Mr. Robot_2.0 Episode 6: eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes Review

Get ready for Word Up Wednesday!

“With enough passion people will buy into anything, especially at times like these.”

– Philip Price, Mr. Robot_2.0

While season two has taken some odd turns thus far (we’re still waiting on the promised CGI episode), spending a lot of time inside the mind of a spiraling Elliot, possible the strangest offering so far has been the introduction to episode six; m4ster-s1ave.aes. It’s the era of meta-referencing for TV, where it really pays to be a buff. We live in an age now where like books written for literature students, television is now made for people who really like television. Long running productions have always explored the narrative of the media they work within, Seinfeld experimented with it way back, and frequently shows play upon the formats to add a little quirky awareness to their usually lengthy episodic span. More recently and especially with modern comedy reinventing the wheel when it comes to style and form, many more shows have taken to satirising now archaic comedy routine formats and adding in little easter eggs for buffs who’ve got enough time on their hands to plough through everything on Netflix or Amazon Prime. It’s a touch we’ve seen Scrubs, Arrested Development, and most recently Community employ to great effect and warm reception, and it’s an intelligent form of hipster self-awareness that has become ever more appreciated, if being largely genre specific. Mr. Robot it seems could well be the first dystopia drama to engage with it’s audience on the same level.

The episode begins with the classic USA network intro sequence before opening on a confused looking Elliot in the back seat of a car with his while family, father, mother and Darlene, enjoying the “annual Alderson family road trip”. The picture quality is grainy and colourfully lit, reminiscent of generic family based sitcom dramas of the 70s through early 90s. It’s an immediately disconcerting atmosphere and worlds away from the typical high definition gloom and misaligned cinematography of the Mr. Robot universe, Elliot being the only character that seems aware of himself and the situation he’s in as Mr. Robot gently riffs with him about his relationship with Angela, much in the same way dialogue wise that programs like Just the Ten of Us, Married With Children, The Brady bunch or Eight is Eight used to. It’s almost too chock full of referential cliché to be able to pick apart individual references, while still keeping the baleful tone of the “real” show. We know that this is in Elliot’s head following the beating he took from Ray and his Deepweb market associates at the end of last episode, but at first it’s hard to tell where this odd little digression from reality will take us. How very Mr. Robot.
mrobot206 (1)The opening theme is a spectacularly cheesy parody, harking back not only to 80s sitcoms but even other parodies, for example the Adult-Swim Too Many Cooks short (which borrows it’s title font from Full House, and which in-turn Mr. Robot borrows this weeks title from). Segments from it even feel lifted too closely for comfort from the very same thing, Darlene’s opening bedroom title shot for example is more or less frame for frame the same scene. It may be a bit overkill, but does add to the theory that Mr. Robot itself acts as a compendium of assorted information specific to the internet generation and the new school of knowing every reference at once, as mentioned in an earlier episode review and on Reddit. There’s a laughter track over classic family orientated zingers; “Uh-oh! Sounds like that cancer’s acting up again!” “Looks like it too.” (Mr. Robot holding up a hand he’d just coughed into, wet with blood, or “While I’m alive you need to treat me with respect, I’m your father.” “Not for long.” pipes Darlene, sing-songing in a pink summer dress and headband. It’s got fever dream undercurrents to it, subverting the lethargic accessibility of the canned laughter track and using it with grim and disturbing effect. What’s interesting is the loose parallels to the main narrative, Angela working for Ecorp (admittedly as a gas station attendant, Gideon being killed, the ‘man in the trunk’ Tyrell Wellick, and the Ecorp logo is still very much a prominent fixture even of Elliot’s unconscious mind, being plastered everywhere and even featuring in a short faux advert half was through the dream sequence. Oh, and Alf makes a cameo! Because he can. mrobot206 (6)

It’s a sequence that, just with previous trip or dream sequences which have been becoming more and more frequent this season, offers a respite from the new almost intentionally alienating tone of the last six episodes. There’s comedy in plenty of places, and the show even makes a little fun out of itself as well, with Darlene mentioning that she can “feel your bug eyes on me” to her brother, a fixture for many of the Rami Malik’s distinctively emotive features.

