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'Silicon Valley,' season three, episode ten: And then there’s fraud

The season finale went too fast and raised too many questions.


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, the season ends with a surprise savior who is totally going to get grounded. You can catch up on the recaps here.

This episode left me perplexed, and it took me the better part of the day for it to fully sink in. If you’re having the same issue, this recap will help.

At the end of the previous episode, we learned that Jared was buying fake users from a click farm in Bangladesh. This ep, Richard reveals to Jared that he knows about this boondoggle, but he doesn’t care because the company is about to go under, so in a few weeks the whole misstep will be buried under Pied Piper rubble.

Erlich has one more save-Pied-Piper ploy to try. Seeing that the only problem with Pied Piper was perception, he used a visit to a popular Silicon Valley lunch spot to “social hack” a new image for the company (by manipulating perception), which results in a bidding war for Pied Piper’s Series B.

Suddenly the click-farm uptick is an issue where it wasn’t before. Richard says his options are to commit fraud (by keeping the click-farm secret) or to “do the right thing” and doom the company. “Doesn’t seem like much of an option, does it?”

Richard’s Hamlet-like dithering carries him into the meeting with a new VC in Erlich’s enthusiastic wake, but he can’t follow through and ruins the meeting by blurting out that the users are fake. This completely hangs Erlich out to dry, and he’s furious.

Monica, who was furious before the meeting, understands after the fact that Richard was only trying to protect Raviga by attempting to get funding from a non-Raviga VC firm (which isn’t true — he just didn’t have the balls to stop Erlich, who had gone forward with his plan without full knowledge of Pied Piper’s limitations). Pied Piper has to be sold due to the now-public fraudulent numbers.

Gavin Belson and Jack Barker offer to buy Pied Piper just because they’re assholes, and the ever-pragmatic Laurie looks like she’s going to sell. But at the very last second, after Richard has signed the sale agreement, it’s revealed that Bachmanity, the Bachman-Bighetti joint venture that suddenly got $2 million in a Gavin-inspired windfall, is the new owner. So Pied Piper will survive, but it’s not clear in what form.

That’s a whole lot of deus ex machina.

The Real Deal

When Erlich recounts his masterful social hacking of the egos of the Valley’s VCs, he name-drops like a boss. You probably caught them all, but here’s a list:

Bachmann also mentions that he tells Khosla to “call him on Badoo poo,” which I think is a reference to a dating site and, possibly, its internal messaging service, but their press contact goes to their support site which dumped me into a “you will be helped within 24 hours” queue, so ... clearly, no word at press time.

When Bachman lets loose his ginger-afro fury upon Richard, he’s not angry that Richard put him in the position of selling a fraudulent company; he’s angry that Richard couldn’t follow through so they could fix the problem with the incoming VC money. Fraud, for him, is just a matter of degree: “It’s not like we’re lying about it, like fucking Theranos,” he says.

Theranos, of course, is a medical testing service that had a soaring start with a charismatic CEO and crashed and burned following a damning Wall Street Journal takedown late last year.

Finally, just before Patrice gets fired, she refers to an infamously over-the-top affair in the California redwoods. “I was a bridesmaid at Sean Parker’s wedding when he handed out live bunnies as plush toys,” she says. Ha ha! That didn’t really happen. The bunnies weren’t handed out to guests — they were just there “if anyone needed a cuddle.”

See you all next season. Let me know on Twitter if there’s another show you want Recode to digest for you.

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