans can seek out product launches and tech advancements (and as one of the banners shows, at least Seal is a keynote speaker). From the outside world, these giant expos often have a futuristic glow of hype surrounding them. Leave it to this series to again cut through a sensationalized view of the tech world and show that behind every giant product demo is a bunch of unseemly booth edges, ripe for someone to sneak in a pineapple or two.

Once again, though, all “Silicon Valley” roads lead back to Richard. Over the rocky Pied Piper journey, it’s been easy to characterize him as the level head, the ambitious idealistic one aiming the team towards a changing end goal. But between this recent Hooli-con impulsive ex-girlfriend-fueled feud and the “limp biscuit” disaster from a few weeks ago, it might finally be time for the rest of Pied Piper to question whether or not his momentary incompetencies are worth putting up with in the long run. The beginning of this season teased a Dinesh-led Pied Piper. Even though that was ultimately a disaster, it’s hard not to imagine a big discussion of a change in leadership — beyond Jared’s misgivings — as the show trudges toward its season finale.

“Silicon Valley”

Frank Masi

For someone who is willing to risk felonies and financial insolvency to see his New Internet idea succeed, the level of pettiness needed to sabotage his new rival’s setup seemed forced. Plus, this low-stakes battle for dating supremacy only underlines the episode’s biggest crime: underusing guest star Flula Borg.

Whether Richard’s latest misstep seemed motivated or not, it did prove once again that Richard is bad at being bad. Erlich can leave sweet gigs on a whim, Gilfoyle can reprogram a refrigerator for his own mischief, but anytime Richard’s devious plans spill over from the ambitious to the trivial, the whole team suffers. Whenever he strays from the path of sincerity, the Fate that Erlich mentioned at the outset comes back to slap him in the face.

Richard’s personal and professional roller coaster has gotten increasingly proportional amount of screen time and has become the focal point of the show’s frequent philosophical quandaries. It’s fortunate, then, that the rest of the ensemble has been able to do so much with a narrowing share of material. Stephen Tobolowsky delivering the dad-joke payoff to an episode-long Jamiroquai gag proves why he’s one of the best in the business. Each of Dinesh’s new realizations in the ongoing hacker saga has given Kumail Nanjiani the chance to show off some very funny and subtle character work.

READ MORE: ‘Silicon Valley’ and T.J. Miller Part Ways: How Season 5 Can Survive Without Him

And Jared. Poor Jared. The Jared Woo™ can’t possibly be topped in the pantheon of Season 4 moments, but Zach Woods’ oddly stirring “Poopfare…?” speech at the end of this episode shows that “Silicon Valley” can still mine some unexpected sincerity from its characters lowbrow impulses.

As if he heard Jared’s plaintive cries, Hoover grants the Pied Piper team a rare bit of leniency, effectively excusing their attempts at grabbing up Hooli-con attendees. It’s fascinating to see how, once again, Gavin Belson’s complicated legacy ends up working to Pied Piper’s favor. Hoover’s decision not to press charges is a key way for this episode to underline how loyalty is one of this world’s most valuable currencies.

For a show that often approaches its plot as a zero sum game, this is an episode that didn’t have a winner, aside from our central group of gate-crashers escaping the wrath of Jack Barker. The unholy alliance of Barker and Keenan Feldspar certainly won’t look good after their Samsung-ian PR disaster. As Gavin Belson’s new Tibetan retreat houseguest, it’s unlikely that this excursion into the Himalayas will fill the Aviato-sized hole in Erlich’s heart. And now the ongoing brotherhood of Richard and Jared, a foundational element of “Silicon Valley” is now torn asunder. It’s a quandary that no course correction will easily solve in one episode, so we could be looking at a very new normal for these folks when the dust settles.

Grade: B

“Silicon Valley” Season 4 releases new episodes Sundays at 10:00 p.m. on HBO, HBO NOW, and HBO Go. 

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‘The Sinner’ Finale: Creator on the Masked Captor’s Identity and What Season 2 Could Look Like


[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from the season finale of “The Sinner.”]

“I know you did it for your son,” Cora Tannetti (Jessica Biel) tells the man who had imprisoned her for two months, during which he shot her up with heroin and obliterated her true memories. It’s a curiously generous statement for her to make, but it’s not the first time that “The Sinner” has found sympathy and common ground for people’s failings.

