Strap yourselves in and get ready for another ride on the sick-making carousel of late capitalism! That’s right, folks: HBO’s Silicon Valley is back to put your puny pecuniary problems into perspective. In Season 4, which premieres on Sunday, the tech industry is like that episode of Black Mirror where the only chance to escape your literal hamster wheel is to enter a reality competition show that could free you from your shackles — or force you into a career in pornography. On Silicon Valley, it’s all or nothing.
The last season left Richard (Thomas Middleditch) and his fellow programmers/housemates in a bind when they discovered that Jared (Zach Woods) had secretly set up a click farm in Bangladesh to inflate their user numbers and make their company, Pied Piper, more attractive to potential investors — which, of course, scared them all off. Now, Richard, the company’s CEO, is the Silicon Valley equivalent of a leper, posing as an Uber driver to get face time with venture capitalists who will hopefully fund Pied Piper’s new video chat application.
The high-stakes situation has an already jittery Richard even more anxious than usual: he’s not sleeping, and he has to coat his fingers with iodine to keep him from biting his nails. His agitation isn’t lost on his teammates, who quickly lose faith in their fearful leader when he abandons his assigned task and spends the night working on an upgrade of the app’s video quality — an upgrade so minuscule no user would even notice it. In a fit of panic, Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani), Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), Erlich (T.J. Miller), and the ever-clueless Nelson, a.k.a. Big Head (Josh Brener) decide to oust Richard as CEO.
But while they’re scheming at home, Richard is out meeting with the one venture capitalist in town who will hear him out: The depraved, profane Russ Hanneman (the hilarious Chris Diamantopoulos), who can tell right away that Richard’s heart isn’t in the chat app. What he really wants to build is far more ambitious and risky: a decentralized, firewall-free, completely peer-to-peer internet. “Information would be totally free,” he says, “in every sense of the word.” Before the guys can kick him out of his own company, Richard up and quits, determined to pursue his dream. So long, Pied Piper; hello, Piper Chat, and please welcome to the stage your new CEO, Dinesh Chugtai.
If all this sounds like a frustrating scenario in which new and ever-more-complex problems sprout like mung beans on a damp paper towel, well, bingo. This season dials up the desperation of tech’s would-be billionaires, emphasizing the dizzying speed of the industry’s ever-spinning carousel. The internal power struggles of the Pied Piper clan mirror a similar dynamic between Hooli CEO Gavin Belson (Matt Ross) and former Pied Piper CEO “Action Jack” Barker (Stephen Tobolowsky), whom Gavin appointed head of development at Hooli last season.
When Gavin and Jack share a private jet ride from Shanghai to the U.S. after making a deal with Chinese manufacturers, Jack instructs the flight attendant to direct the plane’s course so that it drops him off in Jackson Hole before taking Gavin to his destination. This nothing of a conflict sets off a tug of war between the two moguls, neither of whom will tolerate second place. The power struggles continue at Raviga — the investment firm that initially funded Pied Piper — where lead investor Laurie (Suzanne Cryer) has shunted Monica (Amanda Crew) to an office down the hall with an all-too-clear view of the men’s room, her punishment for siding with Richard in the midst of the click-farm scandal.
The fourth season brings a major part of Silicon Valley’s project — exposing the utter absurdity of its namesake synecdoche — into high relief. (It also features some of the funniest Jared lines, like this gem he whips out in an attempt to avoid discussing business with Richard now that he’s left the company: “Have you seen the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition? The cover model has the most lovely enigmatic facial expression.”) Bighead keeps rising higher and higher on the strength of his father’s name and that time he appeared on the cover of Wired, even though he knows literally nothing about anything; when Dinesh skims past the terms of service before registering Piper Chat in the App Store, the oversight leads to a legal problem so colossal it could rack up “fines the size of a small nation’s GDP.” Life in the high-stakes world of Silicon Valley is a never-ending game of Frogger: you might make it safely home, but it won’t be long before someone shoves you back onto that freeway.
Silicon Valley Season 4 premieres Sunday, April 23 at 10 p.m. on HBO.