Better Call Saul — A Review by Liz Warner (Season 3, Episodes 1-3 Spoilers)

 

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 10.15.39 PMBetter Call Saul’s premiere for season three is now history. The cold open featured Jimmy [Bob Odenkirk] as Gene at the Omaha Cinnabon taking a lunch break. When cops try to chase down a shoplifter, he points to the youth, but after police make the arrest, Gene yells out, “Get a lawyer!” Gene returns to work after lunch and passes out, falling to the floor.

The show then picks up immediately after last season’s finale. Jimmy helps Chuck [Michael McKean] take down his home’s mylar wrapping as they reminisce, but Chuck informs Jimmy he won’t forget what Jimmy did to him and the Mesa Verde documents. Chuck, staying on at his law firm, HHM, reveals the confession tape to Howard and “accidentally” to Ernesto when Ernesto brings him fresh batteries for his tape recorder. Chuck gives him a B’rer Rabbit warning.

Jimmy and Kim [Rhea Seehorn] continue their separate law practices, but Kim has to pick up some of Jimmy’s elder law clients (who know about flowers, including perhaps, lily-of-the-valley?) on top of her Mesa Verde work.  Paige tips Kim off as to what happened with HHM.  Kim starts second-guessing her drafting in a typing/retyping montage. The Air Force captain calls out Jimmy for his Fudge Talbot commercial last season.

Meanwhile, in a long montage, Mike looks for and finds a tracker in the gas cap of his car after he received a note, “DON’T” on his windshield. He gets a replica of the tracker, and programs it to call home. He drains the battery on the original so it emits a low power warning to his spies and places it nearby.  He replaces the original with his own, waiting for the trackers to come take it while he lies in wait, eating nuts.  This, ultimately, will lead him to the Gustavo Fring [Giancarlo Esposito] drug ring. While the screenwriter maxim of “show, don’t tell” was illustrated here, it was also an example of why a little exposition is really okay–the montage was a bit of a challenge to follow.

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Screen shot of Mike Ehrmantraut from Season 3 premier “Mabel.”

The show’s been criticized for its glacial pacing, and this season so far hasn’t surprised.  Whether another show could get away with this snail’s pace is uncertain. Here, though, viewers have grown to trust Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould as storytellers.  Also, it’s a prequel and viewers essentially know what happens, making the journey, not the destination, more interesting.

Better Call Saul, a prequel to Breaking Bad, is arguably a better show.  Why? The premise is more tethered to reality.  And, more importantly, the characters are more believable and sympathetic.  Jimmy is a charming and witty conman cum matchbook cover lawyer who looks for the easy way out.  His OCD brother, Chuck, studied diligently for his law degree earning his reputation the hard way, and resents his younger brother.  (Birth order matters here.)  Kim is meticulous and only flirts with thinking outside the box, which is part of her attraction to Jimmy. Crooked ex-cop Mike has the patience and wit to outsmart the best. Howard works at keeping the practice successful, despite personnel problems with neurotic Chuck.

Compare these characters to those on Breaking Bad. Walter White was a long-term high school chemistry teacher who inexplicably had no health insurance, but a pleasant middle class home and SUVs.  His pregnant stay-at-home wife Skyler only sold things on Ebay, despite the family’s financial distress.  They had a disabled teenage son.  Skyler’s childless sister, Marie, stole shoes and had a fetish for the color purple.  Her husband

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Screen shot of Mike and Gus from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

Hank was an arrogant DEA agent who eventually saw the light regarding Walt, who, after a terminal cancer diagnosis, decided  to “break bad” and start cooking and selling crystal methamphetamine to build a nest egg for his family when he’s gone. He met up with a former student and lost soul, Jesse Pinkman, who had drug connections. They used the skills of Mike, an ex-cop. Eventually, they connected with Fring’s drug ring, with colorful characters, but not very relatable ones.

Breaking Bad was excellent, but even at the onset, it was difficult to like, or be sympathetic to Walt or most of the other characters.  The only ones I ever cared about were Jesse, Mike, and Hank, though these characters weren’t as well developed as they might’ve been.  You know it’s not going to go well for these people, but you stay tuned to watch the train wreck.

Contrast Better Call Saul.  Admittedly, there are many fans who hate Chuck, and in prior seasons, Howard was the subject of viewers’ wrath, but overall, the characters’ faults and transgressions are more credible, even Chuck’s anxiety of electromagnetic spectrum.  They have some pleasing qualities, even Chuck, who is devoted to the legal profession, and Howard, who has shown himself to be charitable at times.  Mike reappears, and we learn a bit of his backstory, which includes the unfortunate death of his cop son, who may or may not have been corrupt.

