May 27, 2015 · 3 minutes

One of the major disadvantages of watching a show week-to-week as opposed to binging on Netflix is that a program may feel unfocused and adrift, even as its putting the pieces in place for a major and satisfying story development. That's certainly been the case for Silicon Valley over the past few weeks, as disparate plot points and characters, from the introduction of Hooli's XYZ Moonshot department to the aborted livestream event for Homicide energy drink, make the show feel more episodic than it is. As it turns out, however, each of these events have been building up to this week's episode, "Adult Content," during which the fate of Pied Piper is left hanging in the balance. And not only does the episode boast an impressive convergence of plot threads while marking a significant moment in Richard's transition from shy, unassuming coder to ruthless CEO, it's also one of the funniest half-hours of television this often-inconsistent program has ever strung together.

When we last left the Pied Piper gang, they had been monumentally screwed over by the rival compression startup Endframe, which after stealing Richard's technology swooped in to take over a botched deal with Homicide to livestream an Evel Kneivel-style daredevil event. Having missed out on a major PR deal, their limited cashflow still under the corrupt and capricious control of uber-douche Russ Hanneman, and a lawsuit from tech giant Hooli still looming, the team faces the ultimate indignity: a forced merger with Endframe that would see Pied Piper absorbed by an enemy that's even more insidious than Hooli, the company with whom Richard had already rejected a number of acquisition offers -- and under much better terms than the Endframe deal. The merger is proposed by Hanneman who, after seeing his net worth dip below the billion dollar mark and desperate to rejoin the "three-comma club," will see a hefty pay day by combining Pied Piper's technical prowess with Endframe's massive sales team. This narrative betrays the show's cynical yet sadly realistic perspective on business: The longer Richard holds onto to his own pride and ideals, the closer his startup comes to annihilation.

Indeed, Richard has discovered that to survive against others operating at a high level of business where potentially billions are at stake, you can maintain a sense of pride or a sense of ideals, but not both. At nearly a half-dozen moments during the series' first 17 episodes, Richard has been given the opportunity to swallow his pride and "sell out" to Hooli. A move like that would see him ceding control of his company, but it would also allow him to continue doing what he does best: Quietly writing code while letting others make the tough, often unethical, ideals-shaking decisions required to run a business in this ruthless industry.

But by remaining CEO, it puts Richard in a position of responsibility over the destiny of his business -- a position that demands a certain measure of hands-dirtying. He discovers this when Gilfoyle informs him that he "hacked" into the head of EndFrame's files and located the terms of a major $15 million sales deal with the faux-innocuously-named online porn company, Intersite. That kind of money would allow the company to settle up with Russ, pay its legal bills, and even have a bit left over to start hiring a sales team like Endframe's. Of course, the move is also predicated on a highly unethical and highly illegal bit of "hacking."

As I've written in the past, Silicon Valley's greatest narrative potential lies in telling the story of how the quiet coder Richard Hendricks morphs into a villainous CEO -- think Breaking Bad's "Mr. Chips into Scarface" arc, only here it's "McLovin into Steve Jobs." Richard takes the bait, and I'm happy to report that Silicon Valley is embracing this arc wholeheartedly. Despite the show's many ups and downs and its less-than-pristine record when it comes to documenting and sympathizing with the gender dynamics in tech, Silicon Valley may be slowly making itself into something more than a Sunday night dalliance. It could -- maybe, possibly, probably not but who knows -- become a worthy contender in the new television canon.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]