STARTUP Review: Episodes 7-10

Be warned: spoilers abound below, so proceed at your own risk.

As episode seven, “Growth Hacking,” opens, we are treated to a pre-credits montage, indicating that Stella (Reina Hardesty), Ronald (Edi Gathegi)’s enforcement crew (now Wes’s official private security detail, a much more official delegation), and Mara (Addison Timley) have joined Wes (Ron Perlman), Nick (Adam Brody), Izzy (Otmara Marrero) and Ronald on Wes’s island. Stella and Izzy are back together. Ronald interviews two new programmers with a very, very intimidating speech.

Phil Rask (Martin Freeman) awakens at the hospital to discover that his daughter has been waiting for him.

We learn during a group conference on Wes’s remote work site that our heroes’ direct competition for dark web business, Guizer, is expected to hit their millionth user this week. Their company, Araknet is building much more incrementally, stuck at 20,000 users. Mara and Nick are thinking about positioning Araknet to developers as a tenable public website option at an upcoming tech conference, BuzzTech. Izzy, confoundingly, loathes this idea. She thinks that their platform is better than Guizer’s and that they should wait as they build the platform. Nick wants to move forward faster. Izzy also seems to harbor a significant grudge against Mara.

Alex Bell (Aaron Yoo) and his Guizer team celebrate their one millionth user at the company’s headquarters. Alex stews, then storms into a meeting with Vera (Vera Cherny), the Russian crime family head honcho who is also Alex’s primary backer. He thinks about using BuzzTech as an opportunity to take Guizer public. He wants to be bought out, two years earlier than his contract. Vera needs his face and celebrity to take Guizer to 10 million users, at events like BuzzTech and other upcoming conventions.

At BuzzTech, Mara and Nick pitch Araknet as a dark web network to help companies expand. And then, in a brilliant moment, he finds himself in a stall at the men’s room a few feet away from Alex Bell. Alex Bell is pitching Guizer as the ubiquitous dark web access point of the future for developers, and it looks like he’s preemptively swept in and stolen a significant proportion of Araknet’s potential new client base.

Rance and Stella propose that Izzy show some flexibility to adjusting the front-end interface of Araknet’s system. New hire Cassi (Cyrina Fiallo)proposes writing a viruses that turns plug-ins into Araknet advertisements.

Bogden (Konstantin Melikhov) hosts a meeting behind Vera’s back, proposing they look into taking their battle to Ronald and Nick, in addition to Izzy.

Wes levels with Nick and Mara — tomorrow, he’s going to give BuzzTech a shot himself (with them in tow). He possesses a gift of gab that his daughter and Nick currently lack.

Ronald heads home to an empty house for the night. He is the only member of the main crew who doesn’t live on Wes’s island. He calls Tamara, but is routed to her voicemail. It seems somewhat dicey to leave Ronald alone, traveling generally without backup. He’s vulnerable to an attack from Bogden’s crew, although they would be working without Vera’s sanction. He has taken to drinking heavily to curb his loneliness.

At BuzzTech the following day, talking to the same developers Nick and Mara struck out with the day before, Wes trash talks Alex Bell and Axis’s corporate interests. Watching the way Wes has operated, especially the way he has dealt with Ronald and Nick in redefining their roles at Araknet, it’s a wonder the team had any success at all without him when they pitched GenCoin around last season.

That night, Ronald saunters over to one of his favorite Haitian restaurants. He steps outside for a cigarette. In the alley adjoining the restaurant, he sees his son’s killer taking out garbage from the restaurant across the way, alive and well. The killer drops the garbage and sprints inside. Back in the restaurant, the bartender makes a call to an unseen force about Ronald.

Phil, now healthy enough to consume solids, dines by his hospital bed. Vera arrives to greet him. He is… unfailingly honest. Vera tells him that the man who took the fall for Phil in prison is going to… “come to his senses,” and that the murder case will be reopened. Phil informs her that he has enough dirt on her shenanigans in the last five or six years to implicate her.

Ronald, imbibed, approaches two other drunk patrons at the bar, looking to vent his frustrations somewhere. He beats them severely until his crew (whom the bartender apparently called) restrains him and drives him home.

At the next team meeting, Mara announces that Araknet has just hit 300,000 users. Congratulations are exchanged all the way around. Stella approaches an exhausted Izzy, smoking cigarettes in seclusion by the beach at the edge of the compound.

Stella frets that Izzy will burn out if she keeps working this hard. She wants Izzy to open up to her about nearly being killed three weeks ago — which, hey, is a fairly reasonable request. She asks if Izzy cares about what happened to Phil Rask.

