SPOILERS ahead on the Silicon Valley series finale, Season 6, Episode 7, which premiered December 8, 2019.
"Exit Event" referenced Erlich's name multiple times before we saw his face via a driver's license toward the end. Earlier in the episode, Jian-Yang (Jimmy O. Yang) approached Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) about getting free shares of Pied Piper. Richard said no, but Jian-Yang could still be an investor. Monica Hall (Amanda Crew) said he could buy a Piper Coin. He shut her down in typical Jian-Yang fashion, and she pointed out that "the coin we issued to Erlich was just sold for $20 million."
Jian-Yang asked Richard if "the mean lady" was right, is Erlich "now fat and rich"? Hearing yes, he asked where Erlich was. Richard said he didn't know, but "Tibet, maybe." Since we last saw Erlich in the opium den in Tibet where Gavin Benson left him.
That was the last we heard about Erlich in the Silicon Valley finale until closer to the end. Part of the series finale included a time jump 10 years into the future, with a documentary film crew following the Pied Piper crew. They toured the team's old house and that's when Erlich's name came up again. At that point, 10 years ahead of the events of the show, they thought Jian-Yang was dead, but Erlich was still alive. No one had talked to Erlich, though, so they wondered if he had burned through all of his money yet.
Cut to the documentary film crew out in the jungles, tracking down the location for Erlich Bachman. Some local kids tell him he's in a house. They walk in, and behind a screen is a man who is obscured by very obviously Jian-Yang. Asked if he's Erlich Bachman, he says yes and holds out Erlich's real driver's license.
I was a fat, but now I'm a not-fat.
The documentary crew seemed skeptical, so Jian-Yang says he has another idea... Cue sounds of a struggle and then a cutaway. So did Jian-Yang kill Erlich, steal his money, and then also kill the documentary crew?
Silicon Valley executive producer Alec Berg wrote and directed “Exit Event" and addressed the Erlich addition. Here's what he said when asked why they decided to bring the character back two years after T.J. Miller's explosive exit:
Well, he was on the show for four years. The Erlich character is a big part of the show.
Here's what he said when asked if there was any effort made to get T.J. Miller to make a cameo:
Ouch. Did they have to get permission to use his image?
No. We own the Erlich character. And [T.J.] left the show.
What about the ending with Jian-Yang? TVLine asked if there were hints that he was a murderer in the making. Alec Berg pointed out it's not quite that cut-and-dry:
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.
Silicon Valley EP Alec Berg also spoke to EW, with the reporter noting that they initially had no expectations of seeing T.J. Miller as Erlich but then his name kept being mentioned. EW asked if there was ever talk of bringing Miller back, despite everything:
No… [Laughs] No, there never was. But I like that people think he was going to pop up. That was kind of the design, to get people going, 'Wait a minute, are we going to see him?' ... [H]e was a major character for the first four seasons, so he’s still very much in the world of the show. I remember going through older footage to build the documentary footage and he was in all the old pictures of the company, so he exists in the lore of the show, in the same way that Peter Gregory [Christopher Evan Welch, who passed away after Season 1)] does.
When it was announced that T.J. Miller would be leaving Silicon Valley, it was said to be by mutual agreement. After that, behind-the-scenes stories started coming out, including details on the reportedly difficult relationship between Miller and Thomas Middleditch. Miller seemed to like how Erlich was written out, arguing the character didn't below on the show anymore since no one liked him, so why wouldn't he leave?
Silicon Valley aired 53 episodes across six seasons from 2014 to 2019. It joins Veep as a major comedy leaving HBO this year. The show -- and maybe Erlich? -- will be missed.