It’s no stretch to think season 5 will be the penultimate season of Silicon Valley. The members of Pied Piper have seen their fair share of ups and downs in HBO’s tech-bro comedy, with each season seemingly ending with Richard, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, and Jared snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. But this latest outing comes with the noticeable absence of T.J. Miller’s Erlich Bachman, whose departure from the show left no bridge unburned before the comedian was facing accusations of sexual assault. Though the series’ off-season experiences ostensibly flipped the script on the show’s love of bad luck striking its characters at the worst possible moment, the departure of Miller, and by extension Erlich, makes for an interesting and necessary turn for the series to take in its confident fifth outing.
The season is largely concerned with the inevitability of success surrounding Pied Piper and all the ways big and small that Richard Hendricks can and likely will manage to get in his own way and see it all come crumbling down. Richard, of course, is on the verge of creating a brand new internet, a project that is only possible because, in a moment of rare unselfishness, his nemesis, Gavin Belson, handed over the patent needed to make the new internet possible. Though the show is playing with new toys — an entirely new web versus a middle-out compression algorithm — it’s essentially variations on a theme, one that is mostly concerned with doing what Silicon Valley does best: skewer the tech industry’s compulsion for chasing down the next big thing.
To its credit, the show’s writers have put a few stop guards in place to keep the scenario from being Silicon Valley season 1 version 2.0. Those elements mostly see Gavin engaging in various attempts to undercut Richard where he can, all while fighting back the looming specter of his growing irrelevance and inability to innovate fast enough to keep up with the very thing he and his company are supposed to be the leaders of. Gavin’s ego and short-sightedness have nearly cost him everything before but this time it feels as though he’s the agent of his own demise.
The same is true of Richard, to an extent. At the start of the season he’s put in a position he deserves but perhaps is not cut out for — well, not in the most conventional sense. Richard has the ability to inspire, but it’s mostly through his work, not his words, and the first challenge Silicon Valley sets for him is to not only wrangle Dinesh and Gilfoyle, but also to get others to follow him in seeing his idea through to completion. As is usually the case, Richard’s personality and anxieties act as roadblocks in his path to success.
While it’s no surprise that Silicon Valley is still enamored with Richard’s awkwardness, and especially the sounds of his gulping, it’s frustrating that his team, those closest to him and whose own success is indelibly coupled with Richard’s, do nothing to help, even when it’s clear he’s about to figuratively twist himself into a flesh pretzel and step on his own neck. There’re are certainly laughs to be mined from Richard’s latest foray into public humiliation, but it’s so familiar at this point that you kind of want to laugh at how brazenly the show keeps pulling from the same well.
There are hints that change is on the way in season 5. Most of that comes in the form of Jian Yang, who cathartically addresses some of the show's behind-the-scenes drama by dishing out some of the more brutal digs at the now-departed Erlich. Jian’s goal is to acquire all of Erlich’s holdings, including the house where his incubator is set-up as well as his ten percent stake in Pied Piper, and part of doing so is burning a pig carcass and passing the ashes off as Erlich's. Shifting Jian to the role of a sympathetic villain is kind of inspired, as he later becomes the conduit several necessary, though mostly cosmetic, changes that the series is in need of.
Mostly, season 5 of Silicon Valley feels like the show readying itself for the end by taking its favorite toys around the block one more time. That includes a hilarious escalation of the rivalry between Dinesh and Gilfoyle that involves the former’s brand new Tesla and an electric bike that looks like it was built in Thunder Dome. Thankfully, the characters continue to be likable and entertaining enough that the overfamiliarity we have with the scenarios they find themselves in doesn’t undermine the comedy or the desire to see them finally have the kind of success they’ve let slip through their fingers time and time again.
Silicon Valley continues next Sunday with ‘Reorientation’ @10pm on HBO.