“I, Elliot Alderson, am flight. I am fear, I am anxiety, terror, panic.”
Thus begins episode six of Mr. Robot, “Br4ve-Trave1er.asf”. Last week we saw Elliot in what turned out to be his most triumphant moment in the series so far. Having successfully infiltrated the “impenetrable” Steel Mountain, Elliot, still on a visible high from his caper, calls his girlfriend Shayla to, well, just talk. It is one of the first times in the series that we see Elliot both completely sober, and seemingly content. Even Shayla remarks that he sounds different and new to her.
This victory is markedly short-lived. Not only was the heist ultimately fruitless due to a lack of cooperation from the “dark army”, but episode five ends with Elliot’s realization that his plan to get rid of Shayla’s dangerous drug dealer, Fernando Vera, was not without its consequences.
When episode six opens to find Elliot in terror and panic, it is soon confirmed that he should be. Fernando is locked up and facing decades of jail time, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t act out his will from inside his cell. His minions, including his brother Isaac, have taken Shayla as a means to induce cooperation from Elliot in their plan to help Fernando escape. All they know is that Elliot was able to hack their crime ring into disarray; they figure that breaking a man out of prison will be no harder.
This is the story of “Br4ve-Trave1er.asf”. It is Elliot, with some help from Darlene, vs. the Vera crime family. While Mr. Robot does make a short cameo, the F Society arc is largely absent from this episode and, in a surprising turn, this works incredibly well.
Earlier this season, I remarked about just how much the narrative relied on not only Elliot, but specifically Elliot and his role in F Society. I found myself often frustrated by the side characters and their various storylines, consistently wishing the narrative would just get back to Elliot.
This frustration has curved over the past couple weeks, as both Tyrell Wellick and Fernando Vera have come into the picture as the kind of dark and twisted ancillary characters the show needed to balance Elliot. Earlier episodes hinted at Fernando’s madness, but “Br4ve-Trave1er.asf” is where we see it truly shine. He is clearly violent, self-interested, and power-hungry — all the traits that we are used to seeing in drug lords — but he is also something else: philosophical. His musings on his place in the universe, and in turn Elliot’s role in his journey, are as interesting as they are creepy. They make Fernando a more layered character, but also make him all the more unpredictable. A man who believes in fate can use this belief to justify any number of horrific acts, always able to claim that this is how it was meant to happen.
Elliot opens the episode full of self-loathing, choosing flight over fight, but what we really see in “Br4ve-Trave1er.asf” is Elliot in his bravest form thus far. Last week’s caper saw some quick thinking from Elliot, but it would be hard to describe his actions within Steel Mountain as brave. Although he begins this week’s episode struggling to establish a plan to get Vera out of jail while at the same time securing Shayla’s and his own safety, he soon shows signs of fully taking control of his own life.
It is after Mr. Robot’s brief cameo, in which he attempts to convince Elliot to simply let the bad guys have Shayla and allow her to, “become a memory”, that we see Elliot begin to show the bravado he has been lacking for much of season one. As he strolls into the visiting hours of the high-security prison, he is the one wearing the pants. Despite Fernando’s continued confidence that Elliot will get him out, Elliot lays down the law, explaining that he will not go through with the plan without some assurances from Fernando. Elliot uses his hacking ability to put him in a much better spot when negotiating with Fernando, which, more importantly, gives him the confidence to speak to him from a position of power rather than fear.
“Br4ve-Trave1er.asf” could have easily been called “fight or flight”, with Elliot beginning the episode with the latter but eventually moving fully into the former. Elliot is willing to fight for Shayla, and that fact is important to understanding the make-up of his complicated character. “Br4ve-Trave1er.asf” ends with no less than three dizzying twists — one of which has Fernando deeming himself the modern-day Cain — which throw much of what Elliot thought he was doing into disarray, but the essential development of his character is still important. Perhaps it is because he is now free of his morphine addiction, but we are starting to see an Elliot who cares about others in a real way and is willing to fight for them. The real question, however, is whether this new-found thoughtfulness will be an advantage or a detriment to his overall goals.