Over the last few episodes of Silicon Valley, creator and often-time writer-director Mike Judge has been slowly backing away from focusing on the egotistical, foul-mouthed doings of T.J. Miller’s Erlich. This would seem to be part and parcel of Richard’s storyline, which now brings the Pied Piper creator to a point where he can afford a beautiful new office for the company, rather than squatting in Erlich’s “incubator” for another year. In “Server Space,” however, Judge brings Miller’s character’s loneliness and paranoia further into the limelight, though the last two episodes have teased these feelings subtly, especially when Erlich comes into contact with Russ Hanneman. As Erlich’s vulnerability becomes more clear, Richard and him grow closer as friends, and “Server Space,” on the whole, feels like the series’ most emotionally resonant and thoughtful episode to date, which is no small feat considering the show is focused on a hub of smart-ass alpha-nerds and man-children.
It’s fitting, then, that the episode opens with a hilarious sequence that considers the physical outcomes of stress manifested by managing a major start-up, beyond simple, overbearing frustration that never ends. Richard’s doctor suggests that the night sweats that Richard has been suffering from might eventually make him a bed-wetter, which is another crudely sly way of Judge reiterating the idea that capitalism brings on infantilism and immaturity. Renting the new office is meant to help his stress levels, and not just because the new offices are one floor down from a popular Silicon Valley modeling agency. The move would, in effect, separate work from home life for Richard, allowing him to work on his social skills instead and develop something like a social life.
As per usual, however, Gavin Belson and Hooli derail these hopes, this time by threatening all prominent server companies that he will pull Hooli business if they take on Pied Piper as a client. Indeed, Belson is increasingly favoring personal grudges over actual innovation at Hooli, and Judge makes his callously vindictive and hugely self-serving business philosophy as clear as day in the episode’s most memorable sequence. While Big Head is working on a bigger, faster…potato gun at Hooli XYZ for Belson, Professor Davis Bannercheck (Patrick Fischler), the co-head of XYZ, creates a robotic arm for a monkey, which quickly uses its new limb to play with itself and throw his excrement against the wall. The monkey is, in essence, a reflection of Belson, who uses his own great gifts of technological intellect and business savvy only to masturb…boost his ego and attack his competitors.
Still, Belson’s tactics have major consequences at Pied Piper, even if they ultimately bring out the best in Richard’s colleagues. When Belson kills off their necessary server source, it’s Martin Starr’s Gilfoyle who steps up and agrees to build the servers for Pied Piper himself. Though Starr’s deadpan delivery has been his major asset as a comedian, it’s worth noting that this is the man behind Freaks and Geeks’ Bill Haverchuck, arguably the most endearing character to appear on any television comedy in the history of the form. In “Server Space,” Judge and Starr give faint, alluring glimmers of his emotional connection to Richard as he pitches building the servers in-house, while also discussing how truly revolutionary and powerful Richard’s ideas and Pied Piper have become.
That being said, it’s primarily Erlich and Richard’s relationship that anchors “Server Space” and it comes to a head when they start having run-ins with their neighbor, who continuously spouts that the neighborhood that Pied Piper is based in is for families. When zoning restrictions threaten to shut down Pied Piper, it’s the neighbor who threatens to turn them in, despite the fact that he has a small zoo of ferrets, which are illegal to own as pets in Silicon Valley for some reason, living in his backyard. The neighbor excuses personal, unlawful passions to feign being part of a community, and it’s Erlich that sets him straight, pointing out that the neighborhood is only popular and well-kept because of companies like Pied Piper working out of the houses. It’s a borderline revelatory moment for Silicon Valley, which is largely cynical of Richard and Erlich’s generation of tech innovators, suggesting that the legacy of companies like Pied Piper has larger, positive sociological implications. Here, Erlich and Richard aren’t marked by the vapidity and strained machismo that comes with being part of the Silicon Valley community, but rather by their part in building up other communities and inspiring ambitions outside of those that benefit them. In other words, they’re doing what Gavin Belson likes to say he’s doing.
★★★★★ Excellent — Awards material