For a second there, I was excited to start recapping Mr. Robot, and then tonight’s episode happens. It’s hard to muster much excitement when you consider the contents of that trunk, but, damn, it was good television.
Are we sure that this show is on USA? Anyway, let’s get down to business.
(Sidenote before we begin: I was on set for the filming of this episode. You can read my report here.)
On top of how strong the show has been in its first five weeks on the whole, there’s a singular pleasure in watching how each episode opens and guessing when the title treatment will appear. This week’s was a terrific misdirection, featuring Elliot and Shayla—who we all figured was being held somewhere after the cliffhanger with Vera—sitting alone in a restaurant with “Some Velvet Morning” playing in the background… or that’s what it looks like at least. So we’re disoriented right off the bat, since there’s always the possibility of dream sequences/hallucinations. Soon that illusion is broken, and we see the scene for what it really is—an ever so brief meeting between Elliot and the captive Shayla.
So things are as bad as we imagined after the end of last week’s episode. Vera, having figured out that Elliot must have been behind his arrest, has taken our narrator’s girlfriend hostage, but his demand is rather simple: Elliot has to break him out of jail… that night. And until Elliot manages to do that, Vera’s men are going to keep Shayla, and the dealer’s brother Isaac and crewmember DJ are going to hang out. So things aren’t great for Elliot.
But they’re not going very well for Tyrell Wellick either, so it’s all good, right? No, not really. Tyrell’s problems are more on the level of an awkward dinner date than a life-or-death scenario. After planning the evening over a charming session of kinky sex, the Wellicks are meeting the Scott Knowles, who Evil Corp has tapped as their replacement CTO, and his wife, Sharon. The major concern for Tyrell and his wife—who is clearly more dastardly than her husband—is that they don’t know how to take down Knowles and sabotage his new job. (Maybe they could somehow damage Scott Knowles’ heavenly pipes.) Tyrell finds his opportunity after Sharon excuses herself from her dinner guest’s insults and her husband’s boring wine talk to relieve herself. Privacy not being the thing it used to be, Tyrell waltzes right in and is received by a surprisingly welcoming Sharon. Yes, it was very weird.
But Sharon hasn’t gone completely rogue yet. She’s still faithful enough to Scott to tell him about her unsanitary rendezvous. “Did you enjoy the view,” he asks Tyrell, before offering to take a leak in front of him. “I’ve had several glasses of water.” The moment was perfectly absurd in just the right way and another example of a scene from the fantastic TV show in my head that’s just about Tyrell. Knowles, confident that he’s got his adversary beaten, even offers up his watch to help pay the bills. It’s a real cold slap in the face, but Mrs. Wellick reassures her husband that all isn’t lost. They know, after all, that Mrs. Knowles wants to be wanted.
NEXT: One point for Team “That Dude Totally Isn’t Real”[pagebreak]
As the season progresses and Elliot becomes more active, the stakes have been steadily raising. Last week with the Steel Mountain break in, the show adopted a heist format to great success, and it does something similar here with Elliot’s mission to free Vera from prison. His first attempt gets filed under “close, but no cigar” after the code that Darlene wrote in an hour and planted on a bunch of flash drives outside the police station fails to infiltrate the network. (I loved how sketchy the phony gift card phishing scam looked!) The problem is that Elliot knows he can get into the jail’s network, just not on the timeline he’s being allowed.
What doesn’t help is Angela showing up just to have Elliot tell her what she wants to hear. In light of her discovery about daddy’s credit card debt, Angela has started her own campaign against Evil Corp, albeit one much more legal than Elliot and fsociety’s. She contacts all of the lawyers who represented the victims of the Washington Township scandal—the incident that left Elliot without a dad and her without a mom—and only one will hear her out. Even with the new evidence from fsociety’s data dump, implicating top Evil Corp execs in the incident, Angela still needs someone from the other team to flip and testify against the company. When she interrupts Elliot and his most literal jailbreak ever, it’s to get his blessing for her big gambit: She’s going to get Terry Colby to flip. Though he didn’t sound too pumped about the idea of talking to anyone, Angela eyeballing his ankle bracelet has me hopeful that this story isn’t over. I’m glad the show is quickly pivoting Angela into this new role, after pulling her into a bit of a narrative cul-de-sac last week. As my colleague Clark Collis pointed out to me, the supporting characters on this show are so uniformly strong that even Angela—the person arguably furthest from the sexy hacker premise—could support her own show.
Have we come too far to give any credence to “Mr. Robot is a figment of Elliot’s imagination” theory? Mr. Robot interacts with so many of the characters that the Tyler Durden of it all seems less and less likely, but his sudden appearance in the hallway as the nagging voice of reason pushes me back toward Team “That Dude Totally Isn’t Real.” He appears out of nowhere, getting access to the building while Elliot is standing right out front. I still don’t fully buy that theory, but I have a feeling that this scene will become one its supporters point to. Real or not, Mr. Robot had some very prescient things to tell Elliot. The way that the game is currently rigged, there is no way that both Elliot and Shayla come out of this alive, and Señor Robot has a rather ruthless solution to the problem: let her die.
That’s not going to work for Elliot. He’s determined to have it all, and when he gets back into the apartment, he tells Isaac that he’s ready to break out Vera. That means a few things. He’s got to get into prison. He’s got to plant his cell with the guard station, where it will scan the area for Wi-Fi networks, but most importantly, he’s got tell Vera that after hacking Isaac’s phone, he’s got the keys to the entire drug network. If something goes wrong and Elliot doesn’t disable the auto-delete function every 24 hours, Vera’s entire empire comes crashing down.
With his safety net in place, Elliot can proceed. The first hiccup is that the jail’s Wi-Fi network will take too long to hack, but that’s all right because the dedicated 4G in the cop cars is good enough. The second hiccup is that Isaac wants to kill Elliot and leave his brother to the prison wolves. It turns out that Vera’s bro doesn’t want him back out in the world, and Elliot’s quick enough to figure that out. The new plan is to open every cell in the prison—as it was before—but when Vera comes out, Isaac’s going to off him.
Thanks to a flirty diversion from Darlene, Elliot’s able to get into the jail’s network, kill the lights, and open all of the cells. As planned, Vera walks out a free man, along with a handful of other prisoners. The part that doesn’t go as expected is when Vera orders DJ to shoot Isaac—which he does—and tells Elliot to let the whole network collapse. “Okayyy,” we all whisper, breathlessly wondering what horrible thing is about to happen.
That horrible thing is Shayla in the trunk, but the show doesn’t give us that visual immediately. The camera smartly defaults to Rami Malek, as he stares at what’s left of his girlfriend. If all of acting is just reacting, that was some of the most understated, believable, and heartbreaking reacting I’ve seen on TV in quite sometime. While the writers and directors on Mr. Robot have provided a ton of well-stage suspense this season, I think the series’ best contribution to the medium has been providing Malek with a long-overdue platform to show off just how good he is.
Because he is very, very good.