What this whole section of the episode, which generally is worth dwelling on for a bit as there’s so much involved, does leave the audience worrying about for a while is “will this really fill an entire episode? Because I really don’t want it to”, and of course it isn’t. Mr. Robot has a funny way of never quite instilling enough confidence in it’s audience as to have absolute faith in it, despite typically following through on it’s stylistic promises week after week. It’s something only a show about trickster hackers could get away with so willfully, but there we have it. Elliot wakes up seventeen minutes in lying in a hospital bed, severely beaten and with Lonestar standing over him, Ray sat next to him in the shadows. Immediately we’re back on home turf in terms of foreboding claustrophobic dialogue, as he tells an immobile Elliot about the death of his dog, Maxine, heavy on the implication for our protagonist:

before she got sick, Maxine lived like her own operator. It didn’t seem to cross her mind that she belonged to someone, but in that basement she needed human hands to give her every pill, every scrap of food… occasional light. For the first time she realised that she continued to breath because someone else allowed it, that she had a master. Now I’m no vet… but I think that realisation might have killed her before the parasites had a chance.”
It isn’t until later on that Elliot is ripped from his bed and dragged to said basement. Here is where potentially we’re finally given a sense of resolution to the duality of self narrative that’s been explored at cinematic length during this season. Mr. Robot appears as Elliot lays alone in the dark, telling him that “all I was trying to do is take those punches for you” to which Elliot replies “thank you.” before they embrace. Through all they’ve been through together plot wise so far, there had to be a point where the internal conflict came full circle, and this was it. For the first time in a long time, the help that Elliot enlists from his own psyche starts to work with him once more, it’s a heart-warming scene that gives us a little closure and much needed sense of direction. For everyone that seemed certain that the exploration of character depth in this season would weigh it down unnecessarily, luckily that hasn’t been the case so far.

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As all of this is happening, Fsociety are laying the groundwork for the FBI hack, now involving Angela as their person on the inside. Mobley attempts to talk her through step by step what she needs to do with all of the necessary technical information. With everyone being on high alert and having to teach someone how to hack in a day, the task at hand is one of the more precariously planned cracks so far. There’s plenty more accurate coding language to keep the internet happy, and the more we get to see of Fsociety actually working together the more of an affinity we find in the skills of the whole collective, which has always been a concern of the show to-date.

When it comes to the actual hack, the fallibility of the FBI is actually a little staggering. This is pure Hustle-esque social engineering. As Kevin Mitnick has been quoted on the subject “The key to social engineering is influencing a person to do something that allows the hacker to gain access to information or your network.” Which is exactly what this scene explores. The weakest part of any computer system is always the people guarding and operating it, and watching Angela bounce back from a series of odd questions from a curious but exploitable agent is an interesting way of revisiting the Steel Mountain style of hack from season one. If anything Angela, being more socially adept than Elliot, is much more suited to this style of infiltration, so it doesn’t really matter about the almost too easy approach that the hack takes, it’s nineties tech style fun with jazzy accompaniment ‘Gwan’ from Houston soul band The Suffers over the top; “let me fix you up just the way I like, They’ll be no breaks love…” It’s very Oceans Eleven with Darlene also donning a disguise and infiltrating a hotel to use a communications point, it’s the source of most of the action this episode. It’s light-hearted even at the more tense moments, like a Mission Impossible film, you kind of know that it’s going to go off smoothly, the only real discernible problem being loss of wifi at one point, which to be fair is always crushing. As Mobley points out, “You can’t teach someone to hack in one day.”mrobot206 (2)

We’re still not exactly sure what game the Dark Army are playing with Fsociety. At this stage there definitely seems to be a set-up with the femtocell being tampered with on White Rose’s order. Allowing Cisco to take it to his friends after being injected under the fingernail (the genuine cringe moment of the episode) with an unknown substance with the needle snapped off has to be for a reason. If Elliot and crew are being thrown under the bus we have to wonder where the tie in comes with the Wellicks, who we still know painfully little about, not forgetting that Tyrell is one of two people that carried out the largest hack in history. Cisco may have to reassess his allegiances in the wake of this, his life could well depend on it.

‘Dom’ DiPierro meanwhile, adamant that staying on course and on the case even in the wake of the hack again has a short but poignant realisation regarding the nature of the Chinese attacks “We were there to investigate the hack and then we were under fire, that is no coincidence… violent separatists would have taken more victims, I clipped one of the shooters in the leg… he turned the gun on himself. He erased his history”. Again she goes unheard by her superiors at the Buero, hopefully they can circumvent the maverick renegade cop act.

As the world loses faith in Ecorp, bailouts get refused to the firm and the powers that be seem at an impasse, digital currency is fast becoming useless and small stores are closing down. As it stands there are no winners in this world, just degrees of losing out to a higher power. It’s not a positive message, but in amongst the affecting misery of the failings of the neo-consumerist infrastructure this episode is awash with a surprising comedic streak, albeit a bleak one.

With a stirring final sequence that explains how Elliot’s father told him he was sick on a surprise drive, we finally now have an origin for the shop name and character ‘Mr. Robot.’ It’s all but said, cleverly cutting out just before a young Elliot, looking at an unseen building front, says the first name that pops into his mind. End credits in silence.

– Max Colbert



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