Falling flat: Silicon Valley satire is a no show

We watched this week's episode so you don't have to

Recap Trouble lies ahead for the plucky nerds of HBO's Silicon Valley and not only within the show itself.

Last season, it took until the eighth episode of the 10-slot run for the show to fall flat on its face (a trip from which it swiftly recovered). This time around it has happened - literally - in episode three.

Last time, we left our crew wrestling with the fact that their dreams and their dream technology had been turned into silicon mush thanks to a box-pushing CEO and a reductive sales team.

The sheer mundanity of what most of Silicon Valley actually produces - chips and servers - was beautifully laid out at the start of the episode as the team walks around a vast server warehouse, being shown the slots in the server racks where their Pied Piper box will live.

Worse still, as they walk past the "mole people" in their enclosed offices off to the side, their fate is foreshadowed when they are shown a small desk and told that the sales team has offered 24/7 on-site tech support for the first year. Dreams fold into one another and the warehouse itself appears like something out of Inception.

And so the episode is set up. This will be the one where former CEO not CTO Richard confronts the CEO, moves away from a box to a platform and saves the company (and the world).

Of course it was not to be. And that's what makes this satirical take on the tech industry so fun: failure at every turn. But, unfortunately, this episode felt like it was from a parallel universe where Silicon Valley had been commissioned but picked up none of the writers, directors, or actors that managed to make the magic happen week after week.

As Pied Piper itself has devolved into just another server company, so has the show itself, becoming dull, plodding and recycling not-good gags.

A dull, lifeless existence in a server farm: too close to reality?

Choking on the gag

In a comedy writer's room, an idea is thrown out and the writers riff off it, coming up with different ways to land the joke. Actors do likewise during filming. The idea is to grab the best and run with it. When things go wrong is when the show gets lazy and several of them end up in the final show.

And that's what's happened this week with a throwaway idea about Dinesh buying and wearing a gold chain being stretched far beyond its one-gag potential and even extending into a misguided effort at buddy building.

The whole episode felt a little lazy. The basic idea of Richard trying to undermine the CEO's plan, thinking he's won, and then failing is good comedy pretext. But the show literally repeated it three times in 30 minutes. It felt like the next episode had already been written and this one was being stretched out to fit it.

If there is a saving grace it may be in a clever joke taken from the episode's title: Meinertzhagen's Haversack.

The haversack is rather poorly explained in the show by star straightman Jared as "continuing to act the part". Basically the Pied Piper team decided it would build its consumer platform while pretending to build the company box.

But that poor explanation was almost certainly intentional because the actual story of Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen in the First World War is far too good to pass up.

Joke within a joke

In order to help the British seize parts of the Middle East from the Turks, Meinertzhagen devised a plan to carry fake documents with him in his haversack and then "accidentally" drop them when being chased in order to give fake intel over invasion plans.

It was called the "Haversack Ruse" and it worked. The Turks thought the British were going to attack Gaza and moved their main forces to it, leaving a small contingent at the real attack point of Be'er Sheva. The ruse was so successful, it was used again in the Second World War to trick the Italians and Germans in Operation Mincemeat.

Anway, at the end of episode 3, season 3 of Silicon Valley, Richard accidentally stumbles on a water hose and his plans for the team to run a secret operation inside the company fly out of his hand and land at the feet of one of the sales team, who takes it to the CEO. The episode ends with the CEO angry and demanding for a meeting with them.

Of course, if Jared had given a full explanation of Meinertzhagen's Haversack, it would have immediately given the game away. And so we await the twist of episode 4, where hopefully we can all get back on track and forget this episode ever happened. ®

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