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Review: ‘Mr. Robot’ Abandons Reality And Blows Our Minds

In Season 2, Episode 6, "eps2.4_m4ster‐s1ave.aes," Elliot’s psychosis gets a laugh track and a very special guest star.

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.4_m4ster%u2010s1ave.aes" Episode 206 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christian Slater as Mr. Robot, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, Vaishnavi Sharma as Elliot's Mother, Carly Chaikin as Darlene -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

Christian Slater, Rami Malek, Vaishnavi Sharma and Carly Chaikin in “Mr. Robot.”

Michael Parmelee/USA Network

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Mr. Robot’ Dances With Boundaries and Bullets

In Elliot’s Head, Two’s A Crowd

One of the great things about Mr. Robot is that each week, it might be a completely different show. It’s never been afraid to mix genres, styles and tones in its depiction of Elliot’s fractured mindset, but the audacious opening twenty minutes of this week’s installment sets a new level of craziness, as Elliot finds himself in an late-eighties/early-nineties sitcom — complete with theme music, laugh track and even a special appearance by a legendary Alien Life Form.

As much fun as it was to see Wellick bound and gagged in the trunk, or Gideon-as-cop get run down by Alf, or Darlene get repeatedly socked in the jaw by her mother, the thing that stood out in this sequence was the way Elliot’s genuine terror and bafflement anchored the washed-out zaniness that surrounded him. And while the reference points of “Alf,” “Full House” and even “Too Many Cooks” will leap to mind first, the fusion of sitcom tones and abject horror also evokes the “Sideways House” sketch by The State.

Just when the gag feels like it might be stretched too thin, they wrap it up with a surprising heartfelt confession that Mr. Robot created the fantasy to spare Elliot the pain of his beating at the hands of Ray’s goons. After a long stretch with Elliot trying to banish Mr. Robot from his life, they seem to now be getting back on the same side.

Positive Reinforcement Guy

Ray continues to reveal new depths, with a chilling monologue about his dog discovering that somebody else had control over her life. He also runs a full service operation, with his henchmen bringing Elliot to the hospital then taking him out prematurely and locking him in a basement, just in case he didn’t get the message that Ray is his master.

Alert The Authorities

When last we left Agent Dom, she was in the middle of a Dark Army attack on the FBI’s Beijing hotel. We learn that the second gunman had her cornered, but instead of killing her he took his own life. Did her conversation with Whiterose/Minister Zhang earn her a reprieve? (This is a pretty big turn to happen off-screen — is it possible that they filmed it but cut it out, given the absurd levels of gun violence in the country at the moment?) Dom refuses to be scared off, turning down a month-long psych leave in favor of going back to E-Corp, where the FBI is pulling out to move back to their field office.

Hack The Planet

The FBI pullback accelerates Darlene’s timeline to infiltrate the FBI’s servers. Even though Angela volunteered, it’s doubtful she reckoned with needing to learn about femtocells, the Linux commands to start them, or the best way to wipe down her fingerprints. The Dark Army is busy in New York as well — planting their own access to the femtocell that Cisco provides fsociety, and planting a needle in Cisco’s finger for asking too many questions. And when Cisco brings the femtocell to fsociety HQ, Angela immediately recognizes him as the hacker responsible for pwning AllSafe last season.

READ MORE: How ‘Mr. Robot’ Star Rami Malek Used Anxiety to Carry His Breakthrough Emmys Drama

It Gets So Lonely Being Evil

While the sitcom takes up most of the oxygen in the episode, the raid on the FBI is a great sequence too. Darlene effortlessly infiltrates a hotel room as a lookout, while coaching Angela through her mission, all of it scored to swanky heist-movie music. And Angela discovers that sexual harassment in the workplace won’t even stop for a nefarious exploit; when the hackers are unable to get rid of him, Angela uses her own social engineering to make him leave — by agreeing to a lunch date.

Portia Doubleday in "Mr. Robot."

Portia Doubleday in “Mr. Robot.”

Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Meanwhile, Price is unable to get Minister Zhang to return his calls, and his attempt to browbeat the Speaker of the House into passing his bailout package fails, since the Dark Army attack on the FBI makes the idea of borrowing Chinese money a political impossibility.

Swedish Psychos

All we see of Tyrell this week is his ludicrous appearance as “The Man In The Trunk” during the sitcom dream. No sign of Joanna, but a typically-ridiculous New York Post headline breathlessly tells us: “Say Cheese, Danish! Wellick’s Wife Wanders In The Night.”

Reality Bites

  • If the theme song for Elliot’s sitcom seems like a perfect copy of early 90s shows, that because it was written by Bennett Salvay and Jesse Frederick, who together wrote the themes for “Perfect Strangers,” “Full House” and “Family Matters.”
  • Darlene is playing a Nintendo Gameboy, but instead of a game it shows Elliot’s beatdown.
  • For the FBI incursion, Darlene is using Kali Linux, Mobley is teaching Angela to use OpenWRT and their failsafe employs the Mimikatz exploit.
  • Previously, we saw Price talking with people who were playing actual Washington economic bureaucrats. This week, in his phone call with the Speaker of the House, he calls him “John.” So apparently Paul Ryan is not a part of the Mr. Robot universe.
  • One of Darlene’s passwords is Joshua, nodding towards the computer in “War Games.”

Standout Lines and Moments

  • “Mom, Elliot’s hearing voices.” “What else is new?” Just about every interchange in the Alderson Family Road Trip is funny. And the commitment to the sitcom bit is complete with old-style USA graphics, 80’s style chyron credits and a laugh track that only Elliot can hear. There’s even an period-looking E-Corp commercial, continuing the promise that E-Corp is “on your side.”
  • Cisco’s Dark Army contact Xun: “Don’t ask questions. You are a foot solider. And foot soldiers do one very simple thing… They follow orders.”
  • A flashback reveals the moment when Elliot’s father told him about his cancer, and also reveals that Elliot was the one who named the store “Mr. Robot.”
  • Dom’s favorite sandwich maker is going out of business. The copious amount of “E-Coin Accepted Here” signs don’t seem to be helping.
  • Angela’s affirmation “My success is assured” earns Trenton’s side-eye and Mobley’s quip: “You know you can’t talk to yourself during the actual operation.”

Grade: A

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