This review contains spoilers.
You have to hand it to Mr Robot; it understands the deal with stakes. Like a parent who knows they have to follow through with a punishment or any future threats become meaningless, the show couldn’t let Elliot keep winning impossible games. At some point, he had to lose.
But did he have to lose through Shayla? It’s 2015. The disappointingly hack trick of slaughtering the lead’s girl to motivate/punish him is so widely critiqued there are entire sites devoted to it. You’d think this smart, knowing show would do better to avoid the obvious.
Shayla’s entire trajectory on the show, from her first entrance to winding up dead in the trunk of a car, felt stale. She was cut from the classic ‘tart with a heart’ template, a nice girl with a bad past, even worse associates, and a job on the wrong side of the law. She was the abused victim our protagonist tries but fails to save on his complex journey; just another dead girl who, if you believe Mr Robot’s speech on that stairwell, had it coming.
Ah well, Mr Robot being the show it is, that probably isn’t the last we’ll see of Frankie Shaw. Shayla will likely return in Elliot’s hallucinations.
Two things did work in the grisly revelation’s favour: the shock of knowing that this show means business (even if it was time-worn business) and Rami Malek’s performance. When he looked into that trunk, the tension between what Malek showed on the outside and what it felt as if Elliot was experiencing on the inside was seriously well-played. That boy can act.
The question is, how will Elliot react to Shayla’s murder? Will he opt for fight or flight, running or revenge?
We can ask a similar question of Elliot’s foil, Tyrell Wellick, who also experienced failure this week, albeit of a less traumatic nature. Zero-sum games (in which one player’s gains equal their opponent’s loss) were a theme of Brave Traveller. The fight for the position of Evil Corp CTO was just such a game, with Scott’s win meaning Tyrell’s loss.
It’s always fascinating to watch a character like Tyrell—someone pathologically driven to succeed—fail. A cornered animal is all the more likely to lash out, and like the show’s, Tyrell’s next move is hard to predict. How far will he go to climb the corporate ladder, and where will he draw the line? Right over the edge, and line, what line? are the likely answers to those questions, based on his hobo-pummelling and sex-espionage of previous episodes.
The boardroom dick-measuring scene between Tyrell and Scott (almost literally on Scott’s part) was a mirror of this week’s scenes between Elliot and Vera. Each opponent was trying to outmanoeuvre the other, make their best move and win the power-play. Scott asserted himself through wealth, condescendingly handing over a watch worth more than Tyrell’s house, while Vera asserted himself through violence, shooting his brother and having Shayla’s throat cut. He wasn’t wrong about the world being a savage place.
Less zero-sum and more just plain impossible is the game Angela and her disillusioned, daytime-drinking lawyer (another one from the Big Book of Stock Thriller Characters) are playing trying to go up against the biggest conglomerate in existence
Episode six felt like a turning point for Angela’s character. With her tedious relationship woes behind her, she’s revealed to have fresh purpose and momentum. Her goal to take down Evil Corp is the same as Elliot’s, she’s just going down the Erin Brockovich route rather than melting data and hacking security systems. (Hands up to my mistake about her father being ill, incidentally. He’s simply drowning in debt—I completely misinterpreted the medical bills shown in the last episode.) Angry, vengeful Angela fighting for her dead mother is an Angela I can get on board with.
To take stock past the mid-point of Mr Robot’s first season, this stylish show has had many more wins than failures. It can handle tension and surprise with the best of them, but better than that, it’s created characters whose actions are hard to predict and put them in situations we didn’t see coming. It’s a perfect formula for making the viewer lean in and pay attention. Episode seven can’t come quickly enough.
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, here.
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