This review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot suckered me good. Ever since episode four’s magical mystery tour of Elliot’s junkie mind, I’ve been primed to be hoodwinked by hallucinations and ready for any twist it can throw at me—the more outlandish the better. This whole thing is actually Flipper the dog’s dream? Obvious from the start. Elliot is in fact narrating all this from a high-security psych ward? Totally saw that coming.
That’s why when Frankie Shaw turned up as Shayla in the opening minutes of episode seven, I jumped straight to the high-concept assumptions. She’s either not really there, not really dead, or that’s Shayla’s Maddy Ferguson-alike identical cousin come to clean out her apartment, I told myself. The thought that this show would do anything as pedestrian as a simple flashback didn’t occur.
But a flashback it was, and an uncharacteristically fluffy one at that. With its goldfish meet-cute and a soundtrack by The Cure, we could have been watching the first scene of an indie rom-com: 500 Days Of Shayla.
Except that there was nothing romantic or comic about how Elliot and Shayla’s story ends. Learning that his request for Suboxone was what sent her to Vera in the first place underlines how central Elliot was in the route to her murder. No wonder he feels guilty. Was he worth a psychopath? Not on your life.
Speaking of psychopaths, this week Tyrell Wellick went from enjoyably unhinged (who didn’t love him impulse-firing that trio of rich, smug, chauvinist homophobes?) to repulsive in a single act.
You might say the same about Mr. Robot itself. Accompanying Sharon Knowles’ murder with a sexy pop soundtrack was in poor taste. Even if the idea was to show Wellick as a mad man carried away in the moment—the song abruptly cutting out when he ‘came to’ and realised what he’d done—the slide from eroticism to murder was crass in the extreme. Far too much on-screen violence against women has been styled as titillation. We don’t need more of it from a show that’s smart enough to know better.
Another week, another female corpse on Mr Robot. Someone had better warn Angela, Darlene and Krista that women’s lives are cheap on this show.
At least Angela is now fighting for hers, and showing admirable resolve in the battle. When she asked Colby, a character who rivals only Mr Burns as TV’s ultimate symbol of corporate ruthlessness, whether choosing profits over the welfare of fellow human beings even gave him pause, it was a question from all of us to the one per cent.
Colby’s response that yes, it did, but then you “go home and you have dinner and you wake up the next morning” perfectly expressed the banality of evil. A group of rich men eating expensive shrimp destroyed multiple families, and then went on with their lives. It’s an image that’s going to chime with Mr. Robot‘s post-financial crisis viewers. Angela’s picked a good fight, even if she’s also going to have to ignore the well-being of her own colleagues in order to proceed with it, as Gideon explained.
View Source was this show’s first Elliot-lite episode. We followed Darlene and Mr Robot (it’s great to see Christian Slater revisit his early movie hits as another unpredictable motormouth lunatic) in their attempt to reunite the old gang, we saw Angela stand up to humiliation, and we watched Wellick get into a situation that he surely can’t escape from. In the meantime, Elliot only came in to do his Carrie Bradshaw bit by narrating the episode’s thematic question—what if you could view people’s source code?—and returned at the end for some late-in-the-game honesty with his therapist.
It’s testament to the strength of its supporting characters’ storylines that things didn’t fall apart without our lead. Mr Robot needs to have more than just style and one great performance if it’s going to flourish beyond its impressive freshman year. View Source was a strong indicator that it’ll be capable of doing just that.