Why should we care about any of the characters in Silicon Valley? You’ll see this question popping up repeatedly if ever strolling through message board posts on the show, and the case against the Hacker Hostel boys is fairly strong on paper: the crux of the show’s comedy is in its presentation of our culture as increasingly depending not on charismatic personalities, but on anti-social ones that happen to create the things we want. Gilfoyle’s seething rant from episode two highlights the ironic place that he and the other inhabitants of Silicon Valley carve out for themselves in society, as the creators of tech designed to convenience the social lives of other people, but often at the expense of their own.
In the real world, we would want the compression algorithm Pied Piper is creating, but would we want to hang out with guys like Gilfoyle, or Jared, or Erlich? Probably not. We enjoy watching them as they prank and abuse one another, but from the safe distance TV provides. Though he’s ostensibly supposed to fill the role of relatable “everyman,” Richard’s overwhelming social disgraces are so powerful that he often acts like awkwardness incarnate, rather than just someone that’s shy and reserved. His struggle, and therefore the struggle of the company, becomes hard to relate to as a result: do we really care whether or not this guy and his idiot friends become billionaires?
This is how the show’s detractors view it anyway, I’m assuming. Like a lot of cable shows, Silicon Valley knows relatable characters are more important than likeable ones. For those who have yet to be charmed by the show thus far, “Tip-to-Top Efficiency” will likely be their breaking point, because it’s a finale based more around our investment in the business and financial success of Pied Piper as a whole than in any of the individual characters.
Comedies tend to flourish under low stakes, which is why so many of them end their first season on a relationship cliffhanger, if any at all. From Cheers to Friends to How I Met Your Mother, the climax of a sitcom’s freshman season will often involve the One True Pairing taking a big step towards that actual pairing. In most cases, this represents the sum total of the dramatic stakes in the show, where the only real thing ever at risk is the emotional well-being of the characters.
Sex, not romance, was the only interaction with the opposite sex that the guys in Silicon Valley were ever concerned with. We do get the first real overtures of Richard and Monica as the OTP, which strikes me as the only real false note in the finale. They’ve shared maybe 10 minutes of screentime together, and because we’ve seen Richard warts and all over the last eight weeks (with last episode’s ex-girlfriend trouble being especially damning of his relationship capabilities), any hints at a pairing between the two seems unearned at this point. It’s a bit of an afterthought in an episode that’s far more focused on bringing the crazy dream the series started with to a reckoning, and amping up the drama to as close to life-and-death as the show can possibly manage.