In the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, the resident racist school bully once got the hell beaten out of him by an Asian kid. The bully was so devastated by this thrashing that he stopped bullying everyone, including the Chris everybody hates. In his absence, all the bullied kids became bullies themselves, throwing the entire social order of high school out of whack. This analogy perfectly describes social-media hellholes like Twitter, comments sections, and other places where folks who think they’re anonymous try to impose their will on the masses. It also describes the short, meteoric rise of Dinesh Chugtai, the new CEO of PiperChat.
In the past three seasons, Dinesh has borne more abuse than any other character. Most of that abuse comes from his frenemy, Gilfoyle, but it also stems from Dinesh’s more unwise choices. And yet, Silicon Valley doesn’t treat him like a victim. It opts to go the route of the Todd Solondz movie Welcome to the Dollhouse, in which the teased kid has the capacity to be as much of a prick as her tormentors. Dinesh’s worst enemy is often his own fragile ego, and as “Terms of Service” opens, we see that his ego has grown to monstrous proportions.
“We’re lean, we’re exploding, and we’re more mission-focused than ever,” Dinesh tells a prospective venture capitalist investor. When the VC expresses mild concern, Dinesh’s overconfidence flips into overdrive. “You don’t want to be the guy who fucks this up,” he says. “So when your bosses see our numbers and get visible hard-ons, call me.”
“It’s hards-on!” corrects Erlich as they leave the conference room. At first, I thought this was correct, as more than one mother-in-law is mothers-in-law, and more than one attorney-at-law is attorneys-at-law. But a quick check of Webster proves Erlich incorrect; the plural of hard-on is indeed hard-ons. Your humble recapper is nothing if not thorough, ladies and gentlemen.
As Erlich and Dinesh are leaving, another venture capitalist mentions Erlich’s upcoming meeting to pitch a product Jian-Yang has developed. Erlich plays along, but he has no idea what the hell Jian-Yang is up to, nor why this is the first he’s heard of it. Eventually, Erlich blindly invests in what he thinks is a VR project but is actually Jian-Yang’s octopus recipe. In other words, “Terms of Service” will be another of those episodes where people get bitten in the ass for not doing their due diligence. And there are a lot of chewed-up asses in this one.
Over time, we’ve learned so much about people’s names. We’ve learned that Jared is really named Donald Dunn, that the nickname “Big Head” comes from the surname Bighetti, and that Gilfoyle is not his first name. Richard, Erlich, Gavin, and even Action Jack are quite often referred to by their full names. And yet I think this is the first time we’ve ever heard Dinesh’s full name. He’s always been just a first name, like Cher, Madonna, or Odie. Becoming PiperChat’s CEO has made Dinesh important enough to finally have a name that can be prefixed by mister.
Of course, all this power goes to Dinesh’s head. First, he reneges on his prior arrangement to allow Richard to use PiperChat data for his Untitled New Internet Project. “We had a deal,” Richard says. “We had an agreement. I don’t want another Intersite on our hands,” Dinesh responds, referring to the accidental deletion of massive quantities of porn in season two’s “Black Hat/White Hat.” Dinesh’s verdict is clear: “It happened on your watch, so the answer is no!”
Keeping Richard in the Hacker Hostel is an awkward proposition. He’s no longer part of the biggest project in Erlich’s incubator. Making matters worse, he’s an outsider whose attempts to get back in are met with much resistance. When Richard tries to get Jared to empathize with him about Dinesh’s mistreatment, Jared short-circuits. Though he may still make eyes at Richard, Jared is not one of those disloyal corporate hos. Jared is a ride-or-die bitch for whomever his CEO is.
“We must bifurcate our friendship,” he tells Richard. “We cannot talk about business! We can talk about anything two guys might talk about, like sports teams. Or pussy!” But Richard has seen, identified, and handled more mistakes in his reign as Pied Piper CEO than any of his former teammates. He is about to continue that tradition.
