SILICON VALLEY Review: “The Keenan Vortex”

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continues to limp its way towards the end of its season this week with “The Keenan Vortex,” a very forgettable episode that doesn’t suggest the show is going to pull itself out of its current tailspin. The series has crossed some inflection point where all the positive things it was doing early this season now feel like its weaknesses. I lauded the show for being able to subvert my expectations and not take its storylines down the obvious routes, but the last three of four episodes have worn down my patience and trust in the series. People have praised this season for taking on a more episodic structure that resembles a more classic network comedy, but I do think that most critics and viewers hold the show to a higher standard and have expected something big to come out of the wash. Instead, we’ve gotten a series of false starts that have little to no payoff. And that would be fine, except that by lowering the stakes the comedy suffers, and this week was the first episode where I actively had to look for the laughs.

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We began this season with a re-set that saw the guys all back at Erlich’s house again working on Dinesh’s use of the algorithm. After two episodes we moved back to Richard being the focus with his new internet and were given a three episode arc of him working with Gavin Belson again. Since being dumped by Belson, the plot hasn’t had any motion until the recent introduction of Haley Joel Osment’s jolly VR pioneer Keenan Feldspar. It’s been a bit trying but there was just enough humor to keep it from settling into inertia.

So I’m extremely surprised that the show would put in the energy to tease us with this new relationship, to quickly pull it away in the same episode. Erlich brought Keenan into the fold two episodes ago in what seemed like a storyline that was going to run us through the end of the season. We didn’t get to see too much of their relationship and it worked as a funny and quiet way to get Erlich back into the A-plot of the show. He uses Feldspar to get back in with Laurie, and then works with Richard and the guys on Pied Piper. It’s very clean and obviously wouldn’t end there, but I thought we’d at least get a few episodes to mine that relationship rather than leaving us back at page one.

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The question starts becoming what’s the point? And for the first time the show hit a real sadness with Erlich now finally having hit rock bottom. Armed with the knowledge that Miller is leaving after this season, seeing the outline of his body under the burning palapa was a very striking image and I actually thought it was going to be revealed Erlich committed suicide in that scene. It would be a dark turn for sure, and one that thankfully didn’t happen, but it just showed me I’m basically open to anything happening in this show now. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s one thing to be constantly surprised and be excited for the plot to go somewhere you didn’t realize it could. But it’s another thing to open the flood gates of infinite possibility. That’s basically “jumping the shark,” and I hate to use that phrase because of my affection for the show, but somewhere internally I’m being told that the driver of the car I’m in doesn’t know where they’re going.

I want to keep faith in the show and find out there was a bigger story to tell the whole time, but right now I have to admit I’m not seeing it, and I imagine fans of the show are feeling the same way even if they don’t want to say it. It really does come back to the humor in this case, and if they were able to keep the comedy up to its high standard that would be one thing. But the humor really suffers this week and I felt like they were trying different versions of their bread and butter that just weren’t landing. I didn’t think any of the Jack Barker stuff worked at all, and even though he’s been an interesting foe in the past, he doesn’t hold a candle to Belson (a fact the series seems to know.) I’m not too excited about Barker and Keenan being the main obstacles for Richard and company. It just feels like a repeat of what we’ve already seen and neither character has the clout to suggest they can actually make a dent in the lives of our central crew.

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Right now we’re heading towards Hoolicon where the guys plan on saving their company and set us up for season five. I really don’t know what to expect, we’ve already been here before but this time we know something is going to happen that takes Erlich permanently out of the picture. I expect the jokes will be stronger for the last few episodes and that the guys just need to get through this rough patch to put the show back on its feet. Something needs to happen though and fast, we can’t do another full season of them at the bottom. As with Erlich sitting under his palapa of broken dreams, at a certain point it stops being funny to see guys consistently fail, and we need a little bit of hope to keep the humor going.

TB-TV-Grade-C+Season 4, Episode 8 (S04E08)
Silicon Valley airs Sunday at 9PM on HBO

Read all of our reviews of Silicon Valley here. 
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