In an artful slow-motion montage set to gentle acoustic music, a series of stories are revisited. Ronald mourns the Miami tickets that Touie will never enjoy. Izzy checks up on Phil Rask, to find him happily reconciling with his daughter in the hospital. Ronald’s crew beats up his son’s killer. Nick toasts Araknet’s burgeoning success with Mara and Wes. Bogden and his crew prepare for war with a fresh arsenal of automatic weapons in the trunk of his car.

“Opportunity Cost,” the eighth episode of the second season, gets underway with a meeting between Vera and a hefty gentleman named Steve Brasik, whom she intends to pay handsomely for a hit piece against Araknet, hurting the growing company’s credibility.

Ronald is drinking on the job — a reality that Stella, Izzy and Nick can sense.

At a new team meeting, Ronald suggests that Araknet position themselves as a viable data-sharing option to the developers and users of School Yard, a Facebook-esque social media app that Wes notes is the 5th-largest social media app in the world. Wes wants Nick, Mara and himself to charter his private jet to make the pitch to School Yard, leaving Ronald and Izzy in their dust. Ronald takes it personally since, after all, it was his idea.

Nick tries to check in, but Ronald remains distant. As has been his wont since episode four, he stews angrily.

Wes, Nick and Mara talk strategy in the air as the team travels to the Silicon Valley. Wes wants When in the hotel, Nick and Mara share drinks and talk strategy further. Nick accuses Wes of being “out-of-touch,” having been out of the tech game for a decade. Though Wes wants to level with School Yard, Nick wants to coddle them. Mara counters by telling him that Paige (Kacy Owens), the CEO of School Yard, is a different animal behind closed doors. There is a moment, as they head back to their respect hotel rooms, where it looks like they may finally, finally hook up. But Mara retreats back to her room, keeping things all-business.

Ronald goes for a night out on the town with his crew. He sleeps in and, hungover, misses his first alarm to pick up Izzy and Stella. He drunkenly drives to scoop them. Bogden has tracked him. He and his crew unload an arsenal on them. He instructs Stella and Izzy to duck, they wait out the team’s initial onslaught. Ronald shoots out their tires and hits one of Bogden’s men in the stomach. He drives away from the team’s drop-off point.

Now safe, Izzy (correctly) points out that Ronnie missed the signs of being tracked. As the company’s private security detail, he compromised his team’s safety.

Izzy is packing up Stella’s things — like Ronald with his family, she wants Stella safe. Stella assures Izzy that she knew the risks when she made the decision to join them.

In the hotel, School Yard calls Nick to cancel the meeting. Steve Brasik’s fake news character assassination (written anonymously and published on a tech site named The Phoenix Sentinel) on the people behind Araknet (linking Nick, Izzy and Ronald to the FBI) has been published, and their reputation has taken a massive hit. Nick calls Izzy — they decide that the only way to reverse the client losses is to use Ronald to intimidate Steve Brasik (whom they still don’t know is behind the article) into coming out publicly and explaining that his piece was fake news.

The big hangup in this plan? Ronald has been doing a lot of thinking lately. He doesn’t want to intimidate Steve Brasik, given that he’s a family man. He hates being the team enforcer. Izzy levels with him: the stakes are as high as they can possibly be. If Ronnie can’t… persuade Steve Brasik to go public, Araknet is toast.

Outside Steve Brasik’s home, Ronald downs the contents of a flask, slips on a ski mask, and arms himself with multiple options for persuasion. Why he couldn’t ask one (or several) of his trusted entourage members to do the deed instead feels like a convenient turn of Ronald’s emotional arc. Because if this was all too much for him, and if he really is the boss of his gang, he should be able to effectively delegate a bit, no?

The next day, in Nick’s hotel room, he watches Brooke Baldwin (in a welcome cameo) grill Steve Brasik about his writing for The Phoenix Sentinel. He confesses to fabricating all of his stories. School Yard promptly calls Nick and reschedules their previously canceled rendezvous. At the meeting, Wes and Mara go full-bore, confronting School Yard about their fifth place social media platform status, and about the reality that they are selling their 380 million users’ information to interested conglomerates despite positioning themselves as being by and for their customers. School Yard, it turns out, has been approached by Guizer about partnering up. Nick goes in for the kill when this is discussed, and accuses Paige of stealing from her own charitable cancer foundation; he then provides the digital receipts on his tablet to back this claim up (all thanks to Izzy’s stellar research). Effectively, this functions as blackmail.

Ronald continues to lose himself in drink. Meanwhile, Wes, Mara and Nick drink to celebrate. Wes turns in, leaving Mara and Nick to make out (finally) at the bar. In some expert intercutting, we see Wes place a phone call to a mysterious international paramour (potentially Mara’s mother?) while Mara and Nick consummate their flirtation.

