“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.

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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.

 

Silicon Valley – Season 3/Episode 1 “Founder Friendly”

HBO’s wonderful comedy, Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, wrapped a tremendously successful Season 3 on Sunday night. Below is my synopsis and review of Episode 1, “Founder Friendly,” written by Dan O’Keefe and directed by Mike Judge.

HBO’s wonderful comedy, Silicon Valley, created by Mike Judge, John Altschuler, and Dave Krinsky, wrapped a tremendously successful Season 3 on Sunday night.  Below is my synopsis and review of Episode 1, “Founder Friendly,” written by Dan O’Keefe and directed by Mike Judge.

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Opening Title.  

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

SYNOPSIS

Pied Piper (PP) founder, Richard Hendricks [Thomas Middleditch], is out as CEO.  Erlich Bachman [T.J. Miller] characteristically and selfishly asks him, “What about me?”  En route to Raviga, Erlich’s van hits a Stanford robotics student’s “Bambot,” a highly resilient and slightly aggressive robotic deer.

After the credits, we open with Richard and Erlich going to the Raviga conference room for a meeting with Laurie Bream [Suzanne Cryer], Monica [Amanda Crew], and attorney Ron LaFlamme [Ben Feldman].  Laurie congratulates Richard on Series A financing of $5 million based on a valuation of $50 million, dryly saying he should feel good about having created a company too valuable for him to run, and offers him a position of Chief Technology Officer, thereby keeping his board seat and allowing his option to vest.  Richard balks.

Outside, Richard asks LaFlamme if she can do that.  She just did, LaFlamme observes, citing the bad deal Richard made against his advice with Russ Hanneman [Chris Diamantopoulos], who later sold his shares to Laurie, giving her effective control of PP’s board.

Arrogantly, Erlich thinks he should be considered for CEO, but Laurie quickly dissuades him of this ridiculous notion, assuring him he will never be CEO.  She suggests to Richard he give his input into the CEO hiring, but Richard quits instead, threatening to sue. LaFlamme then informs Richard he can no longer represent him, being PP’s corporate counsel, not his.

Later, at the house, Monica explains to Richard she didn’t have the power to stop Laurie, but that she stayed on in hopes of changing things in the future.  She informs him Raviga already brought a new highly qualified CEO aboard — “Action” Jack Barker — since Richard claimed he didn’t want any input.  The guys quickly Google Jack and confirm his bona fides.

Monica reminds Richard that no VC will fund a new venture of his for fear of being sued.  Richard counters by saying Jared, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle won’t go without him.  This is news to Dinesh Chugtai [Kumail Nanjiani] and Bertram Gilfoyle [Martin Starr]. Jared, though, doesn’t think twice about remaining loyal.

Meanwhile, at Hooli Gavin Belson [Matt Ross] makes a goodbye announcement, with Nelson “Big Head” Bighetti [Josh Brener] and Gavin’s spiritual advisor, Denpok [Bernard White], sitting front row in the audience, drinking Big Gulps.  But it’s not Gavin who’s leaving — he’s saying goodbye to all Nucleus employees, who he promptly fires.  In cultish adulation, employees gush, “Amazing!”  Denpok and Big Head, depart.

By the pool that night, Dinesh and Gilfoyle conspire, using the acronym, RIGBY, (“Richard Is Great, But Y’know…”) to qualify their conclusions that Richard was presumptuous in assuming they’d give up their jobs for Richard out of principle.

Always the external optimist, Jared finds Richard laying on the floor the next day, depressed.  He plops down a plastic case full of CTO job offers for Richard elsewhere in the Valley, among them, Flutterbeam.

Erlich meanwhile demands to meet Barker [Stephen Tobolowsky] at Raviga. After insulting him about his age, Barker claims to be a big fan of Aviato.  “My Aviato?” Erlich beams.  Indeed.

On Bloomberg TV, we see anchor Emily Chang lauding Gavin for boldly disbanding the failing Nucleus division.  In a Hooli legal meeting, Gavin is informed that the noncompete clause of the employees’ contracts have the same problems caused by the arbitration with PP (resulting in Big Head’s promotion,) but told that he can fire underperforming personnel without cause, which Gavin calculates is about one in five.  The fifth lawyer at the table looks up, saying he’s sorry, he missed what Gavin said. Gavin glares.  (This lawyer doesn’t appear at the next meeting.)

