Silicon Valley teaches Richard how to fire a friend [TV Recap: season 1, episode 2]

Silicon Valley’s pilot offered the allure of the billion-dollar tech startup, giving Richard Hendrix the opportunity of a lifetime thanks to his potentially game-changing algorithm. But “The Cap Table” is when reality sets it, tough choices need to be made, and the limitations of all involved come screeching into focus. Having decided to take Peter Gregory’s offer to start small, Richard Hendrix now has to figure out how to build the foundation of a company where before he just had something a lot of other people were telling him had a gargantuan valuation. It’s such a good idea that Jared Dunn (Zach Woods, Gabe from The Office) wants to leave Hooli in order to join up. But Erlich feels threatened by anyone intruding, and threatens the poor guy with the ghostly features on the eve of Pie Piper’s first appointment with Gregory.

The business meeting is a disaster, and represents in one fell swoop the biggest problem with Silicon Valley as a series while at the same time showcasing the best and worst aspects of some of the characters. That problem, which is going to continue to nag until it hypothetically gets rectified, is that Monica, Gregory’s assistant, does nothing more than offer semi-therapeutic input when her boss is strongly dissatisfied with Richard’s belief that he should be given guidance like a syllabus for a college course.

Erlich may be a lug when berating Richard after the meeting, but however inelegantly he makes his point, it still stands: Richard is CEO, so now he needs to take the reigns of his fledgling company and actually wield influence to create a viable structure. Gregory challenges him to build an identity for the company around the idea. That’s what he needs to see in order to succeed. Erlich offers no help, so Richard does the smart thing and calls in Jared to help come up with the formalized business plan necessary to impress Gregory. Sure, he’s a weird guy who asks permission to use the restroom and then stand around looking awfully proud of himself for lasting so long before needing to. But he’s an indispensible asset in light of Richard not having the faintest clue of how to create the necessary plans to get a company off the ground.

Where this hits a roadblock is in determining the titular Capitalization Table, or breakdown who will be given what percentage of equity in the new company. As per the startup incubator agreement, Erlich is unfortunately a lock at 10 percent. (Gregory’s point about getting only five percent in exchange for a lot off money while Erlich gets double for providing a futon and a moronic sense of entitlement is well taken.) Gilfoyle and Dinesh are both skilled programmers capable of unleashing highly entertaining pitches as to their worth to the fledgling company—and they’re mostly interested in one-upping each other in terms of equity percentages, which is the funniest back-to-back moment of the episode. Jared lends invaluable business preparation, since he’s the only one who seems to know how to prepare all the things.

That leaves Bighead, Richard’s best friend, as the odd man out. He’s not a jack-of-all-trades. He’s a master of none. And that means Richard has to fire his friend to present a lean, thought-out business plant to Gregory. Understandably, Bighead doesn’t take the news very well. Everyone knows he doesn’t bring anything to the table—Gilfoyle and Dinesh are particularly blunt and tactless in talking about it while Bighead’s around. Even Bighead comes to this realization, after running away to a stripper’s house and needing Richard to search and pick him up. Their conversation is a tough one, since Bighead has hit the point where he knows he doesn’t belong in Palo Alto plugging away at this life. This episode picks at the morality of making the tough but fair decision instead of the one that makes you feel better for a while. Richard wants the company to succeed, but he doesn’t want to lose his friend, but he knows his friend isn’t fulfilled when given a sympathy stake in the company and nothing important to do.

So it comes down to Richard’s decision, and in an impassioned moment undercut by situational irony, he makes his first bold asshole decision by rejecting majority opinion and keeping Bighead. Which would be great, except Bighead took a big promotion at Hooli because Gavin Belson thinks he’s stealing something away from Pied Piper. That solves Bighead’s existential crisis with a stroke of pure luck inspired by seething, irrational anger on the part of Belson. But in terms of leadership, this doesn’t bode well for Richard. He has the central idea that holds all of these people together, that makes them want to work to see Pied Piper fulfill its potential. But even at the point when he

It’s an important little lesson for a newly minted CEO: not everyone is going to think in the same moral logic as you. And that light bulb is a catalyst for Richard going into overdrive, commanding Jared and setting off for the Gregory meeting with renewed vigor (it happens off-screen but ends up a success). But the episode even goes out of its way to bend backwards on that revelation, because mixing business and friendship is complicated. Bighead phones Richard—as the latter struggles with not knowing how to deposit the check for $200,000 since he hasn’t set up an incorporation or bank account details—to tell him that the prototype he sent to those two jock douchebags from the pilot has given Hooli access to a version of Pied Piper’s algorithm. The big dog is going to reverse engineer a version and rush it to market thanks to superior manpower, and it’s up to Richard to fast-track his software in order to beat the biggest, most powerful, most innovative, most philanthropic tech company in the world.

This show is just starting to scratch the surface of the Gavin Belson/Peter Gregory feud, since they seem like the perfect history lesson in how personalities who join together for a business venture end up as mortal enemies. That doesn’t look like it’ll happen to Bighead, since he’s a go along to get along guy without big ideas. But while Richard has vastly more potential, that also means he has that much more potential for failure should he not take these small lessons to heart when learning how to build and run a company.


Extra Bytes

• Erlich’s solution to bridge the gap of trust with anyone, from Palo Alto pimps to Peter Gregory: “Wanna smoke weed?”

• This week in making fun of nerds: Nobody wants to be left alone with the stripper! Bighead is worried he’ll fall in love; Dinesh didn’t shake hands with a woman until he was 17 and doesn't like the idea of having an erection in the same room as his coworkers; Gilfoyle “entices the flesh,” he doesn’t pay for it.