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SEASON 2, EPISODE 6: eps2.4 m4ster-s1ave.aes
Masters, we all have them. Every relationship’s a power struggle. Some of us need to be controlled. Once in a while, the best course of action is to just ride shotgun, stare at the road ahead, and hope it leads somewhere you want to go. – Elliot Alderson
That was different, wasn’t it? The first 17 minutes of last night’s Mr. Robot was entertaining, funny, and dark. It was a trip into Elliot’s mind, where the essence of his dead father was trying to protect him from the beating. His brain took us to a 1980s sitcom, one that featured a title font matching Full House and a cast and crew font matching Family Matters. Elliot and his family, including his mother, ran into ALF in the E-Mart, a fictional convenience store controlled by E Corp and managed by Angela Moss. All that was missing was Eddie Winslow in the produce section.
Gideon Goddard appeared twice, first in the faux-credits to the sitcom, laughing after reading of his own death on the front page of the newspaper, and then later as a police officer that ALF ran over with his cherry red convertible. Mixed in, we were treated to a few fake commercials for E Corp, one that was clearly an attempt to fight back against Five Nine, and another for E Corp Online. The Bud Light ad took me back to watching the Braves on TBS or Super Bowls with family and friends. And, even though we didn’t see Rhonda Shear, USA Up All Night was running The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie at 11 PM ET in this non-existent universe.
I was seriously waiting for a Silk Stalkings spot, but no such luck.
Oh, and Tyrell Wellick was bound and blindfolded in the trunk of the Alderson family car.
All of this stuff was stylistic and smart, but how fast would it pay off for the story? Sam Esmail has shown a propensity to push boundaries and go weird and obscure with his series. It wasn’t difficult to decipher why Elliot was trapped in a world where his sister was addicted to a Nintendo Game Boy, but Mr. Robot still made sure to explain it, without leading us through it with bread crumbs.
This is a show that respects its audience and treats them like adults, even while manipulating and screwing with them. When Elliot wakes up in the “care” of evil, his portion of the episode ceases up until the exceptional last few minutes, which featured a strong sequence with Rami Malek and Christian Slater. But, during the sitcom, we see occurrences that reflect the essence of what’s actually happening on the show. It makes me wonder just how mean Elliot’s mother is, based on her actions.
Much of the rest of the episode featured Angela (Mrs. Alderson pepper sprayed her in the sitcom), who had to learn a decent amount of hacking in 24 hours, so that she could assist Darlene and the crew before the FBI left the offices. Before she ever started the job, she found out that Mr. Street CD-R is associated with the team. Back to the scheme, it had a little bit of Ocean’s Eleven in it, but it was a slow motion, high-intensity caper, which is one of my favorite concepts in television and film. Our subject had to flirt her way out of trouble on the 23rd floor, but for the time being appears to have succeeded in that attempt.
The Wi-Fi failure put Angela in Dom’s crosshairs, and the field agent is trying to hold the investigation together in the wake of the assault in Beijing that left four of her colleagues dead, as well as two perpetrators. She’s certain the Dark Army is the culprit, rather than separatists, which seems to be the leading theory. Her case is sensible, and she’s passionate as she makes it. She’s become much more likable in the past few weeks, however we’re never supposed to root for her.
It will be more apparent next week, because although all we saw last night was an introduction between Dom and Angela, that meeting isn’t over. It’s not going to end with a nice dinner. It’s going to be trouble, because this is Mr. Robot, and nothing is ever easy in the world of Esmail. Dom’s intelligence is, or already has made her suspicious of Angela, and though her “success is assured,” I’m not sure she’s confident or wily enough to get out unscathed.
Back to Dom for just a moment, her final turkey sandwich at her go-to store was a reminder of the effects of the hack. The proprietor has to close the place, because he can’t afford to restock, the customer base is depleted, and the cash flow is scarce. Conspicuously, we notice that the store accepts “E Coin,” which again illustrates how deeply entrenched E Corp is in the world of Mr. Robot. That point is further enforced when Phillip Price is on the phone, seeking a federal bailout, and dealing with widespread protests outside the company’s building.
It was another superb visual experience, featuring arguably my favorite shot of the entire series, using a black glass table to mirror the image of Price’s office in an uncomfortable and mind bending way. That was gorgeous, a stunning camera angle. M.C. Escher would have loved it.
Just a few weeks ago, I was begging for something to happen in Season 2, and I’ve been infinitely satisfied with what we’ve gotten since. Last night’s wasn’t up to the level of the previous week’s gem, but it was still very interesting, and the origin story of the Mr. Robot name was a clever ending.
We know Elliot’s in trouble, locked in what looks like a warehouse in hell, hurt and malnourished, but after Edward revealed his reasons and his son thanked him, then sobbed and embraced him, it was the proper time to show a piece of the past. The father’s illness, trust in the son, the end of one job and the beginning of another, and the first thing that popped into the boy’s head…all of it worked.
Where we stand now in the story, Angela is still finishing the job, and her life is about to get even more complicated as Dom is standing next to her cubicle. Elliot is trapped about a quarter of a mile from God knows where, and his sister is waiting for that final few keystrokes from her accomplice to clear the Angela footage and start wiping the evidence. The relationship between Elliot and Mr. Robot has never been better, nor has it ever felt more real, despite Edward being a figment of our antihero’s imagination.
Slater turned in another solid week, and his work this season deserves mention yet again, along with Rami. Portia Doubleday was up to the task of carrying a long scene, and as Angela Moss’ story has gotten interesting again, she’s standing out more and more.
It didn’t have the pulsating intensity of last week, but I enjoyed it a lot, and the way the opening was handled was a ton of fun. To call it oddball might not be doing those tactics justice, but there was logic behind every second of the craziness. That means the experiment was a success, because although it wasn’t necessary, it also wasn’t just pure fluff. Maybe not required, but entirely relevant.
And, for those of my generation, the nostalgia made us smile. It also made me want to re-watch Stranger Things.
I’m @GuyNamedJason. I may get knocked down, but I’ll never get knocked out. Still on your side.