Personally, I’m in no rush for Jimmy to become Saul or for the Breaking Bad world to re-materialize.  I’ve been down that road already.  In fact, I’d rather see the transition from Saul to Gene, but we’ll likely only get our next glimpse in the premiere to the next season, where the Gene scenes are generally placed.

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Screen shot of Chuck and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

We know Chuck can’t forget Jimmy’s document tampering. He uses the brotherly psychopathy the McGills are known for to set up Jimmy, knowing Jimmy will break into his house, trash his desk, and threaten to get his taped admission back. In a momentary act of feigned or sincere concern (it’s hard to tell which), Chuck explains he’s called the cops on him for Jimmy’s own good (unlike what Gene did with the kid.) To Chuck, it’s an intervention. To Jimmy, it’s a betrayal, though his sabotage of Chuck last season was nothing less than reprehensible and unforgivable.

Chuck also sets up Jimmy’s friend, Ernesto, proving the rule that nice guys finish last.  He aims to negotiate the terms of Jimmy’s prosecution with the ADA which results in a plea offer that can’t go well and could result, minimally, in ultimately getting Jimmy disbarred.  This could leave Jimmy either practicing law as Saul Goodman without a license to practice altogether, or having him retake the bar exam under a false name.

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Screen shot of Kim and Jimmy from Season 3, Epsiode 3 “Sunk Costs.”

What happens to Kim, who Jimmy truly cares for, remains to be seen, but we don’t see her in the Breaking Bad universe nor have we seen her in the Omaha-Gene milieu (although she originally hails from neighboring Kansas.) Thus far, she’s remained loyal to him, though Jimmy won’t accept her offer for legal help (unlike what Gene recommended to the kid.)

We know what happens to Mike, but there is a good deal about his past that could be interestingly explored in this prequel. The law firm HHM is dependent on Chuck’s not cashing out, so there’s ample room for conflict there in future episodes.

BCS continues its signature style, interestingly now using 3-D printers and drones in the production of the show. The story unravels slowly but surely, with a flair for both drama and comedy.  There are too many show-don’t-tell montages for my taste, but the show’s tightly and intricately written. It’s also exceptionally well cast.  Odenkirk and McKean are particularly award-worthy.

I’ll be aboard this train for the long haul.

“Mr. Robot” – A Television Review by Liz Warner

Mr.Robot

“What’s Mr. Robot?” I wondered aloud.

“It’s a TV show about hackers,” was the response.

That’s all I needed.  A hacker I’m not, but in my world as a writer, hackers can fill the role of hero or villain very nicely.  They can save the world or horrify us all as much in a good story as they do IRL.  I decided to watch it.

The pilot begins: “Hello, friend.”

That’s Elliot Alderson [Rami Malek] in his annoyingly droney and psychotropic-stupor-induced voice, telling viewers in a slang even we geriatrics in our mid- to late 30s understand, that he is narrating his own story to us, his imaginary friend.  It’s with that hook we’re lured in, by line and occasional sinker.  Tearing down that fourth wall can be risky, but here, it’s sublime.

The script for the pilot is available online.  It’s good on the page,  perhaps the best pilot I’ve personally ever read, but it plays even better visually.  It’s safe to say, if you don’t like the pilot, you won’t like the show, period.

The shooting style is unique and edgy without being over the top and is among the show’s strongest attributes. Some scenes in its so-far two-season run, often with wonderful musical cues, are arguably among the best in television in terms of impact. Thankfully, the camera crew doesn’t bounce the gear for cheap thrills, using angles and lighting for effect instead.

Wikipedia claims Elliot suffers from anxiety disorder and clinical depression, but it’s quickly evident he’s got more than a little good old-fashioned neurosis and mood disorder.  He’s truly psychotic, presumably schizophrenic, on top of having a substance abuse issue with morphine, apparently requiring an emergency stash of Suboxone for withdrawal.

Nonetheless, Elliot seems to hold down a computer security engineering job at a cyber-security firm called AllSafe, run by a fretful Gideon Goddard [Michel Gill], thanks to his childhood friend Angela Moss [Portia Doubleday]. AllSafe’s largest client is mega-conglomerate, E Corp, which Elliot mentally morphs to Evil Corp, both visually and aurally.  We eventually come to understand E Corp was somehow responsible for the deaths of the main characters’ parents. The CEO of E Corp is Phillip Price [Michael Cristofer] who sees opportunity in crises.

