This review contains spoilers.
Bugs, daemons and exploits. The last three episodes of Mr Robot have been preoccupied with human flaws. We all have weaknesses that make us vulnerable, pressure points that leave our “code” open to exploitation. Identifying and manipulating those flaws in other people and is the key to power, says Mr Robot. People can be hacked just like machines. After all, we’re only human.
It’s satisfying to see a series with this strong a handle on building tension, perspective-play, cliff-hangers and other thriller staples also engage with complicated thematic ideas. How often have you heard genre movies described as big and dumb, as if there’s something inherently simplistic about any story that follows a formula? Mr Robot does on television what a film like Inception or—yes, again—Fight Club did on the big screen, by marrying gripping, stylish, thriller elements with big ideas. If you like, it’s a big, dumb, very clever series.
After last week’s trippy detour through Elliot’s subconscious, episode five took a shortcut back to the ‘real’ world with an instalment that packed plenty in. Making up for the narrative time lost in the previous chapter chatting to fish and making out with hallucinations, Exploits drew together multiple plot strands. The Steel Mountain heist, Tyrell Wellick, the Dark Army, Angela’s dad’s illness, and Fernando’s revenge were crammed in to a packed forty minutes.
The result was a crowded episode that pressed hard on the episode’s titular theme. What, or who, are these characters’ ‘security flaws’?
Elliot readily listed those of his fellow hackers: gluttony, lack of discipline, hypochondria…, and his own: agoraphobia, morphine, his habit of talking to imaginary people. (Can we take it as a given now that Elliot and Mr Robot are the same person? The “Don’t apologise” in-ear coaching and intimate knowledge of Elliot’s childhood abuse make little sense elsewise. Whenever we saw other people reacting and responding to Mr Robot this week—the coffee shop card clone grift for instance—Elliot was immobile in the background.) Now there’s another vulnerability to add to Elliot’s list: Shayla.
Perhaps it says more about the quality of its TV peers than about Mr Robot itself, but it’s satisfying to see that it hasn’t been affected by the amnesia epidemic affecting other dramas. TV’s more mediocre output regularly puts characters through events and encounters that have no enduring effect and are never mentioned again. Continuity is a regular casualty of the 22-episode season requiring fresh, disposable intrigue on a weekly basis. Not in this show.
When Elliot shopped Fernando to the cops, I expected that to be the last we heard of him and his scumbag gang. Not so. Fernando’s back and out for revenge, adding another layer of threat to Elliot’s safety to join Tyrell Wellick and the myriad dangers he represents to himself.
Except, it isn’t Elliot that Fernando has put in danger; it’s Shayla. Mr Robot, a show whose paper-thin female characters are its chief weakness so far, is hardly going to redeem itself by pulling the old ‘kidnapped girlfriend motivates hero to action’ trick. In my review of episode one I noted this show’s retro vibe, which runs all the way from its cool logo to its anti-capitalist rants. There’s retro, and then there’s disappointingly retrograde.
Still, we have no idea how the Shayla kidnap is going to play out, and every reason with this show to expect the unexpected.
One thing we can expect is a strong performance from Rami Malek, the backbone of this ballsy drama. He’s well-matched by Martin Wallström, who shows similar restraint in his portrayal of corporate vampire, Tyrell Wellick. When Wellick joked to Elliot that everyone was human apart from him, I can’t have been the only one to momentarily reconsider the significance of the show’s title.
Both are the kinds of performance that makes you lean in to observe more closely, which is just what that creepy dinner party bathroom scene achieved. Who could say how that uncomfortable power play was going to unfold? Wellick and his wife may not exist anywhere outside the pages of a screenplay, but they’re utterly watchable in all their contrived, villainous dysfunction.
Unlike Angela, who remains the bland lettuce in Mr Robot’s juicy sandwich. Some cybersecurity tech she is, to infect her company with spyware to frame her cheating boyfriend. Sheesh. Whatever happened to cutting the crotch out of a guy’s suits?
We’re left with fSociety’s plan to take down Evil Corp in place, but stymied by the Dark Army. And even after an episode with its feet planted more firmly on the ground than the last, still gloriously unsure where we’re being taken next. Keep the surprises coming.
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.