Silicon Valley's New Villain is the Ari Gold of Startups 

By Kate Knibbs on at

The Pied Piper gang finally has its Ari Gold, and that’s a good thing. Silicon Valley has been distinguishing itself this season by how deftly its satire straddles the line between realism and absurdism, but it’s been intermittently subdued.

Russ Hanneman is an entitlement fever dream, a caricature of Justin Timberlake playing Sean Parker, and he injects a faster-paced verve into HBO’s second-most-popular returning show about shifting alliances and desperate, bold power plays in an unpredictable and vicious world on the brink of howling collapse.

“Bad Money” introduces Hanneman (Chris Diamantopoulos, who really looks like Mark Wahlberg and Jeremy Piven had their genes spliced) as the show’s newest antagonist, a peacocking lout who made his first billion by selling a radio-on-the-internet service to AOL in the 90s, a nod to Mark Cuban. He’s vulgar anathema to the Prius-and-hoodie Silicon Valley aesthetic.

Silicon Valley's New Villain Is the Ari Gold of Startups 

Maybe his bing results are better

The Limp Bizkit-listening, custom orange MacLaren-driving billionaire intercepts Richard as he’s about to give up and join Hooli, accepting the buyout Gavin Belson offered during last week’s cliffhanger.

“Don’t do what you should do, do what you want!” He growls at Richard over $800 bulgogi, encouraging him not to take the buyout. Instead, he promises to loan Richard $5 million to save Pied Piper from Hooli, while feeding Richard like the wet baby bird he is, shouting out instructions to chew the meat while claiming he’ll be hands-off.

Richard accepts, and it’s quickly clear that Hanneman’s definition of hands-off still involves plenty of hands. He enters the Pied Piper house as a dervish of offensiveness to sit in on a meeting. “What up, Al Qaeda!” he greets Dinesh, before interrupting Richard as he goes over the budget to ask if he really talks like that.

By comparison, Belson manages to look relatively genteel even as he gets in trouble at Re/Code by comparing the treatment of billionaires to the Nazi’s treatment of Jewish people. Unlike real-life venture capitalist Tom Perkins, who made the exact same thing berserk comparison year, Belson is unapologetic about the flap.

Silicon Valley's New Villain Is the Ari Gold of Startups 

Did mossberg get paid for this?

The only time he’s truly upset this episode is when Hanneman antagonises him by putting a giant, beautifully generic and inscrutable Pied Piper billboard directly across from Hooli headquarters.

But backing up: After she finds out about Richard’s deal, Monica rushes into the Pied Piper home to warn the gang against taking Hanneman’s money, a plea that gets shot down. It’s getting obvious that the show isn’t sure what to do with Monica; she’s become a sort of mentor to Richard, but one whose commitment and loyalty to Pied Piper doesn’t quite make sense. Her devotion feels shoehorned, and unfortunately, so does the presence of Laurie, her robotic, competent boss. Monica rambles on about how Pied Piper has made a bold, unorthodox decision, and Laurie refuses to acknowledge anything she says.

I’m kinda with Laurie on this one, and Laurie is a loosely-drawn caricature of a socially awkward business genius. That’s not a horrible thing in and of itself. Hanneman might be the broadest character the show has ever done, a logjam of douche tropes compressed into one yammering shitfrat disruptor. Yet the character works, well, because it’s not only a collection of bro tics: Hanneman isn’t just driving the plot forward, he’s yanking it along with his whims, and he gets a rise out of every single character he interacts with, which is fun. (Poor Erlich trying to be his friend actually made me feel sorry for T.J. Miller’s usually-arrogant character.) Laurie, on the other hand, is getting more and more one-note.

After insulting pretty much everyone, Hanneman insists that Pied Piper should not make revenue, using the sort of counterintuitive logic that’s stupid enough to be true in the Valley. “If you show revenue, people will ask how much, and it will never be enough,” he says. You’d think he was an idiot if there wasn’t “pre-revenue” companies like Snapchat dominating the real-life startup scene.

For all his wealth, Hanneman is a cultural outsider whose flagrant boorishness sets him apart from the likes of Hooli’s Gavin Belson. Hanneman doesn’t give a shit about saving the world lip service, and he has calf implants. This is a show about people on the fringe of the tech world, but generally they understand its rules. Hanneman is a refreshing character because he doesn’t have the playbook.

Stray thoughts:

  • Jared comparing his work relationships to the romantic partners of Julia Roberts’ characters was great. “Every day here has been like that shopping spree scene. I’m putting on hats!”
  • Big Head is back! Hanneman’s billboards provoke Belson so much that he asks his legal team how they can actually flat-out win the suit against Hooli. They suggest finding someone within Hooli who worked on Pied Piper and setting them up to be a superstar, to imply that the talent behind Pied Piper still works at Hooli. And thus, we get re-introduced to Big Head, Richard’s untalented friend who was cut from the team last season.
  • “I’ve got three nannies suing me now. One for no reason.” Hanneman’s blase attitude towards litigation made for one of the funniest lines of the night.
  • I was trying to figure out what I recognized Diamantopoulos from: He played Brian, the documentary crew member with a crush on Pam, in the last season of The Office. He’s much better-used here.