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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 Crown’ Season 2 Review: Despite Focusing on Relationships, Netflix’s Drama Turns Too Dreary and Cold


There are far worse ways to study history than watching “The Crown” — high school history class comes to mind, especially at schools with misplaced teachers like Mr. Kraz. But there are better ways, as well, even in television’s incomplete, sensationalized fashion. Pertinent period details frame series like “The Americans” and “Mad Men,” or there are meaningful tales told of specific historical figures like “John Adams,” the “Band of Brothers,” and “The Young Pope.” (Hey, the future will one day be historical, too, and Lenny will be pope.)

What separates these programs from Netflix’s new crown jewel is an opinion; a stance, one way or another, on what all this means; a personality of its own making rather than a suffocating allegiance to facts. And in a darker second season about the most personal problems of Queen Elizabeth’s life, this voiceless neutrality breeds an even colder, more distant, and altogether less engaging set of historical accounts.

Those who enjoyed Season 1 won’t likely be overly upset, as these shifts are subtle and easily overshadowed by an onslaught of prestige. Scripts are well-crafted. Images are opulent in texture and scenery. Acting remains a top attribute, especially Matt Smith and Claire Foy who are even more front-and-center this year than last. Favorite figures like Jared Harris and John Lithgow are missed, as are their heartfelt characters (Harris’ kingly father figure) and episodes (most notably, “Assassins”), and Peter Morgan’s second season fittingly opens on a bleak, rainy day in February, 1957.

Queen Elizabeth (Foy) and the newly crowned Prince Philip (Smith) are at a crossroads. Sitting in the shadows, reluctant to face each other, the married couple’s allegiance to one another is being questioned in the public, and the two must decide how to move forward. Before an answer is given, the series shifts back in time five months to examine how the royal pair ended up in such a state.

The Crown Season 2 Episode 2 Matt Smith Netflix

Mercifully, this isn’t a framing device for the entire season — Morgan catches up to this scene in the third episode — but it does draw attention to the predominant themes of marriage, equality, and progress. Episodes focus on Philip’s frustrations with his position, his tragic childhood, and his perceived dalliances with women other than Elizabeth. The series doesn’t go so far as to show Philip with another woman, but it strongly implies casual couplings during his time away from the city and depicts a budding vanity that often distracts from his duties.

Smith builds a character who’s easy to dislike without being totally alien: It’s both a challenging and enviable development to take on, and Smith progresses Philip quite well. The kind of presumptive sexism displayed will make him an even more hated figure given current cultural context, but he’s not a monster or a predator; he’s merely a powerful man doing what powerful men did at the time.

The latter point is more of the show’s stance than an absolute interpretation. Morgan makes some bold choices in what he’s willing to include, but bold choices do not equate to bold positions. “The Crown” only goes so far, after all, even with its principal subject. Though Elizabeth is often made into a pitiable object, she’s more reactive than declarative in Season 2.

The Crown Season 2 Claire Foy Matt Smith Netflix

Characters often bring up the queen’s obligation to the crown, and they almost always frame her allegiance to tradition in contrast to personal desires. Last season saw Elizabeth deny her sister the love of her life because their marriage would embarrass the family. Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) is still smarting from that decision — she’s quite the drunkard in Season 2 — but Elizabeth has moved on; she’s accepted her duty and is entirely possessed by it.

The show seems to have followed suit, and the fifth episode illustrates the underlying problem of hiding behind history. Based around Lord Altrincham, an unknown newspaperman and failed politician, “Marionettes” focuses on how the writer’s scathing opinion of a speech made by the queen gains traction. At first, her advisers tell Elizabeth not to worry about it. They think it will be dismissed outright because of the subjects’ undying loyalty to her office.

But when Altrincham appears on television to defend his articles, the tide turns. He’s not a crackpot or an attention-seeker. He genuinely loves the monarchy and wants to help it transition into the 20th century. He’s speaking for the people, and the people are behind him. The episode ends with a footnote, saying the royal family eventually adopts every one of Altrincham’s suggestions, and this final word successfully shifts the episode from its original position — the condemnation of a crackpot vs. the queen — to its ultimate message: that one man speaking truth to power can sway the course of history.

The Crown Season 2 Dogs, corgis, running Netflix

It’s a strong episode on its own, but “The Crown” lacks the same courage overall. Morgan’s drama only feels comfortable taking a stance when its got historical precedent behind it: The condemnation of the royal family’s stuffy policies is included because someone actually condemned it and they listened, whereas when the family’s outdated and inhumane beliefs are brought up — like their disgusted intolerance of homosexuality — “The Crown” seems to shrug and say, “Well, that’s how it was back then.”

Whereas “Mad Men” and “The Americans” provide context to indicate how the audience should react (think about the opposing marketing firm throwing piss balloons on black protesters, or Philip’s struggle to follow through on certain missions), “The Crown” is content to just depict what happened. When the queen is forced to think about homosexuality, she collapses and her hand is shown grasping the window, like Kate’s in “Titanic” — except Elizabeth isn’t in the midst of passionate backseat sex, she’s just passionately unhinged at the idea of a man kissing another man. Such a simple point could’ve been made without the grandiose bombasticity that lends the series a coldness that’s hard to come back from.

It doesn’t condemn these ideas just as it doesn’t condemn Philip’s actions. Of course, it doesn’t support them either. While very good at instructing the audience how Philip and Elizabeth are feeling, rarely does it evoke the same level of feeling from viewers. The series is so diligent to the history books — “There was a meeting and, as best we can tell, this was discussed, so they probably reacted like this…” — there are more frustrations than surprises and more acceptance than understanding.

Some viewers may look for exactly this in their television: a beautiful recreation of historical events, connected by safe assumptions about the people who lived through them. But television is capable of so much more, and whether you like “The Crown” or not, its medium evokes stronger, richer feelings elsewhere.

Grade: B-

“The Crown” Season 2 premieres December 8 exclusively on Netflix.

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