Mr Robot S02E06 “m4ster-s1ave.aes”/Word Up Wednesday REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- It’s not Mr Robot, it’s Word Up Wednesday! USA Networks bitchin’ new sitcom! The Aldersons (mom, dad, Darlene and Elliot) are off on the annual Alderson family road trip.
- We’re seeing the opening credits of an ’80s sitcom: Word Up Wednesday. Elliot (who looks very confused) is in the back of a car (which is obviously in front of a green screen and not actually moving) with his sister, mom and dad. Darlene is playing on an original Gameboy. We hear canned laughter (and so does Elliot which further confuses him). Jokes are made about Elliot’s voices and dad’s cancer.
- The Aldersons pull into a gas station to refuel. There’s banging coming from the trunk of the car, Elliot opens it and sees Tyrell Wellick tied up in there.
- Elliot goes into the shop to get his mom some cigarettes, and runs into ALF (Alien Life Form). Angela is behind the counter, she’s hoping to work her way up into management.
- Mom and dad come in with sacks and proceed to rob the store, macing Angela in the process.
- Back on the road, the car pops a tyre so they stop to fix it.
- Ad break: an advert for E Corp, “Still on your side”!
- While the Aldersons are stopped by the side of the road, a police car pulls up. Out steps Officer Gideon Goddard. He’s on the lookout for a clan of outlaws with a kidnapped corporate exec.
- ALF drives up in a red BMW, and runs Gideon over, killing him.
- Tyrell escapes from the trunk, and makes a run for it. But he runs into the green screen behind the car, falling over. Elliot and dad put him back in the trunk of the car.
- Elliot thinks Mr Robot has won, and taken over. But he’s just protecting him from the beating he’s getting in the real world from Ray’s thugs.
- Normal service is resumed.
- Elliot wakes up in a private hospital. He’s in pretty bad shape. Lone Star and Ray are there. Ray is telling Elliot about his dog Maxine, and how she died. ALF is on the TV at reception.
- At the hack house, Mobley is teaching Angela how to hack, so she can play her part in hacking the FBI’s phones. He’s being very patient…
- Cisco is getting the femtocell from Xun of the Dark Army. Xun reminds Cisco he’s just a footsoldier and injects something under his fingernail.
- In the wake of the FBI shooting in Beijing, in which at least four agents were killed, DiPierro is advised to take four weeks psych leave. She doesn’t believe it was a random separatist attack, but a targeted show of force by the Dark Army to disrupt the investigation.
- Phillip Price has Mr Speaker on speaker; he’s still trying to negotiate a bailout for E Corp, but the public mood is dark – protesters have surrounded the building.
- Cisco brings the femtocell to the fsociety hack house. Angela recognises him as the guy that gave Olly the dodgy CD outside Allsafe, but doesn’t say anything.
- DiPierro is stocking up on energy drinks at Ahmed’s, but the shop’s closing down; Ahmed can’t keep his business going when there’s a $50 daily cash allowance in place.
- Darlene is all dressed up, including a fancy wig. She enters a swanky hotel and swipes a key card from a maid so she can get into a room. She sets up her laptop in a room across the street from E Corp.
- Angela is at work at E Corp. Darlene calls to say she’s ready so Angela makes her way to the FBI floor in the building. She goes into the bathroom with a laptop to start initiating the hack.
- She is almost found out by an FBI Agent, but it turns out he’s just hitting on her. She successfully installs the femtocell in the office and leaves. But there’s a problem with the Wifi connection. She needs to go back to her own desk to fix it.
- On the way DiPierro sees Angela acting suspiciously. As Angela is about to enter the commands to reset the wifi, DiPierro appears at her desk and says hi.
- Elliot is still in his hospital bed. Ray’s heavies come and take him to a basement. He really is in a bad way. Mr Robot appears. Elliot is thankful to him for protecting him from his earlier beating.