At the house, Jared sets up a meet for Richard at Flutterbeam.  Erlich appears, telling Richard he must meet Barker, who can turn PP from just a unicorn into a deca-corn.  On their way out the door, Dinesh and Gilfoyle notify Richard of their intent to stay with PP.   Richard is livid, angrily questioning their ability to scale the platform without him.  He was the one who coded it.

At Flutterbeam, Richard is introduced to the “rad” new project called “‘Stashe” he’d be overseeing.   He’s dismayed to see it’s a high latency plugin that can put a mustache on anyone’s photos. It’s fine to have his own attorney look over the terms, he’s told.

Cut to Richard entering a correctional facility.  “Are you a lawyer here to see your client?” an officer asks him.  No, he says, I’m a client here to see my lawyer.  The officer lets him in without further inquiry.

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 Richard consults with his disgraced attorney in jail. 

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Richard enters a visiting room where his prior lawyer, Pete Monahan [Matt McCoy]  sits across from him in a prison orange jumpsuit.  He soberly tells Richard he’s prepared to serve his time after he had consumed alcohol, which he thought was organic tea, and then ran around in a blanket with a meth high, assaulting a police horse with a shovel.  He looks at Richard’s Flutterbeam contract, lamenting he can’t redline it because prisoners aren’t allowed pencils.

Back to the house where Dinesh and Gilfoyle realize they can’t figure out how to scale the PP platform without Richard.  Preposterously, they decide to just pretend they’re giving up the project out of solidarity with Richard, in hopes he’ll take them on at Flutterbeam.

Back to the visiting room where Monahan hasn’t been persuaded Flutterbeam is a good match for Richard. He convinces him to at least meet Barker.  Better to eat shit, because you may end up eating worse, he warns Ricard.

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Big Head has been a thorn in Gavin’s side since the beginning.                                                                           Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

At Hooli, Big Head meets with Gary Irving [Gabriel Tigerman] in Human Resources to sign his severance non-disclosure/non-disparagement agreement.  He wants to keep his employee ID to visit his friends on the roof. Gary tells him he no longer has friends at Hooli.  Big Head considers not signing it.  It’s a good severance package, Gary assures him.  Big Head agrees $2 million is good.  No, it’s $20 million, Gary informs him.

Meanwhile, Richard meets Jack at his luxury home and the two have a heart-to-heart. Jack understands and appreciates Richard’s honesty and thanks him and walks Richard to his car.  Jack tells Richard the deal won’t go through without him. We get that Richard thought Jack would push for him, but instead, Jack simply says he’ll backs out of PP altogether.  It seems he considers Richard to be indispensable. Richard rethinks his position. The episode concludes with Richard backing up his car to talk to Jack again.

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Richard and “Action” Jack Barker at Barker’s home. 

Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.

REVIEW

The premiere lived up to high expectations and picked up at a critical point in the story, propelling the season forward well.  It set up Big Head’s wealth and Jack’s influence.

Whether and to what extent the characters’ facial expressions and mannerisms are scripted, under the influence of the director, or interpreted by the actors themselves matters little to the viewer as it’s done so effortlessly and effectively.  The comedy obviously begins with solid, tight scripts, driven by an inherently intriguing and (to this outsider, at least) bizarre culture and one easy to satire.  And this entire cast is sublimely superb, including new character, Jack Barker, introduced here.

The worst part is the opening: the animation is good, but the cacaphony of the intro music is grating, even if thankfully short.

The best plot advancement was taking PP from the incubator stage to a growth phase with Series A financing.  PP can now be deemed a serious player in Silicon Valley.

The best character growth was unquestionably Richard’s.  Finally, the shy, reclusive tech genius asserts himself, leaving behind panic attacks and enuresis, which had played themselves out comedy-wise last season.  Yet, his social skills remain a challenge, along with nearly everyone else’s.  Here is the charm.

The funniest moment was when Richard entered the correctional facility and was asked if he was an attorney in to see his client.  Without missing a beat, Richard replies he’s a client to see his lawyer, and the guard brushes this off as the most ordinary of things.  Then, straight-faced,  Monahan tells him his tale of woe about circumstances landing him inside.

A close second was when Laurie told Richard his company was too valuable for him to run and that he should be proud of that fact.  The social ineptitude of most of the characters, especially Laurie, is what makes them so appealing and comedic.

