We don’t see Dinesh’s new girlfriend Mia in “Teambuilding Exercise,” but her presence looms over the house: her l33t hacking skills have spooked the normally unflappable Gilfoyle into a frenzy of operational security. It’s the first time we see him react to a situation with anything other than granite-faced competence—while he usually counters everyone’s clumsy tic-tac-toe with precise three-dimensional atomic chess, now he’s frantically disconnecting wireless routers and running Ethernet cable throughout the house—like that’ll help—to defend against what is presumably 24/7 surveillance from what could be his first true adversary.
Jared, on the other hand, is driven to action by concern over Richard’s decision to go into business with former enemy Gavin Belson. “When you don the skin of the beast, the man inside dies,” he says, a cautionary tale from his ever-darkening backstory. Ever the good soldier, he volunteers to help Richard navigate his new venture with a speech that further reveals the lingering ferocity below Jared’s maelstrom of fear and anxiety. This is followed by the discovery of a deep well of empathy, as he interprets Gilfoyle’s assessment of potential new hires as a cry for help: “When he refers to someone as a ‘pig-faced fucknose’, what I hear is ‘I need to be needed.’” This sets in motion a bit of theater that enables the team to successfully recruit Gilfoyle to lead engineering for the next iteration of Pied Piper without sacrificing his pride and keeping him pure in the eyes of the Dark Lord. (Richard also revives the “tabs vs. spaces” issue with another hiring decision, though I’m not sure there’s even an argument here: tabs.)
The new Pied Piper looks promising so far. The idea of building an entirely new kind of Internet has been a white whale for many a technologist, including the late Peter Gregory: a class of problem that’s technically feasible but often fails on account of policy, economics, user adoption, lock-in effects, or just being too early or too late. But the combination of Richard’s encryption breakthrough, Gavin’s deep pockets, Gilfoyle’s engineering chops and Jared’s doe-eyed menace might give this idea one of the best chances it’s had in a long time.
Over in Big Head’s ivory tower, he’s commanding loyalty and respect from his students, who continue to interpret his laziness and ineptitude as sage wisdom. He’s just showing them movies like an alcoholic substitute teacher, and refusing to chastise them for using their phones in class: “It’s OK—your phone has technology inside it, so you’re double learning.” His movie selection is delightful, by the way: You’ve Got Mail, Sandra Bullock vehicle The Net, and half of Tron. (“There are two Trons?”, he says.) We’ll see if he gets to Sneakers or WarGames, or maybe a whole module on ‘90s VR kitsch like The Lawnmower Man. (Or, whether Hacker Typer is on the syllabus.)
Meanwhile, Erlich and Jian-Yang hit a snag in developing SeeFood, their universal food-recognizer app. Instead of building the general purpose image classifier they need, Jian-Yang has phoned in a single-purpose classifier that is very good at distinguishing things that are hot dogs from things that aren’t. When he refuses to do the grunt work of training the classifier to recognize anything else, Erlich tries to Tom Sawyer Big Head’s students into doing it for him—manually scraping the Web for pictures of all the food—but all this does is motivate the students to build their own competing app. (Encouraged, in part, by the example “Professor Bighetti” set by showing The Social Network —when you see a good idea, run with it.) The company looks sunk, but Jian-Yang saves the day: walking across the street and selling the company to Periscope, which can use the hot dog classifier to screen for similarly-shaped objects that they would very much like to remove from their platform. Or, as Monica more directly puts it, their “dick problem.” This leaves Jian-Yang wealthy, Erlich holding the bag and a palapa and a dumb Corvette to match his Aviato-branded SUV, and Dinesh stuck with the scut work of improving the classifier—which basically amounts to the worst tech job in the world.
All of this sets us up nicely for the rest of the season. By partnering with Richard, Gavin Belson is released from his sandbox of petty corporate intrigue and plunged into the amateur-hour shenanigans we've been enjoying up in the cheap seats for three seasons. Erlich and his 'Vette now free to find the next big thing—the next Juicero, perhaps? And Richard will have to contend with the conundrum of too many options—with virtually unlimited talent and money, can his utopian dream of a New Internet survive contact with the enemy? We shall see.
Matt Corwine is a writer, tech worker and expat Seattlite in Brooklyn. This is his third tech bubble.