After a DDoS attack against E Corp, Elliot happens across a .dat file in the company’s network which he discovers was implanted by something called fsociety.  Intrigued, he leaves it intact.  In the subway, he later meets up with a man who we will learn is Mr. Robot [Christian Slater].  Mr. Robot urges Elliot to Coney Island where he is introduced to fsociety, a misfit underground anarchistic vigilante hacker group, co-led by a troubled young woman named Darlene [Carly Chaikin]. The fsociety objective seems to be to erase all consumer debt and disrupt the world as it exists. They are somewhat successful.  This is where the story deepens.

Often through Elliot’s point-of-view and diminished mental status, we watch his perceptions of the grim reality around him, never quite sure how accurate it really is. We hear his questionable account of fsociety hacking, through voiceover, to us, his imaginary friend. By the end of season 1, we’re given an unsurprising revelation as to his supposed identity, thanks to Mr. Robot.  Darlene’s identity is further revealed, as well. (No real spoilers here.)

The story doesn’t always unfold linearly, and the storyteller is unreliable, so there’s always some uneasiness as to what it is we’re to make of it.  Plan on second-guessing a lot.  If you’re not a fan of speculation, pattern matching, or hunting for Easter eggs, this may not be your show.

As wonderful a show as creator Sam Esmail has created, though, it’s not without some problems.  The cast of characters other than Elliot could be developed more fully.   To be fair, season 2 endeavors to do this.

The hodgepodge of characters is certainly appropriate in the setting of Gotham City, where people of all cultures and backgrounds are densely packed into shit-hole walk-ups, cooking with not much more than a hot plate and sleeping on Murphy beds, but even so, it sometimes seems more like a nod to diversity hiring than enriching the story, at least so far.

The women on the show are generally quite vacuous, and not relatable, serving the narrative by primarily by being victims of different types of abuses, intentional or otherwise. The dialogue, especially for the female characters, but some male ones as well, is almost embarrassingly on the nose.  There’s also plenty of exposition through dialogue, though I’ve never been particularly put off by that in this or other shows.  What’s depicted here on computer screens is minimized, and is purportedly grounded, thanks in part to a technical consultant, Andre McGregor, brought in for season 2.

In the adult hour of TV, there must be the occasional obligatory sex or romance scene.  In the case of Mr. Robot, though, that cannot happen with dysfunctional Elliot, unless, perhaps, it’s with a close blood relative. One is left presupposing the writers’ room consists only of lonely men.  (Surprisingly, it isn’t.)

One female character, an FBI agent named Dominique DiPierro [Grace Gummer], who sucks a roll-your-eyes Tootsie Roll pop à la Kojak, shows some promise.  She quickly evolved to become insightful, and a bit alienated herself, talking to Alexa in bed alone at night, amplifying the dystopic alienation of people in the digital age, even or especially in densely populated areas, amidst trying professional and personal circumstances.  Her goal, of course, is to foil the evil hackers who caused such disruption. At the end of season 2, we believe she may just do so.

Speaking of which, a gripe of mine continues to be the underemphasis of the crisis that would emerge in a world where people cannot easily access their money.  Surely it would be more chaotic than depicted.  The few scenes attempting to show this do it well with wonderful set pieces, but several months after the so-called 5/09 attack, one would expect more reaction from an alarmed world and the bureaucrats trying to contain the unrest.

Out there in the nether world of Mr. Robot is White Rose [B. D. Wong], a transgender woman and head of the dreaded Dark Army, who morphs into Zhang, China’s Minister of State Security.  Where all this goes next is anyone but Esmail’s guess.  It could succeed or bomb spectacularly.  I’d be up for this character to be used to draw out a sophisticated plot line or character arch based on currency (or Ecoin) manipulation by the Chinese, furthering the idea that monetary control is illusory.

Regardless, I’ll be lurking around for the duration of Mr. Robot if only to see how Esmail and his room worm their way through this dark matter.  Having invested a fair amount of time to the series, I’ll be annoyed if USA pulls it before it receives an honorable ending.  I’m fairly optimistic it will, however, as the series has generally received critical acclaim and won some awards, even if the audience ratings aren’t especially stellar.

I’m further encouraged by the fact that Esmail apparently originally wrote Mr. Robot as a feature, which suggests he envisioned a beginning, middle, and end.  This should lessen the chance it will devolve into an unwieldy mess that highly serialized shows are prone to becoming under network executive pressure to either wrap too soon or drag on indefinitely.  Still, the second season had some pacing problems.

So what is Mr. Robot?

The logline could be something like, “Under the leadership of an identity-disordered, delusional cybersecurity engineer, misfit millennial hacktivists seek vigilante justice to avenge their parents’ deaths and to change the world by attacking the computer architecture of the world’s most ubiquitous mega-conglomerate.” The theme centers around the notion that “control is an illusion.”

Mr. Robot is a hybrid.