- Flashback to Elliot and his dad driving home from school. Elliot has a black eye but dad isn’t really asking too many questions. Dad tells Elliot how he’s been fired from his job for taking time off to go to the doctors about his illness. He asks Elliot not to tell anyone else he’s sick. They drive to dad’s new venture: he’s opening a computer shop, and Elliot gets to name it.
Bonkers. There’s no other way to describe it: this is absolutely bonkers. It’s an ’80s throwback replete with authentic aspect ratio, oversaturated colours, cheesy music and a laugh track. It’s bold, it’s brash and it’s boisterous; we might even go so far as to say it’s bitchin’.
And it has ALF in it.
We get 20 minutes of total madness, a throwaway pastiche of ’80s sitcoms, just havin’ some fun. Or do we? If we dig a little deeper, past the spectacle, maybe there’s more going on here. We see Darlene abused by her mother; certainly in the show proper Darlene hasn’t featured in flashbacks, and they didn’t speak to their mother when she visited Elliot. We also see Tyrell bound and gagged in the trunk; didn’t we theorise something similar a couple episodes back?
We’re inside Elliot’s subconscious, as Mr Robot takes over to protect him from the beating he’s receiving back in the real world. Elliot sees glimpses of what’s actually happening to him in some clever photography: in Darlene’s Gameboy screen and in the car wing mirror.
Rami Malek does exceptionally well at playing someone who just woken up in an ’80s sitcom; as the others give knowing looks to camera, he just looks confused. The whole thing is fantastic, and plays a perfect counterpoint to Elliot’s scenes in the rest of the episode. The lurid ’80s colour and carefree outlook contrasting with the darkness of the hospital room and basement, and the grim reality of his situation.
And it has ALF in it!
At the other end of the spectrum, Angela and Darlene’s scenes hacking the FBi in the E Corp building feel more like a Tarantino try-hard directing an episode of Hustle. The fast and loose camera style and funky soul music (“Gwan” by The Suffers) seem out of place. Are we adding glitz because the girls are doing the hacking? Turning it into some kind of sexy hack montage is doing everyone a disservice. Thankfully it’s fairly short-lived. As the hack starts to go wrong Mac Quayle’s usual edgy score brings us back to where we ought to be.
It looks like the Dark Army are upping their game. As well as potentially being responsible for the FBI shooting in Beijing, they had the femtocell before fsociety, presumably to install their own spyware.
And what did Xun inject under Cisco’s fingernail?
The closing scenes with a broken Elliot thanking Mr Robot for protecting him are heartfelt and tragic, showing a vulnerable Elliot and his concerned father. Ray has proven himself to be absolutely ruthless; telling Elliot his allegorical story about how his dog Maxine realised she was only breathing because he allowed it – hence the episode title of master/slave – is particularly chilling. Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, and that’s the beauty of this show: keeping us guessing, surprising us with treats like an ’80s sitcom. And ALF. What next, maybe a Gerry Anderson/Matrix crossover?
- ’80s madness!
- Tyrel is back… sort of.
- Mr Robot gets a change of clothes!
- The weirdly out-of-place Hustle-style FBI hack.
- Cisco’s Chinese seems like it’s over-dubbed.
- We still don’t know who was at the door!!!
And The Random:
- Why does Angela need to memorise the steps for the hack? Couldn’t she have just run a single script? Plus she runs the commands before she puts the femtocell in place, so couldn’t Mobley have done it himself?
- ALF, short for Alien Life Form, was an ’80s TV show about ALF, a cat-eating creature from outer space.
- There’s a man reading the New York Post outside the hotel Darlene uses. Its headline reads “Say Cheese Danish!” with a picture of Joanna Wellick in the street in her nightgown looking for Tyrell from last week’s episode.
- When Angela answers the phone to Darlene, Darlene’s name is displayed as Marble Cake. In 2009 4Chan users gamed Time magazine’s online poll of the 100 most influential people, making the initial letters of the top 21 entrants spell out “Marblecake also the game”.
- The address Angela uses to log in to the femtocell at the end of the episode is: http://l4713116.e-corp-usa.com/, it contains another real web-page where you can enter commands in OpenWRT.
Review by Arthur Scott