Mr. Robot‘s fifth episode is a return to form in many ways, though it’s never as good as the series premiere. This week, our players were dealt much less heightened drama than in the last few episodes–though it’s still a little too much, to be sure. Tyrell is stuck in the “evil with a capital ‘E'” routine, and Darlene is exceedingly ridiculous in her subtle “mommy didn’t pay attention to me” shtick, but everything else in this episode seemed much more closely tied to reality than in the past. Rather than being over the top, this week’s Mr. Robot was just plain mean.
Following Elliot’s drug withdrawal episode from last week, the fsociety crew continue their plans to break into Steel Mountain–Evil Corp’s offline backup storage facility–in hopes of destroying the data held there by hacking into the system. Meanwhile, Darlene struggles to keep ties with the Dark Army–an integral piece of fsociety’s plans–and Angela attempts to start over after dealing with the dissipation of her relationship.
That doesn’t sound all that mean-spirited, but it also doesn’t quite cover the scene in which a harmless worker drone–a tour guide, jovial and decently happy with his life–is berated with insults by Elliot in Elliot’s attempt to sneak into a certain part of the facility. Sure, Elliot is doing it for the greater good–or at least Mr. Robot’s greater good–and he clearly feels bad about what he’s doing, but the fact that he can draw these thoughts about the tour guide’s lack of friends and family–as well as the man’s pointless life–says loads about Elliot’s character. Since the beginning of the series, Mr. Robot has balanced carefully between critiquing society’s hoi polloi and treating Elliot as if he’s a savior figure for that very same group. Elliot looks down on those who flock to the newest Marvel film or frequent Starbucks–clearly seeing this crowd as lesser than–but he also hopes to save them from their corporate dependence, looking to be a hero of the common man. Nowhere is this dichotomy more apparent than in the wonderfully crafted Elliot-moments of this episode. Not only does Elliot have to treat another human being like he’s nothing, but throughout the episode there is a running theme of Elliot understanding the “security flaws” in other people. In other words, Elliot is a little too aware of how to completely break down his fellow-man.
Compare that to Tyrell’s rather inspired inclusion into the goings on at Steel Mountain, and things get really interesting. At the facility on a routine check-in, Tyrell catches Elliot–unaware of Elliot’s true reason for being at Steel Mountain–and convinces him to join Tyrell for lunch. A few scenes later–the shot purposefully framed with Elliot down-screen from Tyrell (seemingly inferior) and Tyrell down-screen from a framed picture of a cross-armed President Obama–finds Tyrell discussing their waiter with Elliot. He calls the unknowing waiter–more than competent at his job–a…
I couldn’t bear it, a life like that. A life of an ordinary cockroach who’s biggest value is to serve me salad.
It perfectly captures our nation’s most extreme ideas of the one percenter; a greedy capitalist who finds everyday human life so beneath them that they can mold it into whatever suits their needs. It’s also over the top–one of the few moments, I admit–but it allows us to question our feelings on the “heroic” Elliot and the “evil” Tyrell. Clearly Elliot–having broken down a hard-working and harmless man just moments before–isn’t so different from that which he hates. In fact, one could say that his diving deeper into Mr. Robot’s world has driven Elliot ever more close into the realm of Tyrell and Evil Corp, at least in mind and spirit. It’s a topic that Mr. Robot deals in relatively subtly, but it’s one of the key components that still makes Mr. Robot an intriguing watch from week to week.
I wish I could say the rest of the cast has as interesting or as worthwhile of scenes as Elliot does this time around, but it’s just not the case. Darlene really doesn’t advance much from where she was last week and Shayla is a vital part of an end-of-episode plot twist–my last favorite since that lame second episode ending–but her character doesn’t really evolve, even after taking on a gig as a waitress. Meanwhile, Angela has some interesting plot developments that could tie her even closer to Elliot–if I’m reading the cards right–but the acting/writing in her scenes feels very USA Network, whilst Elliot’s feels more like HBO… okay, Showtime. Tyrell is the one source of, “Really, this is happening?” moments, per the usual, but something about his storyline feels more tolerable this time around. Maybe I’m just getting used to his shenanigans. Last of all, Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot feels like he has less and less interesting things to do each week. That’s a shame too, because the few scenes where Slater does get to put his chops on display are truly enjoyable. He, more than the majority of the cast, knows how to deliver some seriously silly lines with conviction and gravitas, leaving us more interested in what Mr. Robot has to say next, rather than picking apart Slater’s performance itself.
Mr. Robot has definitely settled into a level of quality that’s half-way between its USA Network compatriots and the upper echelon of cable networks like HBO and AMC. Oddly enough, Mr. Robot is actually better than HBO’s handful of original series airing this summer. That’s really neither here not there, but I’ll let you decide what that means about this season’s television offerings. Suffice it to say, Mr. Robot is still worth your time, especially since they’re finally pairing down the “deep dark bad guys” motif. It still lingers of course, but compared to Elliot’s flawed hero, that tired motif finds a way of saying more about our protagonist than we have any right to expect.