This weekend, I was watching the final season of Silicon Valley (yes, it’s taken me almost two years to finish Silicon Valley – there were times I didn’t have HBO/HBO Max or times where I didn’t have the time to sit down and watch an episode) and after years of hype, it lived up to the hype and then some.
WARNING: Spoilers for Silicon Valley, Split, and Blair Witch below!
So much of the show was about Pied Piper’s rise to success (and many failures along the way) that many viewers (including me) expected Pied Piper to become as big as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. However, Mike Judge (who serves as the show’s co-creator & executive producer) ended the series with Pied Piper accidentally creating a monster that was capable of decrypting the most secure encryption algorithms because the Son of Anton 2.0 relentlessly optimized the Pied Piper’s middle-out compression to the point where privacy no longer exists.
By subverting viewers’ expectations, Judge honored the memory of what the show was all about. After all, almost all of the problems were solved by someone tripping up and failing. So it only stands to reason that the compression algorithm Pied Piper has spent six years creating & optimizing would have to fail as well. Think about it. In Season 1, Pied Piper wins TechCrunch Disrupt based on a dick measuring contest. But then, all future seasons ended with a literal deus ex machina.
Furthermore, think of all the problems in the final season for just a minute. In the season six premiere episode, Richard doesn’t solve Colin’s data mining of user’s data in Gates of Galoo. Instead, he unwittingly gives Colin an easier way to mine user’s data. In the same episode, he gives Gavin Belson the idea for “tethics” in his speech to the US Senate. In the following episode, he turns down a $1B term sheet, which Colin accepts instead. Then, in episode five, he gives Gavin the idea to challenge the Attorney General to launch an injunction against Hooli. So, the only way season 6 (and the series) could end would be if Pied Piper finally admitted the algorithm’s faults and failed to become one of the biggest tech companies in the Valley.
Beyond Silicon Valley, this practice has become quite popular, especially among big media franchises from Disney. In the past ten years, of the Disney films I’ve seen, 33 of them (not including the ones based on pre-existing IP) have featured some kind of ending or twist that subverted viewers’ expectations at least once.
The contrast here is that to subvert expectations effectively, it needs to be unexpected. Therefore, by employing the technique more often than not, Disney has rendered the technique ineffective. Instead of coming out of nowhere, viewers expect some sort of twist at some point in the story, thus making the point of the film’s marketing much more about hinting at how much the twist will shake up the story than a pure surprise.
On that note, M Night Shyamalan‘s filmography relies on the twist unraveling the story you thought you were watching into an entirely different story entirely and makes you rethink what you just watched. It’s like watching an M. Night Shyamalan film knowing the twist. Sure, it’s still a good movie, but knowing that there’s going to be a twist kind of ruins the fun of the surprise. Part of the reason he fell out of panache after After Earth is because it was his fourth film with a horrible twist ending.
Six years later, he re-emerged with Split, which ended with David Dunn in a diner where a waitress watches a newscast about The Horde and states that it reminds her of a man in a wheelchair sent to an insane asylum 15 years ago, to which David replies “Mr. Glass”, revealing Split to take place 15 years after Unbreakable.
Now think if the trailers for Split really hyped up the superhero aspect of the film, instead of the horror film it is for most of the film. It wouldn’t make much of an impact. Or what if Blair Witch was titled The Woods up until the reveal of that film? It would have been as mind-blowing as Split had in theaters.
So, here’s hoping that future storytellers follow this advice, or at the very least watch the series finale of Silicon Valley when considering how to end their films. If not, this was fun! Thanks for listening to my endless rantings and hopefully, I made sense at one point or another! Oh, and if you want to watch (or rewatch) any of these films or television series, I’ve included links to the streaming options they’re available on.
Until next time!