The most touching moment was when Jared encouraged him, and compiled job offers for Richard, without regard for his own uncertain future.  [We learn more about Jared’s sorry personal history throughout the season, making his eternal optimism all that more endearing.]

A distant second is the rare camaraderie exhibited by Dinesh and Gilfoyle, who, despite pretexts, are, indeed, each other’s best friends.

The coolest moment was the Bambot.  While it seemed merely a fanciful moment for the writer (or a Stanford student), it had that Valley vibe we expect in the show.

The dumbest moments were Big Head’s confusion, especially as to his severance package. It’s true Richard couldn’t justify keeping him on in Season 1.  True, too, the character clearly stands for the proposition that being lucky is better than being good.  But he must’ve had at least some modicum of intellect and rudimentary math skills to have been Richard’s friend in the first instance — at least enough to know a difference between $5- and $50 million package.  He obviously wasn’t coded MR in school if he was coding at all at work.  [Throughout the season, this characterization of Big Head was, by far, my biggest peeve.]

In summary, the premiere episode launched an extremely satisfying Season 3.  I highly recommend the series as a whole and this season in particular, and will buy the DVDs on release.

All images Copyright © 2016 by Home Box Office, Inc.  All rights reserved.  

Screenshots are reproduced pursuant to the Fair Use Doctrine of the United States Copyright Act.

The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

Warning. Here be spoilers! Synopsis of “Better Call Saul” Season 2 Finale: “The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun.”

SYNOPSIS OF SEASON 2 FINALE — BETTER CALL SAUL

The Strange Case of Gilligan’s Gun

It’s a wrap on Season 2 of “Better Call Saul.”  Unlike the penultimate episode, a candidate for “best of series to date,” the season’s finale, “Klick,” was more of a mixed bag.

The cold open further revealed Jimmy and Chuck’s past (at a time when Chuck was married) as the two await their mother’s last breath in the hospital.  While Jimmy’s out getting hoagies, Chuck, looking old, sits at her bedside. He sobs. She awakens briefly, only to call for Jimmy, ignoring Chuck’s presence. When she flatlines and the nurse appears, Chuck matter-of-factly asks if that’s it. When Jimmy returns, Chuck, composed, tells him she died while he was out. Jimmy asks if she had any last words.  Without missing a beat, Chuck lies and says no.

The show then returns to where it left last episode.  Chuck has fallen and hit his head on a counter after being “bombarded” by electricity at a photocopy shop, where Jimmy had previously doctored Chuck’s legal documents, sabotaging the case Chuck had pulled out from under Kim, now in her own private practice.  Last episode, Chuck had ventured to the copy shop with Ernesto to try to prove his suspicion that Jimmy had forged the documents by questioning the clerk who Jimmy had bribed to keep quiet.

Jimmy dashes into the copy shop, shuts of the electricity, and urges the clerk to call 911.  He does. Chuck lands up back in the same hospital with the same doctor he had last season, tormented by the medical tests requiring electricity.

Chuck undergoes tests.  No EKG, CATscan, Chuck pleads, you doctors don’t have my consent. There are odd POV shots, not quite Chuck’s but not the physicians’ either, depicting the terror Chuck experiences from electricity. At his doctor’s urging, Jimmy decides to obtain a temporary guardianship, pending Chuck’s recovery.   He seems to sincerely apologize to Chuck, who calls for Ernie, waiting in the hall.  Chuck demands to know from them why Jimmy was there so soon after he fell, suggesting, accurately, that Jimmy was lurking around to bribe the copy clerk.  Jimmy is speechless, and Ernie tells him he had called Jimmy because he had been worried.  In fact, he hadn’t called Jimmy.

After, when they’re alone, Jimmy asks Ernie why he said that.  Because, Ernie explained, Jimmy was his friend (from the mailroom at HHM) and Chuck had been saying terrible things about him behind his back lately.

We cut to a scene where the bearded Mexican ice cream truck driver who botched the drug money transport moans in the back of a van, hogtied, with his mouth taped shut.  The van is driven by a ponytailed Mexican and Nacho.  They drive through the desert and go through a gate.  Mike watches from his car and tries to follow discretely.

A torturous POV scene with Chuck as he’s scanned.  Meanwhile, Jimmy waits in the waiting room with Kim, as his newly-produced patriotic and poignant “Call Jimmy, a lawyer you can trust” commercial finally airs on television.  Kim loves it.  Jimmy powers down his cellphone, apparently expecting an avalanche of calls.

