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Silicon Valley S5 E8: "Fifty-One Percent" review


Silicon Valley S5 E8: “Fifty-One Percent” review

The crew of Pied Piper gives us another strong finale.

Because producer Alec Berg has been dividing his time this season between Silicon Valley and his new show Barry, Season 5 comes to an end tonight after a short 8 episodes. And fortunately, the former series didn’t suffer from Berg’s divided attention as the crew of Pied Piper gave us another strong finale.

Right from the start, the episode subverts expectations by jumping two months ahead to a now desolate, almost apocalyptic vision of the Pied Piper offices as PiperNet has failed to become the immediate success story everyone thought it would. Even one of the “Octopipers,” gaming company K-Hole, has abandoned ship. But good news has finally come in the form of a sudden rapid rise in users.

Silicon Valley S5 E8: "Fifty-One Percent" review

Kumail Nanjiani, Thomas Middleditch. photo: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

But something’s not right. Their users are rising but the value of PiedPiperCoin remains flat. The reason for the inconsistency is YaoNet, the unholy alliance of former Hooli plant manager Yao and Laurie Bream. They’re using thousands of mobile devices in their factory to sign up fake PiperNet users to take over the decentralized internet. If any one entity can control just 51% of the users, they could rewrite the rules for everyone including deleting their users and developer apps as well as crashing PiedPiperCoin. This would effectively destroy Pied Piper, and YaoNet already has 45%. Gilfoyle can rewrite the code to kick YaoNet out, but it will take a few hours longer than it will take YaoNet to reach 51%.

Silicon Valley S5 E8: "Fifty-One Percent" review

Amanda Crew, Martin Starr. photo: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

One solution to their problems is Colin, the CEO of K-Hole. He showed up the night before Monica and Gilfoyle discovered the 51% attack during Pied Piper’s celebration. Colin explained to Richard that it was Laurie who withdrew K-Hole from PiperNet and who later booted Colin from his own company much like she did to Richard in the Season 2 finale. Colin has a new game, and he wants to debut it on PiperNet, which, in turn, would increase the number of non-YaoNet users on the network considerably. But short-sighted Richard told Colin, “Kiss my piss,” which is Richard-speak for fuck off. Only now that everything he’s worked for is on the verge of total destruction does Richard regret that decision.

Another solution hits Richard when Monica informs him that Hooli is on the cusp of being acquired by Amazon and ousting Gavin. So while Gilfoyle leads the Pied Piper coding team to programing a patch that can boot YaoNet from the system, Dinesh and Jared go to track down Colin and Richard pays a visit to Gavin.

Richard offers Gavin a chance to get revenge on Yao. Gavin gives Admin access to the Box 3s to Richard, who mimics YaoNet’s attack with his own second attack on the network, creating a third party fighting for PiperNet user dominance.

As a result, Pied Piper is themselves below 51%, meaning they can’t deploy the patch Gilfoyle is designing, at least for now. They can’t win, but they can’t lose either because at least YaoNet can’t reach 51% now. Unfortunately, Gavin double-crosses Richard and seizes on his own opportunity. If Yao and Laurie turn off all their mobile phones generating the fake users, the Box 3 fake users will clear the 51%. Then they can use their own patch to boot Pied Piper from the system. Yao and Laurie agree to give Gavin a 20% stake in YaoNet for his help and, soon enough, they hit 51%.

That’s when Richard makes one last plea to Gavin. Back in the Season 2 finale, “Two Days of the Condor,” Richard decided he’d rather erase all his code than turn it over to Gavin. Now, 3 years later, he signs over his copyright to PiperNet to Gavin because he says he’d rather see Gavin use it than have Yao and Laurie delete it all. And, as soon as he sees the opportunity to be top dog again, Gavin betrays Yao and Laurie

Richard strokes Gavin’s ego to distract him long enough for Colin and Gilfoyle to come through with the former’s 80,000 users and the latter’s patch to give total control of the network to Pied Piper. Richard didn’t really sign anything over to Gavin and now it’s too late for the Hooli CEO to take control of PiperNet. Also, to add insult to injury, all 40 prototypes of his Box 3s shut down while Yao and Laurie no longer have any interest in him.

It’s a new day. PiedPiperCoin is up to $2.51 as they inch a little closer to their $68 goal and, echoing the opening minutes of this season, Pied Piper is expanding to even newer offices, four massive floors that were former Hooli offices. They’ll soon be filling the space with hundreds of new engineers as well as the staff to support them. And there will be a Government Affairs Department to deal with the NSA, who are already demanding a backdoor into PiperNet. Pied Piper has now truly ascended and become the new Hooli.

The Verdict

It’s not the best finale the show’s given us; I’d say that honor belongs to either Season 1’s “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” or last season’s “Server Error.” But “Fifty-One Percent” has much of what I want from a Silicon Valley finale:  corporate intrigue; shifting alliances; and desperate, last-ditch efforts to save Pied Piper from almost certain doom.

There were some missed opportunities though. I feel like Jeff, the Hooli spy, got prematurely dropped. We saw Pied Piper briefly use Jeff to pass on false information, but I expected that plan to really pay off in the season’s endgame. Perhaps, had the season gone a full 10 episodes, there would have been more time to use Jeff effectively.

And Jian-Yang didn’t have the secret plans to bring down the YaoNet Death Star as I expected. Instead, his only use was filling Pied Piper in on the information the audience already knew in exchange for moving back into Erlich’s former house.

Holden too was a bit of a disappointment. Last we saw him in the previous episode, it looked like Jared was going to kill him. I’d have rather seen the character just disappear without a trace, leaving the employees to quietly speculate if Jared had rubbed him out instead of having Jared just brainwash him into an over-excited cheerleader. Though watching Jared threaten to kill some random character this week was fun nonetheless.

I did appreciate that, while Dinesh’s new foil Danny was MIA, we got a return appearance from Bianca. Now that the company is growing its employees, it’s nice to get to know at least a handful of the crew our main characters are leading. And having a few reoccurring faces opens the door for more story possibilities.

Looking back at the last 5 years, it’s almost hard to remember that this all started with a compression app. Pied Piper has pivoted or spun off into many different directions before it landed here, from that beginning compression algorithm, to the original home of Jack Barker’s Box, to  the full platform of Richard’s dreams that was too complicated for users to comprehend, to the video chat app PiperChat, to finally PiperNet.

The question now is where does Pied Piper go from here? I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Gavin. But, if Pied Piper is taking over Hooli offices, does that mean there’s no more Hooli? If Pied Piper is the new giant of the tech world, will we see Richard turn into Gavin? He’s certainly flirted with Gavin-ness in the past. Richard lost his way and did a lot of unethical things at the end of last season. This season saw Richard’s devious hostile takeover of Sliceline and Optimoji. He plotted to steal Quiver’s COO from under the CEO’s nose. And he gleefully kicked Colin when he was down this week. Then again, maybe Monica was right and Richard is different because he at least feels bad about his behavior.

Silicon Valley S5 E8: "Fifty-One Percent" review
Silicon Valley S5 E8: "Fifty-One Percent"
Is it good?
Once again, the show keeps us on the edge of our seats as Pied Piper swings from reaching new heights one moment to the edge of certain doom the next. Tesla Ludicrous Speed was great and Gavin's constantly shifting allegiances reminds us, despite his frequent cluelessness and ineptitude, why he makes for a compelling villain. But, given her steely corporate mindset, now I look forward to Laurie hopefully becoming the central villain on this show.

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