There are some hours of television that I immediately recognize that I (and everyone else watching) will either love or hate. There is no in between.
Mr. Robot Season 2 Episode 6 is one of those hours – well, hour and ten minutes, technically – and I absolutely, unabashedly loved it. Buckle up, folks, this is a long review.
Regular watchers of this series already know that Mr. Robot is a one-of-a-kind, unique show, but the opening twenty minutes of "Master Slave" cements it.
Rather than picking up where we left off on Mr. Robot Season 2 Episode 5 – with Elliot getting the snot viciously beaten out of him by Ray's minions – it completely veers off in a wholly unexpected and super trippy direction.
Elliot's mind is a magical place (to put it kindly), and mid-beating, it decides to take him into a warped imaginary reality – an early '90s-style family sitcom complete with garish laugh track and commercials from that same era, but with an extremely dark and unsettling undercurrent. That's his "safe space," in a twisted sense. How perfectly Elliot.
In this reality, on the surface, everything is peachy-keen and wonderful. The entire Alderson family is on their "annual family road trip" to a destination unknown to Elliot, but one that his father/Mr. Robot assures him he'll be glad to reach once they arrive there.
Of course, Elliot is fully aware – he's not buying into this imagined reality. When ALF randomly shows up (and later mows down Elliot's reimagining of an alive Gideon as a state trooper), Elliot is just as shocked as we are.
And because his mind is fighting against itself to return to the "real world" where he is getting viciously beaten up – a truth which he spots in the car's side mirror and hears echoing around him – Elliot is flipping out in a way that's simultaneously disturbing and hilarious.
The grating laugh track whenever something humorous or alarming is said just underscores that. Because this is Mr. Robot, there are obviously layers to this bizarre and amazing sitcom opening.
The most obvious is the inclusion of Angela and all of the references to her relationship with Elliot, which clearly speak to his feelings for her and a feeling he has, deep down, that her job with E Corp is a turn to "the dark side."
Elliot: I didn't know you work here.
Angela: Well, I started as a part-time sales associate, then they promoted me to assistant manager. Now, I'm on pace to be full manager. That almost makes up for them killing my mom!
Mr. Robot teases Elliot about his feelings for Angela in a standard sitcom-dad way, but later, when he and Elliot's mother rob the E-Mart that Angela is working her way up to "full manager" in (macing Angela along the way), Mr. Robot tells Elliot that she's no longer on Elliot's side – she's with "them" (Evil Corp) now.
It's an interesting moment, because we haven't really seen much of Elliot grappling his relationship with Angela – and what she's been up to – so far in Mr. Robot Season 2, aside from their brief conversation during Mr. Robot Season 2 Episode 5, when they met face to face for the first time all season and Angela convinced Elliot to allow her to participate in the FBI hack.
Elliot and Darlene's mother's abusive tendencies are "laugh-tracked" over, in a particularly disturbing and effective way.
We've met this woman before and seen her cruelty in some of Elliot's Mr. Robot Season 1 flashbacks, so it's not exactly shocking to see her burn her daughter with a cigarette and knock Darlene out cold – twice – with a punch to the face. But it sure is unnerving.
Sitcom Darlene herself has little to do in the sequence. She's very much a side character in the sitcom of Elliot's mental escape, playing her Gameboy and getting abused by their mother.
Of course, another significant inclusion is the "Special Guest Star" – "Man in the Trunk." That's Tyrell Wellick, naturally, in his first on-screen present-day (sorta) appearance all season.
Tyrell's fate/whereabouts have been a big theme so far this season. Aside from one conversation with unreliable narrator Elliot, we have no proof that he's alive. Keeping Tyrell "locked in the trunk" in Elliot's sitcom hallucination is a very clear metaphor for Mr. Robot keeping Elliot's memories of the hack (and what happened to Tyrell) locked away too.
That Mr. Robot clonks Tyrell (who is solely concerned with keeping his Ferragamo loafers intact) with a tire iron is worrisome and casts a bit of doubt on whether the "very important businessman" is still alive.
Eventually, Elliot comes to the conclusion that Mr. Robot has deviously taken control of his mind, just as he threatened to earlier – the alter ego has won and Elliot is locked away in this trippy sitcom world.
Surprisingly, that's not the case at all. Mr. Robot proves that, on some level, he's truly looking out for Elliot – the road trip's destination is the hospital, where Elliot was brought to in real life by his attackers and where Mr. Robot allows him to come back to the real world post-beating.
Now that the worst is behind you, it's time we get you back.Mr. Robot
The world Elliot comes back to isn't that grand.
Ray and Lone Star loom over him and Ray gives him an extremely threatening speech about masters and slaves, insinuating his control over Elliot's life is similar to the control that he had over his dog Maxine, who apparently died of heartworm offscreen – or died after realizing that she was dependent on a human to survive, according to Ray's logic.
