Since the dawn of Silicon Valley, the HBO comedy has been draped in critical acclaim, save for one big problem: its very noticeable, and unnecessary, lack of women on screen, which showrunner Alec Berg recently defended. The Pied Piper crew, led by the ultra-awkward Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch), is famously full of dudes, from Satanist Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) to bloviating incubator head Erlich Bachman (T.J. Miller). But, the very dramatic exit of Miller, and therefore his air-sucking Erlich, at the end of season on 4 gave us some ill-advised hope for the 2018 season. With the absence of Miller, who was accused of sexual misconduct since leaving the show (he denied the accusations), creating an Erlich-sized character vacuum in the Silicon Valley world, there must be a little bit more room for women around the Pied Piper office, right? Somewhere?
Sunday night’s season 5 premiere, “Grow Fast Or Die Slow” proved just how wrong that assumption is.
Obviously, the first candidate for picking up all of Erlich’s ceded screen time is Monica Hall (Amanda Crews), the only woman in all of Silicon Valley to receive a credit for every single episode of the HBO tech evisceration. Despite Monica’s status as a technical main character, she didn’t even appear in 2017's season finale, “Server Error,” or even get a stray mention. On the other hand, “Action” Jack Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), a mere recurring character, was given an entire hostage situation plot line and a starring role in the episode’s pettiest joke. Clearly, Monica could use some love in season 5.
Unfortunately, the venture capitalist doesn’t get that in “Grow Fast.” While Richard is permitted to show off his physical comedy skills — that damn outlet! The pizza box exit! — and corporate lawyer Ron LaFlamme (a much-welcomed Ben Feldman) even has some fun with Sliceline puns, Monica is relegated to her usual Voice Of Reason box. At the close of the premiere, the VC arrives to criticize Richard’s most recent act of vengeance, acquiring companies Sliceline and Optimoji and subsequently crushing their CEOs over a business affront.
This nerdy-macho display forces Richard to hire 50 employees when he only needed 12. Monica and Richard argue over his ridiculous decision, and how difficult it will be to justify to Laurie Bream (Suzanne Cryer), who has final say on Piped Piper’s financial moves. All together, Monica says roughly 10 sentences in the episode, and all of them are about Richard.
Going further into the season, things don’t seem to get much better for for Silicon Valley's sole “leading lady.” While Monica is at least allowed to appear on screen for a whole minute-and-a-half in “Grow Fast,” she doesn’t actually show up in a single frame of the next two episodes, which were the only installments made available to journalists for review. The characters who do receive weirdo B-plot assignments, the kind of stories that previously went to Erlich, are Jian Yang (Jimmy O. Yang), who is determined to steal Erlich’s home and Pied Piper stake by faking his nemesis’ death, and Dinesh Chugtai (Oscar nominee Kumail Nanjiani), who will eventually fall prey to another Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) scheme. You’ll notice no women were named in these zany, sometimes cringeworthy, hijinks.
This choice is all the more irritating when you realize Silicon Valley teases the possibility of giving us a major female Pied Piper force before ripping her away. The aforementioned Optimoji CEO is a woman by the name of Kira Pickford (Chloé Wepper). Richard attempts to acquire failing tech company Optimoji, which has a great coding team, since his archrival Gavin hired every other available coder to super company Hooli in an effort to undermine Pied Piper’s growth. When Richard has a coffee meeting with Kira, he tries to strong arm her into a deal, demanding she fire 18 of her beloved employees if she wants to save her brainchild. After claiming he can go to any number of coders in town — a lie — Richard tells Kira, “Kinda feels like we got all the cards here, huh?” Then, Sliceline CEO and local buffoon Duncan (Andrew Leeds) appears to obliviously notify Kira that Richard lost all of his possible coders to Hooli.
“What were you saying about holding all the cards?” Kira shadily asks Richard. “All of my coders, or none of them. Take it or leave it.”
That mic drop is a strong sign of Kira's personal mettle and the exact kind of opposition someone like Richard needs. The moment Kira challenged the Pied Piper CEO in such a boldfaced way, I began dreaming of a season of Richard making dumb mistakes, as he will, and Kira shrewdly dragging him for them. Essentially, I hoped Kira could become the bad cap to Jared Dunn’s (Zach Woods) relentless good cop routine. Now that would be fun.
Instead, we watch Richard crush Kira’s career. After finding out Richard straight up lied to her and attempted to manipulate her, Kira very understandably rejects his acquisition offer and decides to merge with Sliceline. Not only was Duncan The Sliceline Guy the person who alerted Kira that Richard was lying, but he was also ready to hire all 30 of Optimoji’s employees, rather than a mere 12. Obviously, that is simply good business for Kira. Richard, however, doesn’t see things that way and chooses to ruin the Sliceline-Optimoji business model by bleeding it dry.
In a cruel twist of fate, Richard still ends up acquiring Optimoji, and its 30 employees, along with Sliceline’s 20 coders. This means he could have originally accepted Kira’s offer and given us their immediately crackling, platonic, dynamic for the rest of the season. But, now that will never happen, as Richard’s first move as owner of Sliceline-Optimoji is to fire both Duncan and Kira.
With Kira out as a prospective human woman Pied Piper employee, future episodes do allow Sliceline lead Becky (Rachel Rosenbloom) to act as the mouthpiece for her newly-acquired company. Although, I wouldn’t recommend expecting Becky do much more than throw out a complaint here and there.
Silicon Valley might be be down one major character in season 5, but it seems absolutely nothing else has changed.
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