It’s a dystopic psycho-techno-eco-thriller reality and time bender mind-fuck where you really must chose your own adventure.

It’s as intriguing as it is hard to quite grok.  That’s not a bug, it’s its feature.

Whether Elliot turns out to be the ultimate hero, villian, or antihero remains to be seen, but for now, we can just take him at his word — that he wants to change the world.

Mr. Robot has been renewed for a third 10 episode season on USA Network beginning in October 2017, all directed by Sam Esmail.

Silicon Valley “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack” S-3, E-3 Synopsis & Review

HBO’s Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, completed its third season with aplomb. Here is a synopsis and review of Episode 3, “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” directed by Charlie McDowell and written by Adam Countee.

HBO’s Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, completed its third season with aplomb.  Here is a synopsis and review of Episode 3, “Meinertzhagen’s Haversack,” directed by Charlie McDowell and written by Adam Countee. 

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John shows Richard, Gilfoyle, and Dinesh their future in a box. 

SYNOPSIS

Opening scene of a mole-ish, pony-tailed guy named John, giving Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle a tour of Maliant, a data center. This is your life and where one of the PP boxes would go, he says.  And another.  When they state that seeing one is like seeing them all, John says that’s what he thought, till he saw them all.  John then asks if they’d like to see the desks, where they’d install a PP engineer.  Huh?  Your sales team told me we’d have a PP engineer on site for maintenance 24 hours a day for at least the first year, he tells them.  The guys are horrified.

Even at night?  Gilfoyle asks. There’s no difference between day and night, John observes. Richard suggests it might be a good time to leave.  John asks which of the 16 staircases would they like to go out of.  Richard suggests John’s favorite. John thinks about it for a beat, then escorts them, but the guys get lost in the maze of racks, their calls for John echoing and unanswered.

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Jack Barker reads Richard the riot act. 

After opening credits, Richard approaches Jack in his office, saying he doesn’t want to bury his algorithm in boxes at Maliant.  Short-term, he says, it’s okay, but not long-term. Jack’s more worried a fish in his aquarium might be dead.  He points out his Conjoined Triangles of Success chart on the wall.  They’re in a box, he notes. Admiring the serendipity of the coincidence, he instructs secretary, Gloria, to call the fish guy.

If we build the box, will you promise to let us build the platform?  Richard asks.  We’ll worry about that then, Jack says.

Hearing the meeting with Jack went poorly, Gilfoyle tells Richard he’s changing his LinkedIn status to “Looking for Work,” asserting the box is “artless commerce.”  Jared tells him there’s paperwork in quitting.

At the house, Gilfoyle gets swag delivered from new companies trying to recruit him, including hoverboards and an Oculus. He catches Erlich eating his Popcornopolis and Dinesh wearing a gold chain around his neck and rags on them.

Richard tells Gilfoyle to return the gift baskets because Monica just called and got him in to see Laurie. Jared questions the wisdom of breaking protocol by going over the CEO’s head, but Richard tells him when you push a man so far he goes out and buys a gun and shots and robs a bank.  “I wouldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  I’m not. I’m not going to,” he backpedals.

By the pool, Erlich asks Richard if he’s angry with him.  When he wasn’t invited along to the new offices, Erlich was hurt.  He wants Richard to want him to talk to [Jack] Barker. Richard reluctantly agrees.

In Jack’s office, Erlich pronounces Jack’s fish as dead and says he’s sorry for his loss.   He calls to Gloria to take “this daughter of Neptune to whence she belongs.”  When she gives him a quizzical look, he clarifies, “the toilet, dear.”  He then broaches the problem.  “What information do I not already have?” Jack demands.  He doesn’t want to hear any “free-form, jazz-odyssey of masturbatory bullshit” from Erlich.  Unsuccessful, Erlich reports to Richard that he needs to either build the box or talk to Laurie.  On his way out, Erlich speaks Japanese to the gardener.

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Erlich prepares Jack’s dead fish for her last rites. 

Richard goes to Laurie, who views art with Monica–a question mark harvested from human hair from dead Indians.  “It’s a pun,” she informs him, about asking the big, hairy questions. She agrees the box is an “uninspirational application of technology,” and says she’ll call Jack.  “I was never here,” he tells her. “You are here, now,” she notes. Monica explains Richard meant he’d prefer she didn’t say anything to Jack. “Yes, because the other meaning makes no sense,” she replies.

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Laurie critiques artwork. 