After protracted testing, Chuck is determined to be medically fit, having suffered only stress-related syncopy, commonly known as a panic attack, but having now entered into a self-induced catatonia.  The shot is an odd one — with Chuck’s room seeming to reflect off a mirror.  Seemingly angry with the doctor, Jimmy sits down to wait for Chuck to recover, while Kim stands by.

Cut to Mike and the weapons-dealer he met in a prior episode, practicing long-distance shots with some sort of assault rifle. He center hits the target.  The dealer recommends he use .168 hollow point bullets.  Mike takes one box.  The dealer wipes his prints off the weapon, saying “no offense” to Mike. “None taken,” Mike replies.

Through a time-lapse shot familiar to the show, a day later, Chuck awakens in his dark hospital room where Jimmy waits.  He demands water from Jimmy and asks about any involuntary psychiatric commitment. Insisting it’s just a temporary guardianship, Jimmy takes Chuck home, getting him to agree to have Ernie come by later.  Jimmy leaves.

Now alone, Chuck goes to his dark garage full of obsolete electronic items, and with a wooden utensil, retrieves something out of a box which he takes inside.  A music score plays.

Mike takes the weapon and hides out, laying in wait, presumably to shoot a youthful and spry Hector presumably issuing orders to the cousins.  Crickets chirp. Through the crosshairs, Mike watches the cartel’s cars and hut.  Ponytail digs a hole while the others wait in the hut.  From the hut, we hear hollering before returning to Mike and the crickets. Mike cocks his weapon, but never seems to get an unobstructed shot of Hector because Nacho always seems to be covering him.

One of them shoots Beard. He falls into the hole. Mike observes them through his scope. They go back inside.  Mike watches Ponytail bury Beard.

Suddenly, Mike hears a car horn blare in background.  He packs up, returning to his car, where a branch has been wedged to blow the horn.  He removes the branch. The horn stops.  On his windshield he sees a small sheet of paper that warns him simply, “Don’t.”  He looks around with a shotgun and sees no one.  Mike’s weapon never fires this episode.  What’s up with that?

Jimmy, who now runs his own solo practice in the same office as Kim, is interrupted by a call from Howard, Chuck’s law partner at HHM.  Howard asks Jimmy if he’s responsible for something alarming Chuck has apparently done.  Jimmy leaves his office with a waiting room full of elder law clients (presumably due to his riveting TV commercial) to go see Howard, leaving Kim to tend to them by getting them coffee and donuts, and after referring to her as his “associate,” and “young lady.”

Jimmy drives his yellow jalopy to Chuck’s house.  Now locked-out without a key, he bangs on the door until Chuck lets him in.  Chuck has draped aluminum foil on his walls to approximate the effects a Faraday cage to protect himself from anxiety-producing electromagnetic energy.  These walls are just plaster and lathe, he observes, invisible to radio spectrum.

Jimmy urges him to stop for just a minute so they can talk.  Chuck relents.  Jimmy tells Chuck that Howard told him he had quit HHM and the practice of law.  Chuck says he only retired.  Jimmy stresses how important the law is to Chuck.  Quite presciently perhaps, Jimmy comments Chuck can’t retire until he gets Jimmy disbarred and runs him out of town on a rail.  Yes, Chuck says, but he made a mistake and harmed his client. He could no longer perform his lawyerly duties. Instead of admitting to a mistake, he had blamed Jimmy.  He cries, the second time we’ve seen him do so, and in the same episode.

Apparently remorseful, Jimmy reveals that everything Chuck had accused him doing, he had, in fact, done for Kim’s benefit, who had secured the account in the first instance and who had earned and needed it.  He admits Chuck’s brain functions fine. He adds he thought Chuck would just gloss over the error like any “normal” person and move on.  Knowing that now, Jimmy asks if he can tell Howard Chuck wouldn’t retire.  Chuck nods his assent.  Do you realize, Chuck inquires, you just confessed to a felony?  I guess so, Jimmy answers, but you feel better and it’s your word against mine.  He leaves.

The camera reveals: the item Chuck had brought in from the garage was an old cassette tape recorder.  He got Jimmy on tape.  With his wooden utensil, he shuts the recorder off.  The finale ends.