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'Silicon Valley,' season three, episode nine: The return of the box

Can I get an app that looks at me like Bernice looks at Richard?


Each week, we watch "Silicon Valley" on HBO and then reflect on the ways the show mirrors — or doesn't — the real Silicon Valley. This week, Richard’s too-limited beta catches up to him, and Gavin gets his groove back. You can catch up on the recaps here.

With only one episode left in this season, the Pied Piper team is ping-ponging back and forth from highs to lows quicker than Maria Bamford. Buckle your seat belts, because this was definitely a bumpy ride.

The show opened with a pitch-perfect ad for a generic startup that gave no hint of what actually happens with the app. "Sharing is tables," the ad, which cost most of Pied Piper’s remaining funds, told the world.

Raviga celebrates 500,000 Pied Piper installs, but the dirty secret held by Richard, Jared and Monica is that the app has a dismal number of daily active users, a more descriptive metric of an app’s success.

Monica sets Richard up with a market research firm — the same one Gavin used in Season 2, Episode 6, featuring the same robotic coordinator. Unlike the petulant Gavin, Richard charges into the room and explains the platform to the assembled focus group, finally breaking through to a woman named Bernice, which he counts as a victory. A short-lived one: The team can’t recreate this breakthrough at CES, with informational tables or in Richard-led symposia.

Meanwhile, Gavin Belson regains control of Hooli when his security-detail mole hips him to Pied Piper’s continuing struggles, prompting him to "reveal" his real plan all along, which turns out to be Jack Barker’s goddamn unkillable box.


With the remaining funds available to him, Richard comes up with the best "how-Pied-Piper-works" thing he can think of, which is "Pipey," an animated bot eerily reminiscent of "Clippy," the universally detested Microsoft Word assistant from the late 1990s. Seeing that this won’t work and heartbreakingly devoted to the success of the team, Jared goes rogue, hiring a click farm to create and maintain accounts to goose that DAU number. The show closes with no music, no words, just the image of a Bangladeshi worker going to a dark, oppressive office to create thousands upon thousands of Pied Piper accounts.

The Real Deal

First of all, this show has a remarkable way of dovetailing with real-life events it could not have known about back when it was filming. This week, Gavin Belson’s smarmy "gentlemen ... and lady of the board" has the real-life counterpart of a Google investor addressing Ruth Porat, the company’s CFO, as "the lady CFO," even though he referred to another board member by his name. This was called out by many observers, resulting in last Thursday’s birth of the #ladyday hashtag and many tech workers changing their job titles to "lady" job titles.

As for the central crisis of this episode, using downloads as a measurement of success is old-school, dismissed as a "vanity metric," and I’m quite sure Laurie Bream would be smarter than to rely on it rather than daily active users (DAUs). I guess it’s possible that she has a bunch of investments going at once and can’t put in the time to dive deep into metrics, but even the most cursory look at the data would include both numbers. So -1 for that plot point, except that this kind of head-scratchingly stupid thing happens all the time in the real Silicon Valley.

More to the point, click farms are really terrible at worst and unethical at best. One has to wonder at what point Jared will lose faith in Richard, and what kind of heart-rending bro-keup would ensue.

We knew The Box was going to come back, because my interview with Simplivity a few weeks ago said so. But I thought it would be brought back as the pivot that would temporarily save Pied Piper, since Richard’s perfectionism made it a viable and cool product even when it wasn’t his top priority. Having it brought back by Gavin and Jack is sheer perfection, not just because it creates a beautiful new two-headed foe for Pied Piper, but because of the promise of more Matt Ross / Stephen Tobolowsky onscreen and on Twitter.

Also, I feel sure that we will see more of Bernice. We all need more Bernice in our lives.


Next week is the season finale, so you’re free to walk about the cabin — but be prepared to return to your upright and locked position for that turbulent event.

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