Silicon Valley Review: “Fiduciary Duties” (Season 1, Episode 4)


Greatness comes in pairs, or so it’s often meant to seem. Whether it’s Siskel and Ebert, peanut butter and chocolate, or Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, two heads are often more memorable than one. But memory usually doesn’t speak to the actual facts: Siskel and Ebert were as contentious in real life as they were on film, peanut butter and chocolate get along perfectly fine without one another, and the two Steves needed an off-forgotten third member to found Apple. “Fiduciary Duties,” the most focused episode of Silicon Valley yet, buys into this myth that Pied Piper won’t go anywhere until Richard finds his missing half, and then swiftly takes the air out of that notion with a terrific last-minute reveal.

Presenting greatness as binary instead of singular is really about expanding market share, because with two points of reference for what success looks like, you give your audience a spectrum to observe, instead of a single fixed position. You can define yourself by how like one half of the equation you are, just as you can by how unlike the other half you might be. If you’re not the steak, hero, or jokester, you can always be the sizzle, sidekick or straight-man. But most everybody would rather be in the former camps, not the latter, which is why many a double act ends up being destroyed when figuring out who gets to be Oz the Great and Powerful, and who has to settle for being the man behind the curtain.

Richard’s the kind of guy thrives behind the curtain, seeing as anytime he’s put on the spot, things tend to end poorly. Silicon Valley has pushed Richard a little bit further out of his comfort zone with each episode, but “Fiduciary Duties” is the first to present him with a problem he can’t solve on his own: having a vision for the company. As its creator, Richard knows exactly what Pied Piper: The Compression Algorithm is, but hasn’t a clue what Pied Piper: The Company is supposed to look like. He’s built himself a potentially world-changing toolbox, but you’re still a poor craftsman if you love your tools, but can’t build anything useful with them.

The week’s business task is another presentation for Peter Gregory, and as Richard keeps beating his head against the wall to come up with a direction for his company, the limits of his business skills become apparent. He’s accomplished smaller administrative and technical tasks for the company by taking charge and showing some confidence, but those are attitudes, not ideas. As multiple people point out this week, Richard’s structured, right-brain way of thinking is in desperate need of a left-brain that can see things not for what they are, but what they could be. In essence, he needs the Steve Jobs to his Steve Wozniak, the guy who can hype up a crowd, instill confidence in an investor, figure out a market for a product, and most importantly, talk enough game to accomplish all three tasks even when he has no idea what he’s doing.

Erlich is just that kind of bullshit artist, albeit more of an aspiring one at this point in time. He dresses more like a hippie than a tech guru, and a lot of the stuff that comes out of his mouth is pure nonsense, but it’s nonsense that’s gotten him a stake Richard’s company. Some folks haven’t warmed to the character of Erlich just yet, and “Fiduciary Duties” sets out to remedy this by giving T.J. Miller his first real emotional showcase for the character. He’s filled the role of idiot boss and opportunist quite well so far, but what I like about the episode is how it lets us see the other half of Erlich, not the obnoxious one who thinks Aviato is a great name for a company, but the one who manages to sell said company for a low seven figures, and found his own incubator.