Laugh Tracks and n00b Hacks
Mr. Robot Goes Retro with a Nod to the 90’s Before Raising the Stakes Even Higher.
One of the strengths of Mr. Robot is the show’s uncanny ability to misdirect viewers in multiple ways. A twisting plotline not only makes us question everything but the show’s use of humor and absurdity often relaxes us into an uneasy state of comfort before pivoting us into deep dark shit. In “eps2.4_m4ster-s1ave.aes,” just as we’ve reached the midway point of Season Two, we get a heaping dose of this as the first 20 minutes of the episode plays out like a bad 90’s sitcom instead of giving us any insight into the fate of Elliot – last seen being brutally pummeled by Ray’s henchmen.
If you grew up on ABC’s Friday night lineup of shows like Full House, Family Matters and Step by Step, the opening sequence of the episode was a surreal blast from the past. There was the laugh track, the smooth jazz saxophone swell before a new scene, the painfully corny jokes but most of all, there was ALF, making an unexpected cameo that only heightened the absurdity of it all. Elliot and his family are taking a trip, although Elliot’s brief glimpses at Darlene’s Gameboy and the rear view mirror of the car reveal him getting beat up and let us know this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The entire opening sequence, complete with vintage USA Network commercials and branding and a Full House-esque theme song playing over very 90’s opening credits, is hilarious. There’s a cameo by Gideon, Elliot’s dead boss, who eventually gets run over by ALF. And the special guest star? The man in the trunk isn’t revealed but it’s very obviously Tyrell who tries to run away, only to smack into the fake background and get tossed back into the trunk by Mr. Robot and Elliot. Have we finally been given a clue about Tyrell’s fate? But what about the phone calls to Joanna?
Finally, we’re jerked back into the present, as a broken Elliot lies bloody in a dingy hospital bed, overhearing the canned laughter of an ALF rerun on a security guard’s television. He’s not alone and it is Ray’s monologue about his dying dog that gives us the episode title, and insight into his hold over Elliot, as he explains that the reliance and need for someone else turns them into your master. Elliot isn’t just a puppet; he is completely under Ray’s control now. But considering the still yet to be revealed fate of Tyrell (and perhaps Elliot’s total reliance on Mr. Robot), maybe it is Ray who is in danger and not Elliot? We’ll have to wait and see.
The rest of the episode centers on Darlene’s plan to get Angela onto the secure FBI floor of the Evil Corp building. As a result of the Beijing attack, the FBI are leaving Evil Corp and Angela must learn how to hack, or more specifically perform this task to hack the FBI, in just a single day. But don’t worry, she’s got determination and a lot of self-help mantras to get her through! Angela makes it onto the floor with relative ease during everyone’s lunch hour and slips into a bathroom stall to initiate things. After a coding mishap, she’s good to go and only has to slip under someone’s desk to physically install some things.
Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except for Me and Mr. Robot)
But here comes a creepy FBI agent, who catches Angela outside of the bathroom and begins hitting on her as Angela stares at him like a deer in headlights. In the end, she’s able to stave off suspicion by flirting back and asking the guy to lunch. As he leaves, she installs everything and it seems the hack is good to go. Except for one problem, Darlene has lost the wifi connection. She badgers Angela into hacking from her computer terminal downstairs, reminding her that she won’t be able to wipe surveillance video of Angela poking around on a restricted floor, and Angela relents. As she’s receiving instructions in her ear and setting the wifi hack into place, Dom strolls up to her desk and interrupts her. We don’t know yet just how much Dom knows or even what she wants but we know that Angela is in danger. Has she been caught?
We sidetrack from the hack a few times, once to get a sense of the fallout after the Beijing terrorist attack that Dom survived and once to see the Dark Army menacing Cisco. Dom’s superiors want her to take a month off and attend counselling sessions but Dom is adamant they can’t afford the leave the case because that’s exactly what the Dark Army wants. It seems Dom is the only one taking them serious, as her boss brushes them off and Cisco also forget how dangerous they can be, badgering a contact for more information after receiving a router for the planned FBI hack. Suddenly, two masked men grab him and hold him down while his contact takes out a syringe. Once again, we’re given a nod to the episode title as the man injects Cisco’s finger and tells him that he is a foot soldier and his job is to comply. We don’t know what was injected or what it will do yet but the Dark Army don’t mess around.
The closing moments of the episode finally tied everything together, making the earlier absurdity surprisingly poignant and bittersweet. As Elliot gasps for air on the cold concrete floor of a dark basement, Mr. Robot appears apologizing for distracting Elliot from the pain. That jazzy 90’s sitcom? That was Elliot’s safe place; it was his mind retreating to the familiarity of childhood nights in front of the TV – a time of innocence but also a time when his father was still alive. As Elliot staggers up, throwing his arms around his father with thankful tears in his eyes, we’re flashed back to another, very different, car ride.
A young Elliot is sulking in the front seat of his father’s car, his cheek bruised up from a schoolyard fight. Mr. Robot knows Elliot didn’t explain his side of things and is trying to relay the importance of opening up. And so he does, explaining how he has just been fired from Evil Corp for taking too many days off. Those dates in question? Doctor’s appointments. Mr. Robot is already dying and he’s been hiding it from everyone, only now Elliot knows the truth. It’s a tender but incredibly sad moment as the closeness of their relationship is in some way solidified by death. But there is some good news. Mr. Robot has bought a storefront and is going to open up a computer store. Not only can Elliot help out, but he gets to choose the name. As the pull up to the property, Mr. Robot tells him to close his eyes and think of the first thing that comes to mind. Suddenly, Elliot opens his eyes in recognition and the credits hit. It seems to be the birth of the Mr. Robot store but could it be something else?
There’s still a lot of very dangerous balls in the air but the final notes of the episode were a reminder that at his core – underneath the flashy hacking, the monotone monologues and the delusions – Elliot is just a kid still grieving the loss of his father and the importance of this relationship is what will ultimately carry us through this story to the very end.