The opening sequence of “Sand Hill Shuffle,” the first episode of Silicon Valley Season 2, features Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), the gangly genius behind Pied Piper, attempting to hit a ball off of a pitcher from the San Francisco Giants. As Richard is not one for sports or outdoors activities, the speed of the pitch startles and scares him, and the image of him leaping away from the pitch could serve as the encapsulation of the tumult that Richard and the Pied Piper team must grapple with now that their data-compression algorithm is a hot ticket in the tech hub. Indeed, the stress, strategizing, and preposterous competitiveness that goes into securing a lucrative pitch is the focus of the first few episodes of Silicon Valley Season 2, and “Sand Hill Shuffle” works as a funny and contemplative opening aria.
The chance to hang out with the San Francisco Giants is part of the wooing that the Pied Piper team have been wading in since their debut at TechCrunch Disrupt, though, inevitably, Erlich (T.J. Miller) likens it more to oral sex. The party at AT&T Park is rife with insiders, warranting a brief cameo from the Winklevoss twins, but the only conversation that leads anywhere for Richard is a quiet one he has with Javeed (Charan Prabhakar), a former up-and-coming tech guru who lost all his money during a down round following a hugely inflated appraisal. Javeed is the type of person who didn’t get riled by the pitch when his company, Googlibib, got funded, but then got overly confident and competitive, and co-creator Mike Judge sets up Prabhakar’s character as a walking, talking cautionary tale for Richard.
Of course, the money seems less important when the team learns of the passing of Peter Gregory, the head of Riviga Capital and Pied Piper angel investor played by the late Christopher Evan Welch. It says a lot about Judge’s show, which he co-created with his King of the Hill partners John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, that there is no sentimental farewell to Gregory, but rather the announcement sparks a long-form subversive joke undermining the myth of the adventuring billionaire. A large portion of the story focused on the inability for anyone to properly express their feelings about the death, with the arguable exception of Monica (Amanda Crew), his assistant. The fact that Gregory’s replacement ends up being Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer), an awkward, seemingly emotionless female version of Gregory, speaks to the likelihood of the show finally confronting the female element in the titular “cradle of innovation,” per Gregory.
It’s not surprising, then, that the centerpiece of the episode is a montage of Erlich, Richard, and Dunn (Zach Woods) “negging” investors, flipping a popular, misogynistic dating tactic used primarily on women as a way to pump up their appraisal. And it’s telling that it’s ultimately Monica, the show’s only recurring female role thus far, who gives Richard the sage advice that no one else has offered up, which is to simply be honest with himself when it comes to his company’s worth. In other words, Richard is tasked with sublimating his more “masculine” traits, as well as his wanting to show up Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and Hooli, in the hopes of building a sustainable, progressive business. It’s such simple, smart logic that Javeed, after hearing Richard talk about Monica’s idea, suffers a whole new meltdown of regret.
It’s not all lollipops and gum drops after that, however. At Gregory’s memorial service, Richard finds out that Belson has drummed up a lawsuit claiming that he invented Pied Piper with help from Hooli, a brazenly false declaration. Just because Richard and his team have opted out of the macho side of capitalism doesn’t mean anyone else has, and Judge is acutely aware of how weak a decision like Richard’s looks, even if it is, ultimately, the right thing to do. At one point, Belson opines that he doesn’t want anyone to be helping people better than Hooli does, and it’s in that line that Judge gets at the conflicted heart of a generation of “progressive” businessmen who made their fortunes off of social media, data storage, and smart phones. Even if the politics are generally less execrable than they are on Wall Street, Silicon Valley still runs on a ruthless code of the basest kind of capitalism, with bragging rights over the size of your charitable donation to help feed children in Uganda replacing nonchalantly sharing the make and model of the Lamborghini you use on the weekend during a conversation with Cheryl in accounting.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good