She calls Jack after Richard returns to the office with the guys. Richard is called into Jack’s office.  He asks Richard who he thought he just got of the phone with.  Richard feigns ignorance.  He tells him it was Laurie, and she said she thought the box was “woefully misguided,” and wanted a plan for the consumer platform Richard and his team wanted to build within 48 hours.  Richard agrees, but Jack says no, build the box.  But Laurie’s the investor, Richard protests.  Yes, Jack agrees, but he told Laurie if she did that, she’d have to fire him, and she wasn’t willing to do that at this time.  Get a prototype in 12 weeks, Jack demands.  On Richard’s way out, he warns, “If you’re going to shoot the king, you’d better be goddamn sure you kill him.”

Back at the house, Jian Yang answers the door.  A TwinX recruiter delivers liquor to Gilfoyle, telling him he must take a meeting first.  He agrees.

Meanwhile, Richard approaches Monica about Laurie firing Jack. She can’t fire Jack, she says, it would look chaotic after she just fired Richard.

Unbeknownst to him, Gilfoyle’s interview is with Endframe.  You stole half our algorithm, he says. He’s told they already have the other half of code for middle out, showing him a diagram, thanks to Nevine and Eric from Nucleus. They want Gilfoyle because he’s a full-stack engineer.

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Gilfoyle interviews with Pied Piper’s nemeses. 

Cut to the diagram at the house. They have the entire prediction loop “down to the last semicolon.” Richard laments that they’re building a box, while Endframe is building their platform.  At least we’ll make a little money, says Dinesh.  To buy gold chains, Gilfoyle taunts.  He sees Dinesh isn’t wearing the one he had earlier and even Jared busts his balls.

Dinesh concludes they must do as Jack wants.  Erlich enters the room, booming, “Or do we?”  He’s ignored.  Jared agrees with Dinesh. “Or do we?!” Erlich repeats.  Erlich calls on the team to build the platform the way they motherfucking want to.  Just tell Jack what he wants to hear.   Richard reasons that Jack wouldn’t be able to complain after the fact because to do so, he’d be admitting he didn’t know what was going on in his own company, and meanwhile, Laurie was already on board with it.

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The guys plan a skunk works. 

Dinesh still needs some convincing.  A skunk works is underway.  They plan it out as a team.  Dinesh points out they’re shorthanded, but Erlich knows just the man for the job.

Cut to the pool at night.  Carla’s there.  She wants back wages, lost wages from the old job, and damages from “Jared’s sexual harassment her into being friends with that Monica-chick”   simply for not telling Jack about their plan.  They pay her off with most of their remaining cash, about $20,000, in what they dubbed extortion.

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Carla Walton extorts Pied Piper. 

In a time-lapsed scene, the guys finish their plan.  Even Dinesh is in on the condition his gold chain isn’t made fun of ever again.  They realize they have to fake liking going to work.  Jared calls it Meinerzhagen’s Habersack, which he explains is a principle of military deception of pretending.  This also means, Gilfoyle insists, they have to keep on making fun of Dinesh’s gold chain.  At 7:30 AM, they drink to the plan. Except Jared, who pours his shot back in the bottle.

The guys go to the PP offices.  Richard has a file folder in hand.  They get off the elevator and Richard trips over the gardener’s watering hose.  The papers go flying, and Keith picks them up.  Skunkworks?    Keith takes the papers to Jack.  Richard brought the papers into the office to shred.  Jack comes out of his office:  “Guys?  My office.  Now.”

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The guys are caught in the act of sabotaging Pied Piper. 

REVIEW

It’s hard to not be impressed by Richard’s development throughout this season as he asserts himself, but this episode shows Erlich at his very best.  (Spoiler alert, he reverts to being an arrogant prick soon!)  Here, he’s about as humble as he could possibly be, and manages to inspire an action that will be instrumental for Richard and the guys throughout the season.

Jack, conversely, is an asshole this episode when he seemed like a reasonable guy when he first arrives on the scene.  He’s growing impatient with the development of the box and becomes downright petulant with setbacks from Richard, and later, Laurie.  His admonition to Richard about killing the king was foreboding.  By episode’s end, Jack’s positively apoplectic when he learns of the skunk works.  He has a great arc.

Laurie exhibits character growth, as well.  While she sees the inadvisability of the box, she can’t quite nix it, coldly calculating the business risk of firing a second CEO so quickly.  She amplifies she has the wherewithal to contribute to PP’s anticipated short-term success.

Third, we had what seems to be a semi-satisfying conclusion to Carla’s arc when she learns of the skunk works planned and uses the information for “self-help.”   It was a bit of a stretch to think the guys wouldn’t foresee this, although it could be attributed to the characters’ overall social ineptitude.

The funniest moment perhaps belongs to Laurie when she drolly replies to Richard’s request to keep their meeting to herself.  All the characters in this show have very unique voices, but Laurie’s (and Jared’s) are probably my favorites.  They’re inherently funny characters.