The penultimate episode of the season, “Leverage,” opens with Rance and Izzy imbibing shots and peanuts as they watch Araknet leap to… 10 million users, while lapping Guizer’s comparatively lackluster 3 million-ish users.

Bogden and his crew have looked into possible locales Wes may have a piece of near the island where he tracked Ronald meeting Izzy and Stella’s ferry. They pinpoint Araknet’s outpost.

In four months, Araknet has managed to supplant Guizer. Wes hosts the gang at a celebratory dinner while Ronnie drinks with his crew back at the mainland. StartUp needed a little padding, so invariably this is where it killed time with some excessive, cost-efficient party montages. Because this is only episode nine, it feels obvious that the celebrating here is premature. Wes observes Nick and Mara getting close at his island soiree. Ronnie, hanging with his crew, is on the verge of cheating on Tamara (looks as if he’s developed a taste for cocaine). Before the moment of truth, he tells her he still has feelings for Tamara. She leaves, and he takes another snort of cocaine. I smell trouble brewing.

Wes tells Mara he wants her to stop seeing Nick, convinced it’s a conflict of interest for his company. Ronnie, drunk and lonely, calls Tamara, confessing that he’s struggling without them.

Stella proposes that she and Izzy move in together, once Araknet’s future is secure and they’re safe from those pesky Russians.

The Russians have brought in a new, curt enforcer, Oleg (Vera and Bogden’s uncle), to help them handle the Araknet team.

Wes wanders through Araknet’s hallways, surveying his team. He gets a mysterious phone call (probably from Oleg) and accepts an invitation to meet with the caller.

Ronald arrives at Tamara and their daughter’s secure hideout — Tamara’s sister’s mobile home — and reunites with his family, however temporarily. Ronald and Tamara have a heart-to-heart. Tamara tries to rationalize Touie’s death as being a product of street life. Ronald tells her he has a permanent way out.

Vera meets with Wes — theirs is a friendly, introductory convergence. Vera wants to admit competitive defeat on behalf of Guizer, but in exchange she wants Araknet to use GenCoin as their currency of choice. He knows what they really want: for Araknet to accept Guizer, and in exchange she will call off her brother and his goons as they hunt down Ronald and Izzy in particular.

Wes broaches the subject with his team. Izzy, not one for tact, chews out Mara in front of her boyfriend, Araknet’s CEO, and father, Araknet’s chief financier.

Oleg and Vera meet with Bogden and hand him a ticket back to Moscow. They appear confident that Wes will be able to coax his team into the truce. Bogden protests, but seems to acquiesce. Again, though, this is merely the middle of episode nine. Something’s got to give pretty soon.

Ronald, Nick and Izzy confer. Ronald and Nick both want to accept the truce. Ronald leverages an anecdote about his experience murdering enemies to convince Izzy that the cycle of violence needs to end. Nick consults with Mara. Izzy, their golden goose programmer, would walk if they agreed to terms with GenCoin. Mara suggests that the ubiquity of Araknet would give them the cache they’d need to hire other programmers.

That night, the team votes, with understandable results: Izzy is shot down 4-1. Wes calls Axis to let them know that the truce is on. Unfortunately, Izzy was right not to trust Vera’s Axis team. Bogden has opted to go rogue, and ditches the airport, enlisting two of his cronies to take care of Izzy, permanently. They know the location of the island. Izzy and Nick talk after the vote, and Izzy chastises him for his perceived softness. In bed, even Stella makes a bid for Izzy to reconsider the truce.

Wes chomps on one of his signature cigars while playing pool with Nick and Mara. Ronald greets them, about to head home for the night. He announces that he’s going to ask for a buyout. Nick tries to coax him to stay — which is when Bogden shoots him in the chest, right above his heart. Ronald can’t get to cover on his own. Nick leaves the post he’s perched behind, grabs Ronald and brings him behind the main bar on the outdoor patio. Ronald handles Bogden’s two goons while Bogden approaches the main compound, looking for Izzy. Izzy has armed herself, and keeps Stella close. Ronald kills Bogden right before he can get to Izzy. He collapses into Izzy’s arms, clinging to life as Stella calls for help. This was a bit of a shock.

The resolution of the second season, “Soul Proprietor,” is about to tie up some serious loose ends. Martin Freeman survived his own character’s near-death experience earlier this season. Can Edi Gathegi do the same?

Things open rather morbidly, with Izzy visiting her murdered sister Deflia’s tombstone.

Izzy greets a mostly-recuperated Phil Rask at his home. He’s walking on a cane, but he’s walking. She formally thanks him for saving her from Bogden’s Axis team. He prods her: what’s she really after? Izzy is worried about Stella.

