Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mr. Robot 2x06 Review: “eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes” (Only 90s Kids Will Remember This) [Guest Poster: Amir]

Original Airdate: August 10, 2016

Let’s dispel with this fiction that Sam Esmail doesn’t know what he’s doing; he knows exactly what he’s doing. Throughout season one of Mr. Robot, we journeyed through the mental state of hacker Elliot trying to make a difference. As we followed this engaging character trying to hack his way to a better tomorrow, while also battling his slowly decaying mental state, we were treated a hodgepodge of audio visual tricks, red herrings, and a major case of unreliable narration. While the psychological effects on Elliot were present, it certainly wasn’t in the front seat like it is in season two, where we were at the mercy of Elliot’s fragile mental state as just much as he was. Scenes cut jarringly, people appear and disappear, and glitches infect the screen, making one question what’s going on; but they all seem to play at teasing and toying with the audience as opposed to providing anything that can be worked with. Even Sherlock didn’t throw so many red herrings at once. So when “m4ster-s1ave.aes” starts up, the word "gimmick" quickly came to mind. However, this may be Sam’s masterstroke at playing with his audience. This episode may be the best episode of the season, and I doubt there will ever be an episode like it.

Nostalgia is a pretty painful thing and Sam Esmail manages to evoke that throughout the first few minutes of this episode by giving us a 90s-inspired sitcom introduction that leads to a full on mini-episode. Terrible lighting, fake backdrops, laugh tracks, and awkward jokes (“It’s one for Alderson and...” “...Alderson for one...?”) reinforce an image that is fondly remembered, but skewed just enough in all the right places to make even the most die-hard 90s kid nervous. After a rather authentic opening credit sequence that would put Full House and Family Matters to shame, we have Elliot, Darlene, Edward, and mother traveling on a road trip, with a man in the trunk, and the mother repeatedly beating up Darlene. Sporadically, we’re treated to Elliot in real life being beaten up by Ray’s goons through Darlene’s Gameboy, and later through the side mirrors of the car. Elliot’s father keeps him from looking, telling him to keep his eyes forward, in an attempt to keep him from floating back to the real world. It’s subtle in the approach and admittedly was something this reviewer wasn’t looking out for until he thought about it more.

Throughout this mini-sitcom episode, we’re treated to Gideon as a cop unceremoniously run over by Alf of all people (and yes, Alf makes an appearance in one of the most bizarre yet fitting cameos of any show) and Tyrell is revealed to be the special guest in the trunk (“The shoes, they’re Ferragamo!”), but no answers or resolutions can help pinpoint where he is. Angela shows up as well, only to be maced by Elliot’s father, claiming she’s one of them now. And for added meta, Edward comments on Elliot’s relationship with Angela, throwing the "will they, won’t they" trope not only in his face, but our face.

At times, this segment of the episode seems to be just another giant joke played out for full effect, but there are nuggets of truth laid around by Edward. He reassures his son that it’s much easier to believe in the fakeness of all of this, to just let go for a little bit, and by the end of the trip, stating he’s just trying to help him, “put it all in the rear view.” It’s a noble act that when Elliot wakes up in the hospital, it begins to make sense. Only towards the end of the episode, when Elliot is taken by Ray’s goons to a secret location does Mr. Robot finally admit to his plan: “All I was trying to do was take those punches for you.” It comes across as on the nose, but when Elliot hugs him in tears, thanking him for what he’s done, it becomes an incredibly heartwarming moment. Elliot, for all the crap his gives his alter ego, sure does appreciate him a lot more than he lets on.

Back in the real world, Darlene begins to put into motion the plan to hack into the FBI, with Angela leading the charge. An impressive one-take-shot follows Angela across the 23rd floor of E-Corp, with spy music to go along with it. It’s fun seeing Angela get a chance to prove herself among the f-society crowd. And the sequence makes sure to keep it tense by throwing enough obstacles (script not working, FBI agent flirting, Wi-Fi being disrupted) her way to keep it engaging, ending with Angela coming so close to finishing... only for FBI agent Dom to approach Angela. Tough break.

This episode showcases not only what made Mr. Robot an engaging show to begin with, but it also expands on it to full effect. No show on television right now has the courage to do what this show has done and get away with it without the moniker of gimmick attached to it. As the tension mounts, and we find our beloved characters getting themselves deeper into this mess, one can only question how they’ll figure out how to get out of them. The only man who happens to know that is Sam Esmail. And somehow, through all the misdirection and red herrings, that seems like a fair deal.

Stray Observations:
  • I am covering for Jon with this review, so let’s hope you all don’t mind the jarring shift in writing styles. 
  • Craig Robinson is really working miles ahead of what we’ve anticipated out of the comedic actor. His name should be a contender for best guest actor, come Emmy time.
  • Mobley and Darlene finding info on the FBI Agent flirting with Angela is a unique way of keeping the scene from being boring, in a quasi-Watch_Dogs sort of way. 
  • Special mention to the theme song of that episode, which upon listening closer, is a lot funnier given the context of the show (and unnerving given this is happening in Elliot’s head). 


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