Erlich’s oratory skills almost always delight, and here, he elicits some laughs with his pronouncement of death of the fish, requesting that Jack’s secretary take care of final arrangements.

John delivered some memorably humorous lines, too.  It all starts with a great script, of course, but when combined with a great cast, the show becomes a master class for the crafts of screenwriting and acting.

The most touching moments were, unexpectedly, Erlich’s.  His wanting Richard to want him to talk to Jack shows a level of desperation inconsistent with his typical cockiness.

The coolest moment was when the guys got lost in the opening scene because it displayed the hermit life so many of these people live in the vast wasteland that is a data center with its sameness and drudgery.

The dumbest moments throughout the season are Big Head’s and Jian Yang’s.  Big Head has been effectively infantilized, even though last season, he and Richard were BFFs.  I didn’t buy it. And, in this episode, Jian Yang is again a completely dispensable character.

Fortunately, Dinesh’s gold chain gag didn’t come up again this season.  It played out quickly.

The wonderful twist in this episode was Gilfoyle’s unintended interview with the Nucleus/End Frame engineers.  As we as an audience gleaned they had put together the missing piece of middle-out compression, watching Gilfoyle realize it for the first time was instructive as to just how loyal to Richard and PP he really is.

This episode delivered the goods both in terms of comedy and drama.  The actors, even those with minor roles, are so perfectly cast, and the interplay and interaction are all spectacular. Mannerisms and facial expressions work for great reaction shots and add a lot to the comedy.  It’s an exceptional viewing experience as a result.

All images Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.  Screenshots are reproduced pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine of the Copyright Act.

SIlicon Valley – Season 3/Episode 2 “Two in the Box”

Synopsis and Review of Silicon Valley Season 3 Episode 2 “Two in the Box.”

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Silicon Valley, HBO’s highly successful comedy, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, finished its third season in June. This is my continuing synopsis and review — for Episode 2 “Two in the Box” written by Ron Weiner and directed by Mike Judge.

SYNOPSIS

The episode opens with Richard back at the doctor [Andrew Daly]. He is either hypochondriacal or a glutton for punishment. The doc proclaims him to be healthy, so much so, he tells him if he didn’t know better, he’d say Richard was pregnant. He asks if he’s had any lifestyle changes. Richard explains he got fired and now works as CTO under a new CEO at Pied Piper (PP), Jack Barker, and is optimistic about it. The doc is incredulous he’d work under anyone at his own company, and tells Richard he needs to check his testicles. Richard asks why, a hernia or something? He starts to prepare for the exam. Just want to make sure they’re still there, the doc gaffaws at his gallows humor. To opening credits.

Erlich, Dinesh, Gilfoyle, Jared, and Richard take the elevator to the posh Pied Piper office for the first time, and see the new logo Jack had made. The old one, he claims, was “a little phallic.” Jack gives them a tour. Haroki, a Japanese gardener, works on an indoor water feature for proper feng shui. A micro-kitchen will be catered by a Chef Amy so the guys are never hungry at work. Richard inquires if they can afford it.

Jack sits Richard down in his office and explains the miracle that is Google and how by providing cuisine and massages, they succeeded in retaining the best and the brightest. He points out a plaque on the wall called “The Conjoined Triangles of Success,” something he invented and was now taught in business schools. “Growth” is at its foundation.

Meanwhile, Dinesh and Gilfoyle get themselves settled in engineering. They play Rock, Paper, Scissors to determine who gets the big monitor. Dinesh wins, provoking Gilfoyle to ask if he doesn’t just play Rock, Rock, Rock, like what they’d do in Pakistan. Jack and Richard overhear them and Jack tells Gilfoyle to just order a large monitor. He asks Jared if he’d like one, too. No, Jared says, he’s a BYOC guy.

After Jack leaves, Jared shyly asks if he could have the box the monitor came in. Why? Dinesh asks, So you can sleep in it? No, Jared, replies, not missing a beat, he hasn’t slept in a box for years. He’s been living in Noah’s guesthouse. Now, with Piped Piper’s success, he can afford to move back into his condo, which he had been Airbnb-ing to cover the mortgage. He’s been missing his tub, and Noah’s been using a lot of hate speech lately. Erlich takes his leave, obviously useless, and tells them, “I gave you this.” He takes cartons of coconut water with him.