Nick gets a call from a Panama City police officer. The officer tells him he believes his father’s murder was a hit job, and asks him if he knows anyone who would want his father gone. I’m going to make a bold prediction now — Wes ordered the hit against Nick’s father.

Ronald is alive! Thank goodness. He’s walking on crutches and his arm rests in a sling, but he’s alive, darn it. He, Tamara and their daughter return home. The house is littered with evidence of his depressive consumption.

A grieving Vera and a stoic Alex Bell are driven by Ronald’s security detail to the Araknet team’s island. Izzy stews on the balcony. She hasn’t said a word to anyone on the team — but she called the meeting. Wes tries to pick her brain, but she remains stubbornly mute. Izzy seems to preach peace. But she has a caveat, one that she has not shared with her partners. She wants personal control over Guizer — network codes, backdoors. She wants the competition eradicated, because she (obviously) doesn’t trust Vera or Alex. Vera and Alex protest that Guizer is clearly a second-tier dark web option, and that it has proven to be a reliable source of income for Axis. They refuse to cede control. Izzy requests a buyout equivalent to Ronnie’s.

Tamara talks to Ronnie about the buyout. Ronnie reflects that he feels unwanted at Araknet. Tamara thinks that Ronnie’s move to accept the buyout is the path of least resistance. At a poker game with his entourage, they prod their grand leader about getting their perceived fair share of the buyout.

Stella and Izzy check out their prospective new house. Alex Bell texts Izzy with a surprisingly friendly missive, telling her their interests may be more aligned than she thinks. She opts to bring a gun to their meeting. Alex gives Izzy a hard drive containing her requested network codes and backdoors for Guizer, so that she can effectively muzzle it. Izzy shares the drive with Rask. She wants to use the drive as collateral to clear Nick’s name and incriminate Vera’s shady Axis team. Phil agrees.

Ronald meets up with Wes, Nick and Mara to sign off on his buyout. We can discern from his reaction that the money is… really, really good. Ronald hesitates, then changes his mind. He wants to ride with Araknet. Nick and Mara are happy to have him back, Wes has other thoughts, but his democratic voting policy is flipped against him.

Phil Rask formally returns to the FBI’s cyber crimes investigation team — with Izzy now operating as his (covert) consultant.

Wes instructs Nick on how to properly cut a fish. This intimate moment serves as mere prelude to the meat of this scene: whether or not Wes ordered the hit on Nick’s father, Wes’s best friend. We can guess what the answer is while Wes hovers over the stove, the question lingering from Nick. He doesn’t deny it. Andy Talman, Wes asserts, was unreliable. He knew Andy would betray his criminal transgressions to the highest bidder. Wes, clearly a man with whom no one should mess, asks Nick point-blank if they’re going to have a problem. Nick, still stunned, joins Wes for some fish. Another A+ scene.

Izzy hops on a shuttle flight to visit an aunt she’s never seen.

Vera and Oleg discover that their network has been compromised by Phil Rask and his team. CNN’s Brooke Baldwin relays the news to our heroes. GenCoin has been implicated in the FBI’s takedown, and is set to collapse. Vera and Oleg return to Moscow in defeat to escape FBI capture. It appears that Izzy has abandoned Stella, bought left her with a flatscreen television set. Nick senses Izzy’s role in the leak to Phil Rask. Izzy, always brash, has abandoned and betrayed the people who mattered to her to visit something she doesn’t know is there. The curtain closes on Izzy discovering that her aunt’s house appears derelict and abandoned.

I understand Izzy’s anger towards GenCoin and Axis, and towards Wes and Mara Chandler. After everything she’s done to ensure that Nick wasn’t implicated in the immersive FBI sting that captured almost 1,000 criminals, it’s surprising that she’s so ready to crater the company that she created with Nick and Ronald. But beyond that, her abandonment of Stella for an impromptu visit to this absentee aunt struck me as wholly uncharacteristic and bizarre. Sure, it serves as a terrific cliffhanger resolution to an emotionally wrenching season, one that went deeper than its predecessor, and stands as an absolute improvement. But it also struck me as being something of a strange character turn.

Was Izzy’s shunning of Stella a rejection of her lover’s intimations towards a life of stability and domesticity — a life of happiness? Her desire for avenging the death of a sister that she wasn’t much of a cheerleader for in life seems to have irrevocably clouded her behavior. I can probably be talked into every back she’s stabbed save Stella. Stella feels like an innocent bystander. But, then again, I suppose Izzy was never one for social tact. And to be fair, Nick has effectively sold his soul by casting his lot with his dad’s killer.

Crackle better be drafting up the paper work with Ben Ketai for season three.

Alex Kirshenbaum | Contributor
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