Elliot is trapped in a 90s sitcom. The aspect ratio is 4:3, the picture quality is fuzzy, there’s a laugh track, ALF is there, etc. In the sitcom world, the Aldersons are on a family road trip. Tyrell is tied up in the trunk. They meet Angela working at a convenience store, but Mr. Robot and Elliot’s mother rob the place. We go to commercial. These include old-school E Corp ads, a real 90s Bud Light spot, and a USA Network promotion for a Friday night movie, The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoise.
After they get a flat tire, Tyrell attempts to escape from the trunk, but he runs into the rear projection screen. Gideon, as a cop, sees them on the side of the road and tries to arrest them, but he is run over by ALF. This fantasy turns out to be conjured by Mr. Robot as a way of sparing Elliot from the pain of the beating he took from Ray’s goons. Elliot wakes up in a hospital, grievously injured. Ray intimates that Elliot is his slave now.
Back at fsociety, Mobley struggles to teach Angela how to hack well enough to complete the planned FBI heist the next day. Darlene’s Dark Army contact Cisco gets a key component, but is tortured for asking too many questions.
Dom is shown to have survived the shootout. The gunmen both killed themselves, which makes her think that the attack was a plan by the Dark Army to disrupt her investigation without leaving a trail. Her supervisor insists that she take some time off, but she refuses.
Philip Price calls up John Boehner and demands that he force the E Corp bailout to go through. Then we see why: Dom’s favorite convenience store owner is going out of business, having failed to survive the economic crash.
The FBI hack begins. Angela manages to install the device after being briefly cornered by an overbearing and flirtatious agent. They run into a problem when Darlene can’t connect to the correct Wifi network. Angela goes back to her cubicle to have Darlene walk her through the procedure, but she is interrupted by Dom.
Elliot is dragged out of his hospital bed and thrown in a cell. He embraces Mr. Robot, thanking him for essentially taking the beating. A flashback then shows Mr. Robot taking Elliot to the site of his new computer store. He asks Elliot for the first thing that pops into his head, as a name for the store. It cuts to black, but we know what this turns out to be.
You crazy for this one, Sam!
The sitcom opening of this episode is superbly executed. It’s not just the gag itself that’s so great, it’s the commitment to the gag. This sequence lasts for twenty minutes, nearly as long as an actual sitcom episode. Every time they transitioned to a new scene, my jaw dropped a little further. They’re really doing this, I thought. The change in aspect ratio and camera is one thing, but like a lot of things on Mr. Robot, the details really pull this sequence into a higher realm. The whole thing starts with an old USA Network “Word Up! Wednesdays” bumper, an invented weekly programming block that I only found out was invented after looking it up. The chintzy graphic design was quintessentially 90s. The USA logo in the corner for this sequence is also the network’s 90s variant. There are even a bunch of 90s commercials, one of them a real Bud Light ad just to sell the illusion. There’s even an ALF cameo! ALF! This is one of the nuttiest things I’ve ever seen on television.
But it’s not just for the sake of nuttiness. We learn a lot more about the Alderson’s family dynamic in this episode, and Mr. Robot in particular. The sitcom sequence implies that Elliot and Darlene’s mother was physically abusive, which explains Elliot’s reticence to return to her and Darlene’s confusion at his doing so. It also sets up the flashback at the end, where we finally start to get a good idea of what Elliot’s relationship with his father was like. The show has been disappointingly oblique about this for a long time, despite its obvious importance to Elliot’s manifestation of Mr. Robot. We learn that Elliot’s dad was secretive, but not out of malice. He hid his cancer from everyone to try and spare them pain, taking the beating himself for their sake. This is exactly what Mr. Robot does for Elliot in this episode. Looking back with this in mind, a clearer picture of Mr. Robot as a character begins to emerge. His assurances that he only wants what’s best for Elliot ring a little truer. He seems more protective than maniacal. When Elliot breaks down and embraces him, the timing couldn’t be better. They’ll need to work together to escape Ray’s clutches. The possibility of that dynamic is too tantalizing for words.
The rest of the episode is almost all comprised of Angela’s FBI adventure. There’s a great formal contrast between this scene and the one where Darlene breaks into a hotel room immediately prior. In Darlene’s scene, the camera is steady. The cuts are sharp and precise. The consummate professional is in her element. She’s thinking a thousand different things at once, but it’s all very intentional, all to serve her purpose. Angela, meanwhile, is shown in a single shaky handheld tracking shot. Appropriately, she literally has a one-track mind in this scene, as she struggles to follow each step of the plan without screwing up. She’s very much out of her element, even if she’s only a few floors up. This is a riveting scene. I kept expecting Dom to show up after the bit last week about her recognizing people who aren’t supposed to be on the floor, but I guess that was a red herring. Slippery show, this is.
That about covers this episode. It’s a slight one in some respects, but I also think it’s my favorite so far this season. Mr. Robot goes to new heights of formal wackiness, but not just to show that it can. There’s always something more under this show’s broadest strokes. It would be easy to get distracted. But Mr. Robot has a way of leading the viewer’s eye, narratively and visually. Like the sitcom-ified Mr. Robot, even when it keeps things from you, you can trust that it’s always taking you where you need to go.
- Craig Robinson got me thinking about comedy actors who take on sinister roles. He’s using those same comedy skills here, just to suit a different purpose. That deadpan delivery that he utilized so well on The Office becomes something a lot darker in new context. He continues to surprise me.
- In the sitcom-metaphor, I think the implication is that Mr. Robot killed Tyrell. That’s odd, considering he seems to be alive in reality. It’s even stranger that he was depicted as being kidnapped, since as far as we know he was cooperating with Elliot. What on earth happened to him?
- The joke about Elliot’s swearing getting bleeped had me rolling.
- I still can’t believe ALF had a cameo. I just wanted to reiterate that this happened.
Featured Image: USA Network