Cut to Hooli, where, in front of his staff, Gavin Belson searches himself on Hooli Search, as he does every morning. To his consternation, he sees inflammatory articles appearing, such as “Nucleus is Tanking.” He tells the team he no longer wants to be confronted with such things. An employee asks him incredulously if he’s instructing them to fundamentally alter the neutrality of the Hooli search algorithm in violation of the public trust. Google, he notes, is being sued for that very thing by Yelp. Of course not, Gavin reassures them. Moments later, staff tells Nucleus division employees Gavin’s wishes. They balk, saying they don’t work there anymore (they had been fired in Episode 1.) You do for the next ten days, they’re reminded, and they must do it unless they wish to quit and forego their severance packages. Gavin loyalist, Patrice [Jill E. Alexander], looks disgusted with them.

In an attractive building, Jared tries to unlock the door to his condo, but the inside chain prevents this. His tenant peers out. Jared politely says he’s confused: he thought the tenant would be out according to their agreement. A change of plans, he’s told. The tenant says he can’t afford to move or to pay rent, so… Through some convoluted logic, he explains to Jared that he can’t afford to pay because of all the tech companies moved in, raising rents and since he, Jared, works in tech, it all kinda evens out. “That makes no sense,” Jared says. “I know, right?” the tenant replies. Jared kindly offers to let him stay a couple more weeks max, but then he’d have to take legal action. The tenant slams the door on him.

Jared relays his ordeal to Richard back at the house, who asks where he slept last night. “I did not,” Jared admits, keeping a stiff upper lip. Then he, Richard, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle leave for a surprise breakfast at work, leaving Erlich behind. Jared reveals the surprise is gluten-free waffles, saying he had requested them from Chef Amy since he had too many dietary restrictions to leave it to chance.

Erlich interviews a new potential “incubee” who catalogs malware, trying to entice with him with the expensive unpasturized coconut beverages in the fridge. That’s not the concern, the incubee tells him, it’s the room–it’s kind of a dump. Erlich reassures him it will look great next month, but the incubee tells him he’ll need it earlier than planned. In background, Jian Yang purposely spills water out on the floor.

At Pied Piper, Jack has hired a sales staff, who are introduced to the guys at the company pool table for the first time: You’re not hiring engineers first? Richard asks. “God, no!” Jack exclaims.

At the PP conference room table, Keith (from Northeast Regional) [Shannon McClung], Don (of Systems Integration) [Phillip Jeanmarie], Jan “the Man,” (Director of Inside Sales) [Erin Breen], and Doug, (shadowing Keith) [Eddie Liu] listen to Richard’s presentation about PP.

Jack is mysteriously called out of the meeting and Richard learns from Sales that Jack told them Pied Piper would be business facing, not consumer facing. It’s a misunderstanding, Richard says, the plan is for PP to be marketed as “freemium” to people first and sold at a premium to businesses later. Then why are we here? they ask. Richard leaves to find Jack at the elevator, and Jack confirms he said it would be enterprise. Talk to your guys, he urges Richard, promising he won’t compromise the platform. Profitability cannot wait.

Back at the house, Erlich presents Jian Yang with a Japanese kimono (even though he’s Chinese) along with a request to leave, even requesting he bow in acceptance. Jian Yang is pissed and ceremoniously throws out the kimono.

Richard informs Dinesh and Gilfoyle of Jack’s switch to enterprise, which they agree to since it seems like Jack knows what he’s doing. Gilfoyle notes they’ll still be building the neural net and not scrapping peer-to-peer delivery.

Jared learns eviction will take a year. Richard fumes having to rewrite a part of the business plan, hoping it doesn’t delay them. Gilfoyle isn’t worried since “Endframe sucks and Nucleus shit the bed.”

Back at Hooli, an Endframe engineer asks another how he script digested all the strings so fast. It’s just a predictive loop, like a context tree, he’s told. They have a Eureka! moment.

Erlich gives Jared his garage to live in pending the eviction. Jared appreciates the cozy quarters. Jian Yang observes, demanding to know why Erlich is giving Jared the garage when he must leave. Erlich explains Jared’s tenant won’t move out. Jian Yang asks why he can’t go to the police. Erlich explains he got fucked over and must go to court, but the legal process will take a year. “Do you understand?” Erlich demands. He does. Jian Yang responds that he, too, will hold over for a year rent-free, like Jared’s tenant. “No recourse,” he tells Erlich.

The Hooli engineers figure out that if they stack that same loop (from earlier) on top of the bitlevel encoder they stole from Richard and then tethered it to the routine, they’d get a huge jump in speed, like Richard did at Tech Crunch (season 1). We just cracked middle out, they realize. Should we tell Gavin? they wonder. No, they decide, since they’d been fired, and realizing how much they could get from taking the idea somewhere else.

Richard learns at a sales meeting that they now want to take away the neural net but he doesn’t want to delete machine learning or get rid of cloud peer-to-peer. No, those go, says Keith. Why don’t we just do a box, Richard asks sarcastically. “A rack-mounted server-type device?” Doug asks seriously. “That’s fucking stupid,” Richard says, leaving the meeting.

