Zach Woods as Jared Dunn on “Silicon Valley.” (Credit: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO)
Opinion writer

This post discusses multiple plot points of “Silicon Valley,” which you really should be watching even in this fifth season, when I think the show is a little creatively stuck.

I didn’t realize how rare it had become for me to feel genuinely overjoyed for a fictional character until last Sunday, when “Silicon Valley” aired the third episode of its fifth season. Jared Dunn (Zach Woods), the under-appreciated and oft-mocked head of business development at the struggling tech company Pied Piper, spends much of the episode encouraging his boss, Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) to befriend the like-minded chief executive of another tech company — only for Richard to blow off Jared’s suggestion and become entranced with the other company’s snake-like chief operating officer.

But by the end of the half-hour, Richard belatedly recognizes not only where he went wrong, but also Jared’s worth, and he asks Jared to take over as Pied Piper’s COO. Jared’s eyes well as he’s overcome with emotion — and reader, so did mine. It was a delight to see “Silicon Valley’s” most deserving and most self-abnegating character get some of the reward he deserves. And Jared isn’t just the current best character on “Silicon Valley”: He’s one of television’s most endearing fictional men, period.

In the world of “Silicon Valley,” Jared is an anomaly. He’s a genuine idealist who quits a stable job at search engine giant Hooli because he’s inspired by the revolutionary possibility of Richard’s central innovation. He’s highly ethical, often feeling deeply wounded by the transgressions and cynicism of his colleagues, and even occasionally Richard himself. He cares a great deal about trying to be politically sensitive (“You’d tell me if you harbored nativist feelings, wouldn’t you?” he asked Richard anxiously in this most recent episode). And while the other characters on “Silicon Valley” are often prone to getting distracted by their individual enthusiasms and fruitless rivalries, Jared, despite the sometimes-airy nature of his optimism, remains sharply focused on the practical details of bringing Richard’s vision to life.

It would be easy for a less sharply written show to make Jared hopelessly pathetic rather than finding a near-infinite variety of new ways to preserve his nobility in the face of constant insult. Instead, what the writers of “Silicon Valley” and Woods have pulled off is something quietly radical. They’ve made Jared an illustration both of just how hard and how worthwhile it can be to buck the prevailing trends of a powerful industry, an exhausting idea of what it means to be a man and the torments of a miserable childhood.

One of the great jokes of “Silicon Valley” is that all the things that make Jared an admirable human and a valuable asset to the team also make him a relentless target for mishap and cruelty. Over the course of the series he has been kidnapped by a driverless car, marooned on an “oil rig full of robot forklifts,” arrested after an Adderall-related bender he went on an in an effort to save the company, and exiled to a rat-infested garage. In one of the best running gags anywhere on television, “Silicon Valley” has made clear that Jared’s bizarrely high tolerance for awful treatment and extreme circumstances are the result of a wildly traumatic youth. He may be the regular victim, but it’s the system that’s broken, not Jared himself. And the tech industry’s response to his decency reveals how absurd Silicon Valley’s ethos and inventions truly are.

Jared made substantial sacrifices when he left Hooli, but he also escaped the toxic whirlpool of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross), whose own career has stagnated as he’s become consumed with destroying Richard and Pied Piper. Dinesh Chugtai (Kumail Nanjiani) and Bertram Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) rib Jared regularly, but he rarely falls into traps and manias of his own devising the way that they do. Jared’s faith in Richard may be betrayed, but if Pied Piper ever actually changes the world, it will be in no small part because of Jared’s fidelity to that dream. And for all that the characters on “Silicon Valley” crack on Jared’s physique, paleness and strange affect, he is the rare younger male character to have most of the achievements that are associated with manliness: a stable place to live, a functional car, a clear sense of how the business world works and some success with women.

Jared is hardly the only fictional man I love on television, and hardly the only one providing a necessary counterpart to many of the more tiring cultural messages about masculinity. As Capt. Ray Holt on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Andre Braugher has given us a black, gay man who is so distinctly himself that it’s an insult to define the character simply by the precedents he sets. And Matthew Rhys’s emotionally wounded Soviet spy on “The Americans” has provided half of a remarkable duet that’s slyly challenged gender roles for six seasons. But watching Jared get that long-awaited and richly deserved promotion on Sunday felt like a tiny — yet vital — step toward detoxing from the twisted morals of the anti-hero age. Sometimes nice guys really do get to finish second in the corporate hierarchy.