Silicon Valley is a deeply cynical show about a deeply idealistic place. Creator Mike Judge and his writers are constantly snickering behind their hands at the idea that this delivery app or that photo-sharing platform is going to “make the world a better place,” as their inventors and investors inevitably proclaim.
But what if the people with the real power in the world’s innovation capital aren’t deluded idealists at all but the worst sort of cynics -- greedy, cowardly, nakedly hypocritical? That’s the unsettling question in the air as episode 2, “Runaway Devaluation,” gets under way.
Pied Piper is in trouble. Gavin Belson, the billionaire founder of Hooli, is suing the startup for copyright infringement. It’s a frivolous lawsuit, but he’s hoping he can buy time until Hooli’s own data-compression product is ready, or scare off Pied Piper’s backers, or both. And it looks like he can.
Even though she was ready to invest $20 million at a sky-high $100 million valuation just hours before, Raviga Capital managing partner Laurie Bream balks when she learns that Pied Piper is under a legal cloud. Hoping to pressure her into following through on her verbal commitment, Richard and his team make another round of the other VC firms that were offering funding. Each of only wants to know one thing: Is it true that the other firms said no?
And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. The same monkey-see-monkey-do behavior that sent Pied Piper’s valuation skyrocketing in the last episode is now running in reverse. Implicit in the sequence is a real critique: Here are the people who style themselves the great visionaries and iconoclasts of the global economy, the heirs to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, yet they’re incapable of breaking with the pack. At least the Wall Street wizards who figured how to repackage sub-prime mortgages as derivatives weren’t afraid to try something risky.
Also not afraid to try something new, if deeply stupid, is Dinesh’s cousin, who is running a Kickstarter campaign for a new app he wants to launch, called Bro. It’s exactly the same thing as Yo, except instead of only saying “Yo,” it only says “Bro.” Thinking he was getting $10,000 from the TechCrunch Disrupt prize, Dinesh pledged half of it to the campaign, only to find out the prize money is needed to keep Pied Piper afloat. Unfortunately for him, the campaign succeeds -- with an obnoxious assist from Gilfoyle.
For a moment, though, it looks like Bro might be Pied Piper’s salvation. Through the app, Jared becomes bros with a VC whose firm is still interested in investing. The team assembles for another pitch, only to get the sense halfway through that the partners are a little too interested in hearing about their product. Erlich puts a hasty end to the meeting, explaining that the firm is trying to “brain rape” them -- ie. steal all their secrets with no intention of investing.
That’s pretty cynical. Yet the biggest cynic of all is Belson, who summons Richard to dinner to parley. Accused of using his lawsuit as a competitive bludgeon, Belson makes no attempt to deny it. Instead, he offers to acquire Pied Piper. But, Richard sputters, that would be selling out. He didn’t launch a startup just to become part of some corporation. Belson scoffs at this. If the goal of starting a company isn’t to become a big corporation, then what is it? Before they can resolve their standoff, a mariachi band descends on their table, bringing the discussion to a temporary halt.