HBO's Silicon Valley returned last night for its fifth season and with it a noted lack of T.J. Miller, who left the show at the end of the fourth season. Miller threw around some insults not long after the news broke, confirming that his departure wasn't really on the best of terms. With him leaving the show, the show's writers decided to have a little fun with the fate of Miller's character Erlich Bachman.
At the end of season four, Erlich was left in Tibet after he went to visit Gavin Belson, who was on a retreat. Gavin flew back, and when Thomas Middleditch's character Richard Hendricks asked Gavin where Erlich was, he kind of just gave him a shrug. In the season five premiere, "Grow Fast or Die Slow," we don't find out what Erlich is up to exactly, but we do get to see what Pied Piper think about his absence.
It turns out, they're not really all that concerned that Erlich never returned from Tibet. Focusing on the latest project from Pied Piper, the group is unconcerned. Except, however, for Jian Yang, who made it his life goal to make Erlich as miserable as possible.
With Erlich gone, Jian Yang immediately starts inviting friends over to Erlich's house, which he's been living at rent-free since the first season. "Do you think Erlich would want your guys here," asks Pied Piper's Dinesh Chugtai. "No, that's why I invite them. Because I hated Erlich," Jian Yang responds. Later, he's determined to prove that Erlich is dead so that he can inherit his house and stake in Pied Piper.
“I want to ship a dead body from China, but it’s hard to find a white body in China, especially fat like Erlich,” Jian Yang tells Pied Piper. “So I buy a fat white cadaver from Cincinnati Medical School.”
As Variety points out, the second episode of the season is set to take the situation even further, with Yang cremating a dead pig to prove that Erlich is dead, since he can't buy the dead body of a white guy that easily. While Elrich is probably still alive, the writers sure are having a lot of fun playing with Miller's absence.
Speaking with The New York Times, Mike Judge spoke about Miller's departure a bit further. "Had he left after Season 1 or 2, it would have been really rough to try to make it work. But now it’s actually kind of perfect timing because we were having trouble keeping him in the story," he explained. "Not because of him, just because his character is not a programmer. He’s just the guy who owned the house. We had done a bunch of comedy about that, about how he’s kind of marginal and trying to make himself relevant."
As for what he thinks of the way Erlich was written out of the show, he said, "It seemed very much like T. J.—I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s a brilliantly funny guy. I’ve seen these quotes—he’s always been a good put-down artist. But yeah, I don’t know what to really make of it, and it’s not any of my business anymore, you know?"