The following story contains spoilers about Silicon Valley‘s series finale — proceed at your own peril!
In the end, Team Pied Piper failed to conquer the tech world but succeeded in saving the actual world. It was a fitting conclusion for HBO’s Silicon Valley, which spent a large chunk of Sunday’s series finale flashing forward a decade (by way of a documentary device) to show us where Richard & Co. landed in he wake of PiperNet’s implosion. The major futuristic takeaways: Jian Yang faked his own death and possibly murdered Erlich Bachman before definitely assuming his identity; Gavin Belson is a faux literary phenom and maybe gay; and Laurie Bream is serving a lengthy prison sentence (but for what?!).
Below, exec producer Alec Berg — who wrote and directed “Exit Event” — answers our burning questions about Silicon Valley‘s last episode ever.
TVLINE | Were there hints throughout the six seasons that Jian Yang was a murderer in the making?
We don’t know for sure what happened. You’re assuming that Jian Yang killed [Erlich]. He might be keeping him in a basement for all we know. [I will say that] Jian Yang started off as a very naïve and bumbling character, and then we kept finding funny things about him being more and more dark. Of all of our characters, he is the one that’s closest to pure evil.
TVLINE | Explain the decision to bring the character of Erlich back into the fold in the final episode [two years after T.J. Miller’s incendiary exit.]
Well, he was on the show for four years. The Erlich character is a big part of the show.
TVLINE | Was there any effort made to get T.J. Miller to make a cameo?
TVLINE | Did you have to get his permission to use his image in the episode?
No. We own the Erlich character. And [T.J.] left the show.
TVLINE | Are we to believe that Gavin is gay?
Again, open to interpretation. It’s funny, when we started [talking about] doing the [10-year] flash-forward we were talking about where each of our main characters should end up and asking [ourselves], “What’s earned? What’s justice? What’s appropriate? Do they deserve to be happy? And if they deserve to be happy, what is happiness?” And with Gavin, we started off from a place of, “He’s the enemy. He’s their rival and they beat him so we should make him miserable.” And we actually had a discussion in the room, “Well, wait a minute: We don’t hate Gavin. We kind of like Gavin.” Gavin is his own worst enemy, so Gavin just being around himself is probably like him being in purgatory to an extent. We enjoyed the idea that he used to be the king of Hooli and now he is stuck with this guy and he has to run everything by a partner. It felt like a funny position for him to be in. It’s funny, a couple of other people on the show, while we were writing [the finale], were like, “So… Gavin is gay?” And I was like, “I don’t know — is he?!”
TVLINE | Laurie Bream is in prison. What did they get her for in the end?
That was a deliberate decision to [not reveal what landed here in jail]. The one conversation we had to have about what she [was convicted of was related to] what she was wearing. In minimum security prisons people wear tan jumpsuits. And in medium and high security [prisons] they wear orange [jumpsuits]. I got a call from the wardrobe people [asking], “What did Laurie get convicted of?” Ultimately, it came down to orange because I think it’s funnier. Whatever she did it merited an orange jumpsuit.
TVLINE | Talk to me about the Bill Gates cameo. How’d that come about?
He’s always been a fan of the show. Every [season] before we start writing we’d do a research trip up to the Bay Area. And a couple of seasons ago we went to Seattle, and, when we were up there, a few of us sat with Bill for an hour and just shot the sh-t and picked his brain about what we got right and what we got wrong; he’s always been super helpful. So coming into the last season, we wanted to try and get him on the show. We were trying to work him into the [congressional] hearings in [the Season 6 premiere], but it didn’t quite work creatively. But we kept trying to get him in, and finally this documentary [idea] came together and we just flew to Seattle and put a camera in his face. He was great. We wrote three or four different lines for him and he had them all memorized and was super spot-on and completely game to play around.
TVLINE | Was the Pied Piper crew always destined to go out with something less than a happy ending?
We kept coming back to the question of, “What is success?” The whole show was [essentially] a rumination of, “Can you succeed on your own terms? Can you succeed without losing your soul?” Ultimately, we decided for a guy like Richard success is not financial. Success is not commercial. Success is not being famous or powerful. He’s an artist [and] an engineer. And he did it. They built [a decentralized Internet]. But it turns out it’s so good it’s going to destroy human institutions. But that in and of itself is a form of success. [They] built something so good that the world can’t handle it.
TVLINE | What was the final scene you shot?
The photo shoot with them signing the AT&T deal that’s in the opening documentary footage. When you look at [the footage] of Richard signing the piece of paper [you can see] that they are all very emotional. That was the last time that they all appeared together on camera, and they were feeling it. And, personally, getting the opportunity to be the documentarian of this piece and getting to do these one-on-one interviews with each of them was such a delight for me. It was such a pleasure to just sit with each one of them and do 15-20 minutes of Q&A. I’m not a performer, but to be able to sit and look each one of them in the eyes and run a bunch of lines was just great. It was such a great way to wrap it up for me.
TVLINE | Do you think at all about the legacy the show will leave behind? What do you hope it will be?
That’s up to everyone else. We just got super lucky that the tech business, during the run of the show, went from having this real smug, “You’re welcome world” attitude at the beginning to “We might’ve broken the world” at the end. I’m hearing stories now of people who work for tech companies who are ashamed to tell people [which company they work for] because they don’t want to get abuse for it. It’s gone from this impossible level of smugness to… I don’t want to say shame yet, but some people are definitely feeling like, “Oh, we might have done terrible things and we might be held accountable for some of our obliviousness.” But at least in [the case of Silicon Valley], our guys had the foresight and the moral judgment to shut it down versus, “This machine might be lubricated with the souls of our users, but we’re going to do it anyway!”