Meanwhile, Dinesh is on Bloomberg TV trying to charm Emily Chang. He has so much mousse in his hair that the slightest spark would make his head go up like a Roman candle. “Do I have too much product in my hair?” he asks Gilfoyle. “No, you should put in more,” Gilfoyle replies. “Are you saying that to make me look better or worse?” Dinesh asks in follow-up. “Which answer will get more of that stuff into your hair?” Gilfoyle says.
While Dinesh focuses on his coif, Richard is focusing on Dinesh’s blatant diss of his leadership. Enraged, Richard takes Big Head up on his offer to get the data Dinesh forbid him to use. “I know what it’s like to be the only one not in the company,” Big Head says, a very nice piece of shade thrown toward the man who kicked him out of Pied Piper. Since this is Big Head, though, the snarkiness barely registers in his delivery.
During Richard’s illegal use of PiperChat, he notices something troubling and tries to point it out to Jared. “You violated our system?” Jared asks, utterly betrayed. “You were inside us?!” When Jared refuses to listen, Richard quickly tells him to survey the users and find out about their ages. Turns out 33 percent of PiperChat users are girls under 13 years of age. This may violate FTC standards.
Jared panics and drags Dinesh to meet Pete, the company lawyer who, once again, is played by Matt McCoy in a great cameo. (Pete now works at a car wash, for those of you keeping track.) Back in “Binding Arbitration,” we learned that Pete’s disbarment stemmed from being arrested for a litany of illegal activities with underage girls. So he knows a thing or two about PiperChat’s violation of COPPA, the FTC law that says, among other things, that parental consent must be granted for those under 13. Not only does PiperChat not have a means of parental consent, it doesn’t even have the terms of service page that gives this episode its title.
“But nobody reads those!” Dinesh says when he’s confronted for not porting Pied Piper’s terms of service over to PiperChat as Richard and Jared requested. Maybe not, but it’s a legal way for any company to cover its ass. (You should read them, by the way, because there’s always some seriously messed-up shit hidden under all that legalese.) Violations of COPPA result in a $16,000 fine per user per use, which means PiperChat has already racked up $21 billion in fines. Can it get any worse for CEO Dinesh? Yes, yes it can. Because he shirked his fiduciary responsibilities by putting PiperChat in legal trouble, he is on the hook for all $21 billion. While Dinesh barfs, Gilfoyle pops bottles of Champagne to celebrate this epic fail.
Over at Hooli, an unlikely savior for Dinesh will arise. Turns out that Gavin is still obsessively trying to punish Action Jack for “hijacking” his plane to Jackson Hole. He won’t rest until his newfound nemesis apologizes and then quits. Action Jack does show up to apologize during Gavin’s acupuncture session with his petty, lying-ass guru Denpok, but not for the expected reason.
“You’re doing what Bob Iger does at Disney!” Jack tells Gavin. “He makes every manager wear the Goofy suit one day out of the year.” Sounds like fun to me, but this humiliation is designed to make managers think on a product level. Being stuck in that basement across from the men’s bathroom has inspired Action Jack. He says he’s got new ideas that’ll make billions for Hooli. Naturally, Gavin is infuriated that his plan backfired.
Meanwhile, Denpok senses that he’s losing influence with Gavin, so he cooks up an elaborate lie that imagines Action Jack conspiring on PiperChat to stage a Hooli coup. Gavin needs to see those chats! And so he invites Dinesh to dinner and issues a hostile takeover of PiperChat. Shockingly, the preternaturally paranoid Gavin grabs the company without running it by his lawyers, so he has no idea he’s just stolen, to use Jared’s words, “a Sizzler buffet for sexual predators.” He realizes his grave mistake when that awesome consumer-opinion-panel moderator — you know, the cheery one who says everyone’s names — runs a user panel filled with underage girls and one creepy-looking old man. (The old man doesn’t like the new login page.) Gavin screams and bangs on the two-way mirror, bringing one of the funniest episodes of the series to a hilarious close. In this battle, due diligence wins by a knockout.
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