USA Network’s summer psychological thriller began with Cora stabbing Frankie Belmont (Eric Todd) to death seemingly without provocation during a day at the beach. It turns out that five years ago at a party, Frankie had tried and failed to revive Cora’s sickly sister Phoebe (Nadia Alexander) with whom he had been intimate. A song that was playing at the time of the tragic accident was the same song that triggered Cora to attack Frankie during that day at the beach.

The season finale reveals the author of Cora’s deeper psychological trauma: Frankie’s father Dr. Belmont (Christopher Innvar). In order to protect his promising med student son’s reputation, Dr. Belmont sent his son off to California for a job and took care of covering up Phoebe’s death without his son’s knowledge. Part of that cover-up involved holding Cora prisoner in a small bedroom and giving her heroin until she was addicted and her arms were scarred up. During these two months he also brainwashed her into forgetting the events of that fateful night and into thinking she was a drug addict and female escort.

In adapting the German novel “The Sinner” for the USA miniseries, showrunner Derek Simonds was satisfied with keeping the biggest reveals – the parts that Frankie and his father played in Cora’s trauma – the same for American audiences.

Jessica Biel and Christopher Innvar, "The Sinner"

“In the end, I’d say the big reveal and such are faithful to the book,” Simonds said in an an interview with IndieWire. “The thing that I love about this material is that it engages like a great suspense novel should, but every reveal and twist — and there are a lot of them – deepen the humanity of the characters rather than cheapens the humanity of the characters.

“There’s a lot of thrillers that by the third act, characters start acting in really extreme, unbelievable ways,” he added. “Someone you sympathized with suddenly is just plain old evil and they’re sort of reduced to a bad guy. ‘The Sinner’ never jumps the shark that way. It never exaggerates human behavior or resorts to cheap shocks. The reveals end up showing a lot of parents and children doing the best they can in tragic circumstances, and then the shame that results from that and the consequences of that shame. It feels like a very human story that could happen in the house next door versus a really overblown stylized gruesome thriller.”

The Creepy Ski Mask

One difference in the series is that Frankie’s dad hides his face behind a ski mask, instead of relying on Cora’s faulty memories to protect his identity.

“That’s one aspect that was not in the book at all that we created for some additional mystery and also just to make the backstory more plausible,” said Simonds. “If Dr. Belmont was keeping Cora for two months in her room, why would he show his face to her if he really wanted to hide his story. So that was something that we put a lot of logic that we parsed in the writer’s room.”

The imagery was effective, especially since the ski mask was a dark beige color, which made it appear more like a burlap sack, sort of like the one used on scarecrows.

“Our props master Duke Scoppa brought in a whole range of masks. This particular one, we all responded it,” said Simonds. “It was a vintage hunting mask for cold weather hunting. I think I responded to it partly because of the beige, that there’s something plush and kind of friendly and comfy about the material. It’s like a stuffed animal. Yet, when you put it on, it creates these dark holes for eyes and a kind of creepy, unknown face. So it’s this scary Muppet kind of [character], which is disturbing… and kind of unnerving.”

PTSD and Trauma

Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"

“The Sinner” isn’t only an exploration into the events of that one night or what Dr. Belmont did to Cora afterward. How her religiously fanatic mother raised her and the ways Phoebe took advantage of her instilled a deep sense of guilt and shame in Cora. She was already primed her for the shameful narrative that the doctor fed her. That deep repression of actual facts is also what led Cora to snap at the beach.

“We did a lot of research about PTSD in particular, the performance PTSD psychosis that Cora suffers from where she’s actually reenacting the moment of trauma,” said Simonds. “We talked to several social workers and psychologists who also work in the justice system and evaluate prisoners and suspects. This was a part of the story that we wanted to take very seriously. This is a genre story, it’s a psychological thriller and we wanted it to be entertaining, but we also wanted it to be responsible and speak authentically to these issues and ground them in as much reality as the story could in the time that we had.”

Simonds has been gratified that many viewers are responding not only to the mystery aspects of the show, but also to the psychological issues.

Nadia Alexander and Jessica Biel, "The Sinner"

“It’s fascinating the responses from people. For instance, the incest scene in Episode 6 between Cora and Phoebe, there such a range of reactions to that scene,” he said. “There were people who were incredibly offended and wanted to stop watching the show because we portrayed that scene. Then there were other people who really responded to exactly how traumatized Cora was, how she had lost her agency, how she was being manipulated by her mother and then her sister and JD. They saw what we were trying to say psychologically with that scene. It just reflects to me how open or not open people are to the sort of relating to others, how easily we can either judge or empathize.”

Continue reading for the trouble with Harry, Season 2 possibilities>>

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