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Mr. Robot - eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes - Review: "Sitcom And A Twist"

Season 2 of USA's Mr. Robot reached the halfway point last night with an episode that probably tried a bit hard in places, but absolutely nailed it in some others. Like he's doing for each episode this season, creator and showrunner Sam Esmail directed "eps2.4m4ster-s1ave.aes", which was written by Adam Penn.

Last week's episode - the best this season so far in my opinion - left us with two big cliffhangers. Firstly, Dom was pinned down inside a hotel in Beijing as two gunmen killed several people in her vicinity, including four FBI agents in the delegate sent to the Chinese capital. Secondly, after snooping too deeply into Ray's dealings, Elliot was abducted in the middle of the night by Ray and his enforcers.

A noticeable trend in several of this season's episodes has been the lack of immediate continuity off the back of cliffhangers. The two part series premiere was one such example, and continuity between this episode and last week's one was also lacking. In most television series, the next episode picks up right where its predecessor left off. Even between different seasons this is the case, but in Mr. Robot's case, four weeks passed between the events of the season 1 finale and season 2 premieres.

Showrunner Esmail begs to differ when it comes to the common approach, and if one needed such an example, this episode has that in spades. Instead of picking things up in the hotel or on the street outside Elliot's house, the first 17 - yes, 17 - minutes of the 51 minutes total, takes us into an old family sitcom featuring Elliot, Darlene, their mother and Mr. Robot. Tyrell Wellick - again absent in regular proceedings, also starred, and Gideon Goddard had a cameo appearance too, though he was dead as soon as he was introduced.

The sitcom style scenes were very well done. The 4:3 screen ratio, the classic special effects and driving simulators, the compact one-dimensional sets and shoddy green-screens were present throughout. The episode's title sequence was done in a similar fashion, and there were even television commercials advertising Evil Corp which matched the same style.

You can have too much of a good thing, however, and after the 5 minute mark I was hoping I wouldn't have to wait too long for things to return to normal. Instead, 17 minutes were dedicated to the sitcom style, and probably because I grew up in a generation where widescreen viewing was more prevalent and film-making in general had improved, the style felt quite foreign to me. To be fair, the sitcom got better and funnier as it progressed, and Christian Slater and Rami Malek were excellent in it, but my overall enjoyment had already peaked by that stage. Buried in the sitcom was the message that Elliot was effectively dreaming all of this as he lay in hospital following his beating at the hands of Ray's enforcers.

Big days ahead.

When the 16:9, 1080p images, and real time storytelling resumed, only three story arcs were developed. Joanna Wellick was benched, as was Whiterose, with Philip Price returning briefly.

Elliot's time on screen was reduced and fsociety and the FBI filled the remaining space. The main character looked truly terrified in the presence of Ray, who made it quite clear that he is Elliot's master. Some time later, Elliot was forcefully removed from the hospital and left in what looked to be the cliché abandoned warehouse, but the most impressive development came in the final minutes, when Elliot understood that the sitcom we had seen earlier was, in a nutshell, Mr. Robot protecting his mind during his ordeal. A more traditional flashback revealed Elliot's father had been fired from his job because he was sick. He told a young Elliot this and swore him to secrecy, but also revealed that he had decided to open his own computer store, and he gave his young son the opportunity to name it.

You can't teach someone to hack in one day.

My favorite part of the episode featured fsociety's Darlene and Mobley training Angela on how to infiltrate the FBI's building. The plan was to plant a special wireless router which masquerades as a cellphone tower, allowing fsociety to intercept data being transmitted across the network and then relay it back to them.

Angela took a few goes to get it right in training, and a couple of unexpected spanners were thrown in the works in the real thing. Darlene broke into a hotel opposite the building Angela was in, and set up a wi-fi link to which the data would be sent.

Earlier, the router was being delivered to Darlene by Dark Army contact, Cisco. In a rather bizarre scene we see him speaking Chinese, and he ends up getting attacked and the end of a needle forced into the tip of his finger and snapped off. That looked genuinely nasty, even if it wasn't filled with blood or gore. Cisco was also the guy who gave her ex-boyfriend, Ollie, his "album" on the street early in season 1. The pair locked eyes and recognized other instantly. The ensuing staredown was fantastic, but I was amazed Angela didn't out Cisco and his dirty tactics right then and there, which got her into this mess in the first place. I'll file that away in my "things to look forward to" category.

Perhaps Angela was more interested in the mission at hand than causing a stir. She got on with the job and made it to the floor the FBI were situated on. Cue yet another spectacular one-take, this time 5 minutes long. Truly insane. While it wasn't overly complex in terms of moving parts, Portia Doubleday had to stay in character for almost the entire time. We see Angela exit the elevator, make a beeline for the bathroom, get to work in a cubicle - including holding while another woman came and went, then exited only to be confronted by an FBI agent keen on asking her on a date. With Darlene and Mobley in her ear the whole time, even a prank call posing as his mother couldn't get him to move on. Angela eventually agreed, but to douse further suspicions and fit the role, she offered to meet for lunch a short time later.

The acting, directing, cinematography and set design were all outstanding in this scene, and made it a joy to watch.

Long story short, she managed to get the router and battery backup planted successfully, but moments later the wi-fi link failed, requiring some terminal commands be run to bring it back online. Darlene talked Angela through the process of booting from a USB stick loaded with Linux on her work computer, but just as she was about to execute the final command to bring the router back online, two story arcs came together in sensational twist.

We disrupt the investigation, the Dark Army wins.

That second arc came courtesy of Dom, the FBI agent who was lucky to escape with her life in Beijing. In an earlier conversation with one of her superiors, she was told a psych report recommended 4 weeks leave, something she vehemently protested against. That conversation also revealed the outcome of the Beijing incident, whereby the second gunman who Dom wasn't able to shoot, also turned the gun on himself. In her mind, this wasn't an attack that had the intention of slaughter; rather it had the intention of forcing the FBI to leave. It's a delay tactic, a way of slowing the FBI's investigation into the Dark Army, and by association, Whiterose.

I think it's awesome Dom is now face to face with Angela, and next week's episode promo hints that Sam Esmail may be breaking his mantra and actually having continuity between last night's episode and next week's episode. I'm really excited to see that play out.

The final piece of story development worth touching on is the presence of Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price in this episode. His appearance was brief, but he wasn't a happy man - he certainly wasn't as cool and calm as he has been previously. Price was talking to someone on the phone and wasn't thrilled that the government bailout he had requested still wasn't forthcoming. Making matters worse and his life less convenient was a swarm of protesters who had surrounded the building and prevented his car from arriving. The way things have been going lately suggest Price's days may be numbered, but it's too early to call that for certain just yet.

Summing up, for me the novelty of including a substantially long sitcom sequence in this episode of Mr. Robot was good overall. It was very well done, but it was a bit long for my taste and I'd be fine not seeing such a scene again. Not a lot of progression in other areas was made as a result, but the upside of that was the substantial screen time and attention Angela's time in the FBI area received. That one take was just superb, and the sense of genuine real time and intensity can't be replicated in any other way. How she resolves the unplanned interruption from Dom will be exciting to watch.

Thanks as always for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts and theories on this episode so please share them in the comments below. You can find out all you need to know about next week's episode here.