Last night’s Mr. Robot was intense—and arguably the most dystopian episode so far. After breaking into a world-class data center last week, Elliot’s next hacking assignment is a prison. But this time, there’s way more on the line. COMMENCE SPOILERS.
Shayla’s dead. Elliot’s girlfriend was kidnapped by the incarcerated Fernando’s drug gang, only to be released if Elliot hacked Fernando out of prison. Elliot did so. But Shayla was dead all along, stuffed in the trunk of a car belonging to Isaac, Fernando’s brother. That’s how last night’s episode ended.
The grisly revelation, which left Elliot gutted, took place amidst a perfectly grim, dystopian scene: Swarms of orange jumpsuit-wearing inmates hightailing it out of jail in the dead of night. And it was all thanks to a hack.
Throughout the episode, Elliot is forced to help Isaac bust out his brother in order to save Shayla. Meanwhile, Angela starts digging into the Washington Township case, the Evil Corp scandal about toxins in water that left Angela’s mother and Elliot’s father dead years ago. Tyrell Wellick, who creepily approached Evil Corp’s apparently incoming CTO’s willing wife while she was on the toilet at a dinner party at her house, is now confronted by her husband about it. He taunts Wellick, saying he’ll never be CTO, and gifts him his fancy watch to pay Wellick’s bills.
But the main focus is Elliot. He has just one night to exploit the prison’s network and hack the murderous drug lord out of the slammer. Isaac and his crony, DJ, force Elliot into digital gymnastics. Even in the midst of this crisis, Isaac strikes Elliot as particularly slimy. “Something about him bugs me,” Elliot tells us, “and you know what I like to do when that happens.”
Yup, we sure do. So Elliot hacks him. He hacks his phone, and later, when Elliot visits the maniacal Fernando in prison to give him an update? “I hacked Isaac’s phone. I took it it all. I own your whole world,” Elliot says. He’s taken control over all of Fernando’s drug money; the entire operation. And if he has Elliot killed? A leak is set up to auto-send every 24 hours, unless Elliot himself continually disables it. If Elliot gets even a sniff that he and Shayla are ever in danger, he deletes all of Fernando’s money.
Afterwards, though, Isaac decides to take Elliot to an abandoned industrial area to kill him at last, telling him it “just wasn’t your day.” What happens next is brilliant: Like Elliot did with the Steel Mountain employee last week, he finds Isaac’s “bug.” His weak point. Elliot’s instincts were right—something was off about Isaac. Isaac wants his brother dead, not free. He’s the reason his brother’s in jail, and knows his life is on the line once Fernando’s out. Elliot then talks his way out of having a gun to his head. “Let me free him,” Elliot promises. “It’s your best move.” What happens to Isaac’s brother after that is up to Isaac. And like that, the gun’s put away.
Elliot “hacks” into Isaac’s motives, using psychology and social jiu jitsu. Of course, this is completely incongruous with what we know about Elliot—or what we think we’re supposed to know about him, perhaps. Isn’t he supposed to be an awkward computer hacker, who doesn’t know how to connect with other people?
One of the great things about Mr. Robot is that it doesn’t portray Elliot in that hackneyed way hackers could be portrayed. Because Elliot does get people. He gets people more than he thinks he gets people. Hacking involves finding a weak point and exploiting it. Elliot does that with people. It doesn’t suggest that he’s a manipulative douche bag—it shows that he understands, identifies, and is capable of a broad range of emotions.
I’d like to take a sec to address Rami Malek’s performance on this show.
A taciturn computer genius, Elliot often says less than other characters, but Malek’s facial expressions show Elliot’s constant mental gear-turning, his blazing eyes when he’s exploiting “bugs” online and in-person, and his occasional awe of his own powers and their effects. And his devastation upon seeing the murdered Shayla: one of the few humans he’s felt really connected to personally, despite his ability to read others. Out of all the characters on the show, in fact, Elliot arguably understands people better than anyone. Elliot isn’t written as a cliche, and Malek’s acting makes the character that much more believable and layered.
Assuming Mr. Robot sticks around, I predict Elliot will go down as one of the most celebrated hackers in pop culture history—not just setting a new standard within the cyberpunk genre, but also joining Walter White and Don Draper as one of the memorable male leads in twenty-first century TV.
But back to the episode, in which the cruel joke is on Elliot. After he opens all the jail cells by hacking into the facility via its 4G, Fernando greets them—telling DJ to put a bullet in his brother’s head. Fernando tells Elliot that Shayla’s been with him the whole time. They leave. And Elliot opens the trunk.
As for Mr. Robot himself? While he’s interacted with other characters in the past, he seemed pretty Tyler Durden-y this week, appearing on a staircase in Elliot’s apartment building out of nowhere, and verbally articulating Elliot’s inner struggle for Elliot.
That struggle will clearly involve Elliot choosing to use his powers—or being forced to use them. He can hack either for good, or for what others perceive as “good,” whether it’s Fernando or FSociety. This show’s been lauded for its accurate depiction of hacking, but it should also be celebrated for its accurate depiction of hackers as complex humans, as well. And as the show progresses, Mr. Robot is giving us a hacker hero that is indeed complex.