Bravo, Sam Esmail. Well done. Season two of Mr. Robot has been a largely psychological trip through its first five episodes, with much of the battle going on inside Elliot’s head as he tries to gain control from his other personality, embodied by his dead father.
Last week’s episode, “logic-b0mb.hc,” seemed like it might pick up the action a bit. The FBI was snooping around where The Dark Army didn’t want them to look in China, which resulted in a terrorist shooting in a hotel lobby that put Agent Dom DiPierro in jeopardy. But most importantly, Elliot finally returned to a computer to do what he does best. Unfortunately, he looked where he wasn’t supposed to and that got him severely beaten.
Episode six, “m4ster-s1ave.aes,” could have brought season two back to the head-trip limbo it’s been in for much of the previous five episodes. Elliot is stuck in a hospital bed from the beating he took from Ray’s thugs after discovering his online black market. So while Elliot is unconscious, it would stand to reason that he’s going to have some conversations with Mr. Robot — with his dead father, who’s been trying all season to get him back on the horse and finish the revolution that fsociety started with the 5/9 Attacks. And that’s sort of what happens, but this time around, Esmail created a far more entertaining world for Elliot to be trapped in.
Anyone flipping over to USA Network last night may have briefly wondered why there was a bright, 90s-style sitcom on in place of Mr. Robot, but probably quickly recognized Rami Malek and Christian Slater in this bizarro TV world that Elliot imagined, likely fueled by the heavy painkillers he was on, his unconscious need to escape the terrifying situation he was in, and the television playing at the clerk’s desk outside his room.
It was a witty, brilliant touch by Esmail, getting back into Elliot’s head without having him in a dark room or secluded park fight for his consciousness with the other side of his personality that wants to take over. We’ve already seen that several times before. Maybe Mr. Robot is dangerously close to winning, but tried to create the cheery TV programming of Elliot’s youth to make the takeover less upsetting. But Elliot doesn’t fully give in. He’s aware of the absurdity of his surroundings, which Malek does a fine job of portraying with the right amount of uncertainty and anxiety on his face and those “bug eyes,” as Darlene calls them. Although Elliot was a bit too cool about meeting ALF, I thought.
The sitcom setting also served as a little bit of flashback, providing a glimpse into the Alderson family dynamic with Elliot’s father eager for some family bonding on a vacation, his mother dismissive of the effort while being abusive to her kids, and the dark realization that what appears happy on the surface has some disturbing shit going on underneath. For example, the cancer that eventually killed Elliot’s father. Here, it’s referenced with a cough, a one-liner, and a flash of blood in his palm. We also see poor Angela crying at her mother’s coffin while trying her best to smile for the camera during the opening credits. And it was nice to see the brief return of everyone’s favorite fatherly CEO, Gideon Goddard. Black comedy at its finest, complete with laugh track.
Oh, and there’s a man locked up in the trunk of the Alderson family car. Hey, it’s Tyrell Wellick, everybody! Unfortunately, Elliot’s delusion didn’t provide much more information as to the former Evil Corp executive’s whereabouts since the end of season one. We know he’s alive, based on his deliveries and indirect contact with his wife. But we don’t know where he is. Mr. Robot does, however, and maybe he’s complicit in Wellick’s continued hiding. Elliot just hasn’t gotten that location out of him yet. It’s still the great lingering mystery left over from season one.
Elliot doesn’t buy in, however. His rational mind is telling him that all of this is a lie. His ranting, along with Elliot’s father trying to reassure and comfort him, gives the sequence the feel of the “very special episode” that sitcoms of the 80s and 90s occasionally fell into when they wanted to tackle a serious issue. It’s mental comfort food for Elliot. But he has to want to eat it. The episode ends with the real version of a memorable car ride Elliot took with his father, when he told his son that he was very ill, had been let go from his job at Evil Corp and was planning to open a computer store. Elliot gets to name it.
Outside of Elliot’s head and the hospital he’s trapped in, the rest of episode six is a spy hacker thriller, giving Mr. Robot some of its best juice of the season. Having brought Angela into fsociety, Darlene and Mobley are trying to teach her how to hack in a week so that they can get into the FBI’s servers while agents are set up at Evil Corp’s headquarters and, of course, land the knockout blow to the conglomerate that the 5/9 Attacks brought to its knees.
(Has fsociety ever given thought to making money by teaching hacking courses? There would surely be a market for that. I’d certainly like to cause some chaos for a few people I know. OK, the local police and federal authorities might frown on such a practice. But hey, the FBI is already breathing down fsociety’s neck. Perhaps that’s where this series will eventually end, with Elliot, Darlene and Mobley opening a new computer store and teaching people how to hack in the back room. And maybe a FBI field office will be located next door. Better yet, a sandwich shop run by Agent DiPierro and Ahmed, her favorite bodega owner who makes the best turkey sandwich in the Tri-State.
This was fun Ocean’s Eleven/Jason Bourne kind of stuff. All that was missing was Angela writing script commands on her hand and the ink smearing with sweat, some hallway hand-to-hand combat, and maybe Casey Affleck and Scott Caan sneaking a small gymnast into the office on a mail cart. Not only does Angela have to remember the commands necessary to hack into the Evil Corp servers (though Darlene and Mobley can talk to her via earpiece), but she has to get to a terminal on a restricted floor (taken over by FBI agents) to load in the script and plug in the necessary devices for Darlene to get in and do her damage.
If everything went smoothly, we wouldn’t have much drama, so we have Angela losing her place while typing out commands, an agent noticing her nosing around a restricted floor and hitting on her (who she successfully gets rid of by turning on her own seductive powers), and the wifi connection that allows Darlene to hack into the FBI system going out. (Wifi doesn’t even work for hackers when they need it to, man.) Angela is so close to typing in the necessary commands (with all the “config” and “wlan” she can handle) to get Darlene back into the system when someone stops by her desk to say hello. Hey, it’s FBI Agent Dominique DiPierro, who’s probably feeling just fine after having her favorite turkey sandwich for lunch.
Can’t anybody get some hacking done without a federal agent all up in their business around here? Geez.
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