The receptionist [Chelsea Ireland] tells Richard Jack is at the vets. Richard races out to find Jack in a barn where two horses mate. Jack’s breeding mare is in heat. Richard explains there is a problem with Sales. If they’re such good salespeople, then they should be able to sell the platform as envisaged, he reasons. No, Jack says, you have to give them easy things to sell or they’ll just leave.

Richard confidently makes an impassioned plea to Jack, reminding him he promised he’d never compromise the product. Jack asks him what he thinks the product is. It’s not the platform, the algorithm, or the software he says. “Is it me?” Richard asks. God, no, Jack says, the product is the company’s stock. Worry about changing the world, making the world a better place, and miracles later. Meanwhile, he says, he paid $150,000 for that semen to come out of the stallion and he intends to watch it happen. Jack then tells Richard he got a text from Keith, who said he loved Richard’s idea. Richard’s baffled.

Cut to a Sales meeting, where Richard watches a video about how PP can help companies wanting to protect their data from spies (showing Snowden), thieves (an Occupied person in a Guy Fawkes mask), and criminals (a handcuffed man), and foreigners (Dinesh). The video promises a secure data storage solution, and then shows a black box with the PP logo, and slogan, “Think inside the box. Powered by Pied Piper.”

Dinesh and Gilfoyle enter the scene gushing over a Chef Amy creation. They see the projection of the box. What’s that, they wonder? A VCR? Why does it say Pied Piper on it? And why does everyone look so happy? The episode ends.

REVIEW

Thankfully, (and spoiler alert!) this will be the last doctor visit Richard has this season. At this point, it’s established he has untreated panic disorder, but Richard helps himself more than the doc will, so this has played out. We’re happy to see Richard learning to live with the situation at PP and stand up for himself and his vision.

The worst part remains the opening theme music, which I think I’ll stop mentioning as we’re stuck with it. It’s some sort of electronic piece called “Stretch Your Face” by Tobacco.

The plot advanced well in this episode with Jack basically pulling the rug out from under Richard by abandoning the peer-to-peer and neural net from the platform and replacing the whole thing with, of all things, an unoriginal black box. So much for remaining loyal to Richard’s vision.

The best character growth continues to be Richard, who stands up to Jack three times in this episode. The first time, he backs down a little, the second, he’s more adamant, and the third, he makes a passionate appeal to Jack. At the end, though, he’s thwarted when the sales department goes ahead and makes a marketing video for what it is they want to sell rather than what Richard and his team planned to develop.

A close second in terms of character growth was Jian Yang, who, despite slow English has a quick wit. Not thinking, Erlich explains Jared’s plight to him, which Jian Yang throws back at Erlich, telling him he’s staying a year, too, rent-free, like Jared’s tenant. It’s debatable whether an audience would be pleased to see him develop beyond a weak, seemingly exploited immigrant into an annoying, destructive asshole. I wasn’t.

Third, we had homesick Jared, who characteristically tried to work with his Airbnb tenant amicably, but who he decided he would, in fact, have to evict. He’s still a pushover, but is at least beginning to grow a pair. Way to go, Jared!

The funniest moment goes to Jared, too, when he laughs off Dinesh’s inquiry about sleeping in the box, and soberly explains he hasn’t slept in a box for years. Throughout the season, we’ll get small pieces of his sorry backstory.

A close second was the rationalization of Jared’s tenant as to why he didn’t think he had to vacate. As one expects in this show, the script is funny, but it’s the delivery by the actors that nails it.

The most touching moments were when Jared used magical thinking to cope with almost everything bad that happened to him. His wistful eyes and shy grin make him an almost poignant character.

The coolest moment was the horse-mating scene. This may played differently among the audience, but I kinda dug it. It humorously exhibited the type of over-the-top hobbies high-earning tech execs seemingly enjoy.

The dumbest moments were Jian Yang’s. Personally, I think this character is irritating, but unfortunately, he appears written into the script for a year. Perhaps Erlich will get lucky and come up with some creative and outlandish way to get rid of this thorn in his side. Jian Yang does nothing to develop the story and is just there for a gags, which have played out at this point.

In summary, this episode did more in moving the story and main characters forward than in delivering comedy. That’s not a bad thing. Even though the show is a comedy, there is significant drama to it, as well. Here, we leave many of the major characters in bad places, wondering how they’ll deal with it. As always, the actors have been perfectly cast so the interplay in their roles and interaction with each other are spectacular. Mannerisms and facial expressions work for great reaction shots and add a lot to the comedy.