HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ Tackles an Uncomfortable Topic

May 23, 2016, 3:00 AM UTC
Courtesy of HBO

For all the experimentation and risk-taking it encourages, Silicon Valley isn’t much for admitting its mistakes.

Naturally, HBO’s Silicon Valley took this week’s episode as an opportunity to confront a sea of mistakes, big and small. The biggest and most important was, of course, the question of who should be CEO of Pied Piper, the fictitious startup at the center of the show. As the episode opens, Pied Piper is sans CEO after board member and main investor Laurie Bream fired Jack Barker, an experienced executive Bream had hired to replace the startup’s original CEO and founder, Richard Hendricks.

“I made a mistake with Richard Hendricks,” Bream says during a dinner with Monica Hall, an employee of Bream’s venture capital firm and Hendricks’s ally on Pied Piper’s board. “I should not have removed him as CEO, then installing Jack Barker in his place only compounded that error.”

While the two are dining, Hendricks is mistakenly unloading his frustration on a tech reporter, thinking she’s the public relations expert with whom Bream has requested he meets.

“The Laurie-tron 6000 isn’t programmed to admit when she’s made a mistake,” Hendricks shouts, in a subtle jab at the tech industry’s inability to admit mistakes. In a real-life parallel, a news story about Pied Piper by that reporter references Clinkle, a once-hot startup that claimed it would develop a new way for people to make payments via smartphones and raised a jaw-dropping $30 million seed round, but went downhill quite quickly before it even released a product. Clinkle’s investors, not surprisingly, have kept mum about Clinkle—and the obvious mistake they made when they invested in it.

As for the snafu with the reporter, Hendricks eventually talks her out of publishing everything he told her in exchange for a scoop about Gavin Belson, the CEO of the Google-like behemoth that formerly employed Pied Piper’s gang, “scrubbing the internet” of any mentions of his company’s failed attempt to compete with Pied Piper—another mistake!

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The episode’s theme is a timely one for the real Silicon Valley. Within the last few months, two “unicorn” startup (blood testing company Theranos and HR software and insurance provider Zenefits) have come under fire for making rather grave mistakes, so to speak. But while both suffered rather public exposures of their mistakes, they took completely different approaches in their responses.

Theranos, whose technology came under question following a series of reports from the Wall Street Journal, vehemently denied any wrongdoing, attempted to discredit the reports and their sources while continuing to affirm its world-changing status. That is, it did up until last week when Theranos issued a recall on all blood tests done with its proprietary machine in the last two years. Talk about a huge “oopsies.”

Zenefits, on the other hand, despite some lingering questions as to why it took so long to get a handle on its compliance issues, admitted its mistakes very publicly and immediately. Since the discovery of an internal software that let Zenefits employees skirt the requirements to get an insurance broker license in California and was built by former co-founder and then-CEO Parker Conrad, the startup quickly appointed a new leader and says it’s working very hard to get back on track.

Meanwhile, Hendricks and his crew of original Pied Piper employees realize that Barker had been running up the company’s “burn rate,” a Silicon Valley term for the amount of money a company is spending every month to operate, which means it’s nearly run out of cash. To rectify the mistake, they lay off the new sales team, break the lease on Pied Piper’s big fancy office, and sell off all the expensive chairs, monitors, and everything else in the office.

Though the sale goes well, another mistake slips in: Bertram Gilfoyle accidentally sells the personal hard drive of fellow engineer Dinesh Chugtai. A hard drive wouldn’t be anything to shed a tear over, except that Chugtai’s happened to store a copy of Pied Piper’s most important technology, including the unique algorithms it had developed. (Pied Piper is building an allegedly new technology that will let users squeeze files down to a tiny size.)

For Fortune’s recap of the previous episode, read: HBO’s “Silicon Valley” Explains The Appeal of Boring Companies

To make sure Pied Piper’s technology and all its secret don’t get into the wrong hands, Dunn tracks down the woman who purchased the hard drive. But there’s one problem: She’s already given it to aging father and has set him up with an appointment with the Geek Squad. (Yes, that’s still around.) Gilfoyle eventually shows up at the father’s home pretending to be the Geek Squad rep and drills a hole in Chugtai’s hard drive—the only way to truly wipe it clean, according to him.

But for all the wrong turns squeezed into this week’s episode, one decision was not: Hendricks returns to his rightful job as CEO of Pied Piper at the end of the episode. O Captain! My Captain!

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