Despite being one of HBO’s flagship comedies, there’s an aura of unease surrounding Silicon Valley’s fifth season. Season 4 wasn’t up to the show’s usual Emmy-nominated standards, and the program will now be without T.J. Miller’s Erlich Bachman after the actor and show mutually agreed to part ways. It was probably in their best interests—Miller’s behavior on set was reportedly not ideal—but still, to some, losing Erlich seemed like it would be a death blow to Silicon Valley.
I, however, am not worried. Erlich’s wannabe Steve Jobs antics were often entertaining, but they weren’t what kept the series consistently fresh, dynamic, and hilarious. The true soul of Silicon Valley—the one that the series can never, ever afford to lose—is tall, pale, awkward, and per Gilfoyle (Martin Starr), looks like “Frankenstein’s bulimic daughter.” I’m talking, of course, about Jared Dunn (the incredible Zach Woods).
The head of business development for the perpetually-in-limbo Pied Piper, Jared has been instrumental to keeping the company alive each season, and with every cringe-worthy smile or obscure reference to Julia Roberts movies, he’s won the hearts of viewers.
Unfortunately, Jared’s jovial demeanor hides a dark past that’s been revealing itself more each season. Jared had a really, really messed-up childhood, which we learn about only when he mentions it in passing—like in Season 4, when Richard (Thomas Middleditch) asks how he knows how to paint nails so well and Jared calmly replies, “When I was on the street, it was a means of survival.” Dude … what?!
So, in anticipation of Silicon Valley’s fifth season, which will premiere Sunday, we combed through all the information revealed about Jared’s early life in the show’s first four seasons—in addition to snippets from the Pied Piper blog that he updates—and provide a definitive background for Silicon Valley’s true franchise player. Here’s what we found:
Jared Is a Product of the Foster Care System
“Sometimes California Child Protective Services makes an unannounced visit at precisely the right time!” — Jared Dunn, Pied Piper Blog, “We’re Headed for Arbitration”
In his Pied Piper bio, Jared writes that he was raised by “largely well-meaning foster parents.” But it seems that there were periods of his childhood when Jared’s caretakers were far from responsible. As the bio also says, there are “parts of [Jared’s childhood] he cannot legally discuss because of non-disclosure clauses in settlements.” Still, he offers us clues.
In Season 3, Jared admits that Child Protective Services was unable to find his birth certificate, so he doesn’t know what day he was born. Unfortunately, CPS didn’t always provide the healthiest living situations, either. When Richard tries to justify illegally storing data from a valuable client on Hooli (basically, the show’s Google equivalent) and their line of phones, he likens it to a “forced adoption through aggressive guerrilla marketing.” “Well,” Jared responds, “as a product of forced adoption, I can assure you there are consequences.”
When Jared wasn’t traversing the foster care system, he apparently spent time around senior living homes as well. Speaking with Richard in Season 4’s fifth episode, “The Blood Boy,” about the importance of compromises, he mentions that he “once slept with the head of an assisted-living facility to get my friend Muriel bumped up the wait list. Am I proud of it? No. Do I regret it?” (This is when Jared shakes his head to imply: No, he didn’t regret it.)
Jared’s upbringing in the foster care system was bumpy, but clearly it had no effect on his moral compass, which always points north.
Jared Found Solace in Friends Both Real and Imaginary
“The boys at the home and I used to play a game called ‘Rose and Thorn,’ ranking the highs and lows of our day, and, well, these past few have been a thicket of thorns.” — Jared Dunn, Pied Piper Blog, “A Thicket of Thorns”
Since he was always bouncing around the foster care system, Jared would have to find companionship in some unexpected places. As he tells Richard in Season 3’s sixth episode, he had a stuffed animal he named Winnie—though he stresses it wasn’t technically a stuffed animal: “I took a Ziploc bag and I stuffed it with old newspaper and then I drew a smile on it.”
Other times, these friends were completely imaginary—spawned at a time of great emotional need. “When I was little,” he says in the following episode, “I used to pretend that I shared a room with Harriet Tubman and we were always planning our big escape.”
Were there real friends, too? Well, there was the aforementioned Muriel—surely, she appreciated getting bumped up the assisted living facility’s waiting list—and Jared also spoke about a boy from another group home in Season 4 who used to say: “When you don the skin of the beast, the man within dies.” Yes, that definitely sounds like something German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would say, but it isn’t a direct quote.
Thankfully, karma had a way of balancing things out for Jared. Instead of imaginary Harriet Tubman and Winnie, he now has real friends in the form of Richard, Gilfoyle, and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani)—even if Gilfoyle occasionally calls him names like “effeminate k.d. lang.”
Jared’s Relatives Were Awful
“Hey! Sorry if I scared you. I know I have somewhat ghost-like features. My uncle used to say, ‘You look like someone starved a virgin to death.’” [Nervous laughter.] — Jared Dunn, Silicon Valley, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Cap Table”
While it’s unclear whether Jared’s Uncle Jerry and unnamed aunt are blood relatives, it’s evident their behavior was very detrimental to his upbringing. According to Jared, because of his sensitive bottom, Jared’s aunt used to call him “glasshole”—which is somehow an improvement on how his Uncle Jerry addressed him.
Let’s assume Uncle Jerry is the one who said Jared resembled someone who “starved a virgin to death,” back in Season 1. That’s mean, but it’s far from the most damaging thing he’s done. He also introduced Jared to what he called “Uncle Jerry’s Game,” where Jared would pretend that everything around him was OK, when it clearly wasn’t, in a facile attempt to block out the traumas of his childhood. (When Jared was airing out his concerns about Pied Piper’s illegal dealings in Season 4 through the Pied Piper blog, he closed his eyes, “Uncle Jerry’s words echoing in my mind.”)
Meanwhile, Jared’s biological father was last seen in a militia in the Ozarks, as Jared said in Season 3’s fifth episode, “The Empty Chair.” It seems unlikely that Silicon Valley will introduce any of Jared’s biological relatives in future seasons—though for Jared’s sake, it’s probably for the best.
Jared Attended Vassar, and Was Part of the Women’s Rowing Team?
“I’ll have you know none of my foster homes were not remotely this luxurious, and my dorm room at Vassar was nearly as Spartan.” — Jared Dunn, Pied Piper Blog, “Personal Management”
Thankfully, we can take some solace in Jared’s formative years not being a total disaster, despite accruing some “crushing debt.” He got a BA in economics from Vassar College, which helped him land jobs with Google and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, per his Pied Piper bio.
While Jared seemed to thrive at Vassar—he was a cofounder of the group “Take Back Take Back the Night” and rocked a peacoat —his time in college wasn’t without intrigue. For instance, Jared was apparently the coxswain for the women’s heavyweight rowing team. How, exactly, did he win that position? It’s unclear, but it’s imperative these questions are answered in Season 5; preferably in a flashback.
Silicon Valley covered a lot of ground when it came to Jared’s upbringing, especially when you factor in that non-disclosure clause! And despite some very unfortunate moments—Uncle Jerry and his game, all the foster homes, the unnamed assailants—Jared actually turned out OK. Not only that, Jared is hysterical; he’s the beating heart of Silicon Valley.
In the immortal words of Russ Hanneman: This guy fucks.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.