Elliot is left to recover offscreen, where we leave him until the very end – and then unceremoniously dragged out of the hospital by people whom I'm guessing are Ray's men. They throw him in a basement where he's left wheezing and whimpering on the ground.
Mr. Robot comforting Elliot, and Elliot embracing and thanking his hallucination for protecting him from being "conscious" during the traumatic beating, is a surprisingly heartwarming scene. It's not every day you watch TV and are like "Awww, his imaginary alternate personality truly cares about him!"
The true end is Elliot's flashback, to the aftermath of another fight he got into as a kid. In it, his father doesn't question the fight but instead confides in Elliot that he was fired and is sick (with cancer, as we know).
He also tells Elliot that he's opening a computer store, and here's the twist – he allows Elliot to name it. That's right – Elliot came up with the name Mr. Robot all along. Of course, we cut to black before we hear little Elliot say that. What a great little moment.
So that's a lot of stuff, but it's only Elliot's section of "Master Slave." We also see Angela and Darlene, Philip Price, and Dom during this installment.
Mobley spends much of his time attempting to prep Angela to initiate the FBI hack. Angela, of course, is not a hacker, and therefore doesn't really take to the complicated maneuvers in a single day. Somehow, though, she pulls it off – with a remote assist from Darlene, who is camped out in a hotel room that she hacked into like a badass, and Mobley.
Despite an initial snafu with a greasy-looking FBI agent who both flirts with her and is suspicious of what she was doing on the FBI-only floor, Angela manages to flirt her way out of the situation and even plug in the device that is necessary to access the FBI's transmissions – all without being seen.
The "heist" sequence is truly great – tense, exciting, and very real.
Seriously, though – how did no one see Angela plug that thing in?! It wasn't exactly a quick process. It's also almost beyond suspension of disbelief that the freakin' FBI would leave their electronics completely unattended – even mid-lunch hour, during a move out.
Of course, something goes wrong, as it's wont to do with high stress, nail-biting sequences like this – the wi-fi goes down and Angela needs to head back to her own cubicle to get it back up.
When we leave off, she's this close to finishing Darlene's instructions when Dom suddenly appears, looking to speak with her. PERFECT TIMING, DOM! Angela freezes, Darlene still in her ear, and mid-script on her computer screen.
Dom, meanwhile, is recovering in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beijing, which took the lives of four of her coworkers. As expected, Dom refuses to accept a month of leave for her psychological recovery, more intent than ever on taking down the Dark Army, who she is 100%, without a doubt convinced is responsible for the attack.
Her boss is hesitant to believe a hacker group would do something like this, but Dom's evidence is sound and he appears to believe her on some level. Interestingly, the shooters purposely left Dom alive, committing suicide (to "wipe all data") rather than continue shooting.
I was sure that Dom was actually one of the primary targets, given how weirdly open Minister Zhang/Whiterose was with her during the Beijing house party on Mr. Robot Season 2 Episode 5.
Finally, there is Philip Price, who is denied his bailout package by the United States Speaker of the House.
If I caught that phone conversation correctly, I believe he is meant to be speaking with John Boehner, the last Speaker, since the show's timeline is several months behind the real-life timeline. I guess Mr. Robot's universe is still in the summer or fall of 2015? Boehner was Speaker until October 29, 2015.
Price is also told by his assistant that Minister Zhang (aka, Whiterose) is not returning his calls. Whoopsy. Things are getting dire for the apparent mastermind Philip Price.
Bits and pieces:
- The sitcom opening credits are AMAZING. I was quite literally laughing out loud the entire time. It was a perfect showcase for Sam Esmail's dark, wonderful sense of humor. The absurdly fake green screen background was also hilarious. And everything ALF of course.
- Speaking of ALF – Sam Esmail's interview with Entertainment Weekly confirmed that the ORIGINAL ALF puppeteer and actor, Paul Fusco, reprised his role for the cameo. How delightfully random and wonderful is that?!
- I really miss Gideon. I liked that dude, and I'm sad he's dead.
- Christian Slater is always great but his performance here, in particular, was top notch.
- What the heck is going on with Cisco? It seems that the Dark Army isn't pleased with Cisco's vocal allegiance to Darlene and fsociety, but what did they inject him with? And what will come of him, now that Angela has recognized him as the hacker who tricked her into putting the hack CD into Allsafe's computer last season (though she denied knowing him)?
- Still not crazy about Elliot being so far removed from the "main" action. Ray is not nearly interesting enough a villain to warrant this.
What did you think of "Master Slave"? Leave me a comment below and watch Mr. Robot online anytime here at TV Fanatic!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.