"m4ster-s1ave.aes" balances psychological introspection and action in a bizarre but effective installment.
Mr. RobotAirtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday, Christian Slater, Craig Robinson, Carly Chaikin, Azhar Khan, Grace Gummer
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 6 - "m4ster-s1ave.aes"
Air date: 2016-08-10
Mr. Robot is a lot of things. It’s extremely, sometimes overwhelmingly, dark. It's bizarre, constantly morphing, and defies many of the easiest classifications. There is, and now forever will be, a distinct uneasiness among viewers concerning what’s real and what’s not. In short, Mr. Robot is a story of revolution wrapped in a nightmare, in which the search for security seems all but futile. All of which makes the opening of episode six, "m4ster-s1ave.aes", feel like some necessary tonic for both Elliot and the viewer, even it comes with its share of bizarro wretchedness.
Series creator Sam Esmail is nothing if not brave and so maybe, as a rule, the unexpected should be something we come to anticipate. Still, no one could've predicted, after last week’s action packed episode, that this week would start with a 17-minute dreamlike sequence in which Elliot (Rami Malek) is the star of his very own '90s sitcom.
If there was a time when Esmail was worried about throwing his audience for too much of a loop, that time has long since passed as the opener, which perhaps goes on for a bit too long, fully commits to the premise. Equipped with everything from a snappy intro to a blustering laugh track, we get a fully stylized version of the Aldersons as they embark on a mysterious road trip. Sure, Mrs. Alderson (Vaishnavi Sharma) is still an abusive mother, Mr. Alderson (Christian Slater) is still maddeningly cryptic, and Elliot is still clearly insane, but everything, in classic sitcom tradition, promises to be solved by the end with a nice wrap up speech by the family matriarch.
Even this, the typical Bob-Saget mastered final act, is put through the warped world of Mr. Robot, spitting out a less-than-reassuring moment. You see, this world isn't real, and Mr. Robot is finally willing to acknowledge this to a stressed and bewildered Elliot. He assures him, however, that this entirely artificial word is a pretty good alternative to the nightmare in which Elliot typically exists. You know, the one that last ended with Elliot the victim of a brutal beating at the hand of Ray’s (Craig Robinson) thugs. Mr. Robot, as he seemingly always has, is trying to get Elliot to embrace the madness and let go the concern of reality versus imagination. For the first time, we kind of see his point.
This is especially true when Elliot finally escapes the sitcom dream world only to be thrown back into the real world, which finds him badly hurt and a prisoner of Ray and his men. Here we see Craig Robinson go full evil, in a role that he wears surprisingly well, as he gives Elliot a not-so-subtle speech about the incredible power he now holds on him, and what could happen if he steps out of line. No fatherly speech of reassurance will get Elliot out of this jam before episode's end, that's for sure.
In addition to the typical weirdness going on somewhere in Elliot’s distressed and fractured mind, "m4ster-s1ave.aes" continues a common theme that’s been present in flourishes throughout the show’s run. As I've said, this is a show that defies classification but every once in a while they will delve deeply into a specific genre, such as the caper and, like Steel Mountain before it, the FBI proves hard nut to crack, even for these master hackers.
The difference between previous caper sequences is this week puts Angela (Portia Doubleday), rather than Elliot, at the forefront. In a whirlwind hacking lesson, with help from Mobley (Azhar Khan) and Darlene (Carly Chaikin), Angela learns the basics of how to infiltrate the system. Once inside, things go predictably haywire, and she must act quickly and slyly to avoid, amongst other obstacles, Wi-Fi problems and an overly flirtatious FBI agent only, to find herself face to face with none other than Dom DiPierro (Grace Gummer) by the episode’s conclusion, leaving us and Angela unsure of what will happen next.
This sequence, like former heist moments in Mr. Robot, works pretty well as an antidote to the constant panic and strife of most of the action, adding a bit of fun to a show extremely devoid of such overt flashiness. It also serves to bring together Detective DiPierro and the F Society gang we know and love, making a stand-off a high possibility as we move further into season two's story arc.
Ultimately, "m4ster-s1ave.aes" was one of the season’s best at balancing psychological insight and analysis and pure action, making the moments of existential crisis interesting rather than laborious. This makes the final sequence, which brings us back to the moment when Elliot's father first shared with him the nature of his illness, instilling him with the secret of his cancer. What are meant as reassuring words from father who comforts his son with the promise that he'll never leave him comes across as a truly fascinating look into the origin of Elliot’s madness. As does ending the flashback just as Elliot is given the job of naming his father's new computer store, and thus sealing his fate forever.