We’re in catch-up mode on Unpopcult. It’s been a few weeks since we reviewed Mr. Robot: partly because there was a lot of other stuff going on in December; and, if I’m being honest, this kept getting pushed further back in the queue because I was lukewarm about episode 4. But with a few other favourites finishing up or on hiatus, it seemed like a good time to get reacquainted.
Happily, these two episodes were much better: no tiresome hallucinations (unless… but let’s just leave that thought for now) and, in each case, a strong central plot. In episode 5 Elliot and the Fsociety crew finally hit Steel Mountain, with Elliot posing as a tech billionaire in order to gain access. It should be said that he hardly goes in for method acting: he’s as distracted and somnolent in this role as he normally is. But thanks to a chance meeting with Tyrell he manages to get into the executive dining room, which is on the level of Steel Mountain where he needs to be in order to connect his thing to the… thing. Whatever it is he’s trying to do to override the climate control. All the while Mr. Robot’s voice is in his head, either because Elliot’s wearing an earpiece and Mr. Robot is sitting outside the facility in a car, directing operations; or because Mr. Robot is, literally, all in his head. But after all of that work, the Dark Army, the Chinese hackers who are an essential part of the plan, pull out anyway. (During all of this Mr. Robot has a conversation with Darlene, which might or might not blow my theory all to hell. We’ll see, but I think it’s the first time I’ve noticed him interacting with someone who isn’t Elliot.)
Meantime there are a couple of subplots floating around, which will be further developed in episode 6. One or two of them need a little longer in the oven, though. Angela walks out on the appalling Ollie, and discovers that her father is in debt. The equally appalling Tyrell is trying to intimidate and/or humiliate Scott, his rival as CTO candidate, and Scott’s wife Sharon; they’re not the type to back down, as it turns out.
And on his way back from Steel Mountain, Elliot has a nice, affectionate conversation with Shayla, who’s started work as a waitress. They sound like a normal couple. We therefore know that something bad is going to happen. Sure enough, when Elliot gets back to his apartment Shayla’s phone is there, and when he answers it the voice on the other end is that of Fernando Vera, Shayla’s abusive boyfriend, calling from prison.
This becomes the main plot in episode 6: Vera blames Elliot for grassing him up, and his associates have abducted Shayla in order to put pressure on Elliot to hack the prison systems so that Vera can walk out. Elliot at first says it can’t be done but we know that’s a bluff; Elliot can do pretty much what he likes, given time and resources, and Vera doesn’t believe him either.
So Elliot gets to work, while coping with distractions from Angela (she’s trying to persuade an attorney to reopen the lawsuit against Evil Corp); Mr. Robot, of course (he appears out of nowhere to offer advice); and Vera’s gun-pointing brother (Elliot realises that his plan is to kill Vera, either inside prison or outside). The episode doesn’t try to bite off more than it can chew, and I thought it the best so far, even if the Tyrell arc continues to be, for me anyway, the weakest part of the show – there’s some more penis-waving with Scott, which I thought was going to be metaphorical but… isn’t.
Ultimately, though, Elliot succeeds in hacking the jail and springing Vera, who promptly shoots his brother. Elliot demands the return of Shayla, and Vera tosses him the keys to a car. Once more, we kind of know what’s coming when Elliot opens the trunk, and what he sees is finally enough to break through his ennui: Shayla, dead, throat cut. Frankie Shaw has been really good as Shayla, and I’m going to miss her, as will the show. On the bright side, though, I’m impressed again.