No character in Silicon Valley better embodies our tendency to mistake luck for skill than Nelson Bighetti, Jr., the mediocre coder and Chauncey Gardiner type who continues to breeze through the Valley without a trace of real accomplishment, or even a general awareness of his surroundings. After leading Hooli’s experimental labs and pioneering some sort of potato cannon (a Season 2 sendup of Google’s loony “moonshot” division), then blowing through $20 million and producing nothing as a hobbyist VC, he now passes on wisdom to the next generation as a guest lecturer in Stanford’s computer science department.
The story of how he got to the head of the class is probably the funniest part of Big Head’s arc so far. Under pressure from his father to “get a job or go back to school or something,” he applies to Stanford and is rejected… until the admissions officer realizes that he is the Nelson Bighetti, a famous person who was present near memorable things that have happened in the Valley. “You were on the cover of Wired magazine!” “Yeah,” he says, "and inside, too!” He’s offered what he thinks is a spot in the program as a student - “I asked if there’d be homework and they’re, like, 'if you want’…” —and doesn’t realize he’s the teacher until the first day of class. (HBO’s marketing department absolutely must turn this into a Massive Open Online Course, or, MOOC, by the way.)
He’s thriving by slipping through the cracks in a culture that manages to hold several contradictory beliefs at once —that college is for suckers, yet a computer science degree from Stanford is a seal of approval and a golden ticket; and that technology is an organism that “wants” to disrupt and transform on its own, yet we need great men (and mostly men, alas) to steal fire from the mountain and be rewarded with vast empires. There’s something very satisfying about Big Head’s epic rise being the average of all these ideas.
Speaking of bumbling your way to success, the second of this episode's three and a half plots is Erlich’s quest to fund Jian-Yang's big idea–which Erlich thought was some sort of Virtual Reality-related layup, but is actually a bit of a harder sell: an app featuring eight (count ‘em) octopus recipes. (I think this team would do quite well in the Stupid Shit No One Needs and Terrible Ideas Hackathon , which is indisputably the best thing happening in technology right now.) Jian-Yang delivers this groundbreaking concept with a compressed and barely coherent version of basically every startup pitch ever, then Erlich plays the VC’s egos and cognitive biases to convince them it’s something entirely different: SeeFood, an app that gives you nutritional information about the food you photograph—a thing neither of them is even remotely capable of building, yet now have to build. (And it’s now Monica’s problem, thanks to a botched revenge maneuver on her part.)
Meanwhile, Richard is approaching a Jared-level state of unease, nervously and sleeplessly trying to crack his “New Internet” idea with little success. After Richard learns the late Peter Gregory once pursued the same concept, Monica brings him to a vault full of Gregory’s notes and toys—basically a room of Season 1 Easter eggs. “It’s like being inside Peter’s brain." Monica: “Actually, I think Peter’s brain is in a cryo-locker in Menlo Park.” Here, Jared is triggered by the malevolent self-driving car that once left him waylaid on a fully-automated artificial island for weeks. (As the show progressed, we learned that this was not the worst moment in Jared’s backstory, which is apparently a carnival of nightmares written and directed by Todd Solondz.)
Richard figures that by mashing his and Gregory’s ideas together he can make the New Internet work (I think), but later learns that it’s all for naught, as Gavin Belson had secured a patent on the work to scotch the idea and keep Gregory focused on building Hooli. Thus, begins Richard’s version of a kicking and screaming tantrum, which also falls short of his expectations, and we're set up for the rest of the season as he storms to Gavin’s house for either some murdering or some co-founding.
And finally, Dinesh has a girlfriend! They met over a misunderstanding of Dinesh’s role in Gavin Belson’s downfall at Hooli and bonded over a mutual hatred of Gilfoyle, shared interests being the bedrock of a good relationship. The meek-seeming Mia is actually an elite hacker, capable of serious damage if wronged. Gilfoyle wisely and correctly observes that nothing about this situation could possibly go wrong.
As ever, some of the best moments in Silicon Valley lie low in throwaway moments—while there are many to choose from in this episode, the winner has to be the serene, satisfied smile on Jian Yang’s face after he drunkenly admits to their VC (in Mandarin) that SeeFood is a fraud, and Erlich a con man. Second best is when Richard joins Monica on a shopping trip: she’s reduced to buying her own groceries at one of those open-plan warehouses where Taskrabbits and Postmateys pick up their orders. Richard insults a Taskrabbit, then awkwardly attempts to apologize. “Fuck you,” says the Taskrabbit. “Definitely,” says Richard.
Matt Corwine is a writer, tech worker and expat Seattelite in Brooklyn. This is his third tech bubble.