Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord? eps 2.4_m4ster_s1ave.aes

Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord (Or Masters and Loops)? #MrRobot

Who Mr. Robot's Landlord is the name of my weekly recap of the show Mr. Robot.

This was a pretty mind-bending episode. I suspect it will take me all week to fully unpack what was an episode jam-packed with Easter eggs and a large amount of sheer insanity.

If you are ready for "Word Up Wednesday" on USA without further ado, read on. But, if you have not seen Eps 2.4 of Mr. Robot quit reading now *Spoiler Alert* 

"Imagine A World Gone Insane"

That "I Love Mallory" scene from Natural Born Killers might be one of Oliver Stone's most powerful scenes. It works on many levels and does a great job of exposing the character Mallory's backstory while also making a powerful statement of the skeletons hiding behind the "perfect families" and smiles of the 50's sitcoms (RIP to Rodney Dangerfield, who like me and the fictional Elliot, struggled with mental illness and depression for much of his life).

Whenever I hear "Make America Great Again" my mind goes not to the idealized 1950's but to scenes like the "I Love Mallory" scene from Natural Born Killers and to the four (rarely shown) episodes where Ricky (Desi Arnaz) literally turned Lucy (Lucille Ball) over  his knee and spanked her on "I Love Lucy."

Ironically, my parents only let me watch PBS and shows like "I Love Lucy" in order to protect me, but, I was profoundly affected and will always remember those particular episodes of Lucy (shocking even to a kid in the early 70's).

Sam Esmail pulled off a similar, and similarly spectacular, unpacking of the 80's/90's sitcom tonight for about the first 20 minutes of the "Master-Slave" episode of  Mr. Robot.

Everything, and I mean everything, was filmed in an 80's/90's sitcom style with the laugh-track, cheesy jokes, and even the earnestly awful music of the genre. Esmail went so far that, with help from USA Network, they even had 80's style commercials during the first two breaks (kudos to the USA Network for the 80's-style Suits commercial and Bud Light for going to the vault).

Oh, and they also did a throwback to USA Network's old series "Up All Night" (which I remember very well). "Up All Night" was a series that showed late night movies (usually horror). Guess what the late night horror movie they were advertising was? Yup, it was a commercial for "The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie."

Before I talk a little bit about how he was unpacking the 80's, let me talk about the point in the context of the story. One of the coolest touches was the wrap-around treatment of the scene. When Elliot (Rami Malek) wakes up in the hospital (after his beat down) on a small television in his hospital room, a rerun of the 80's series Alf was playing.

In other words, Elliot is experiencing his fantastic 80's dreams triggered because the television in his hospital room is on one of those old-style UHF style stations that just play old sitcoms back-to-back all day long.  Alf is an interesting choice as his character (voiced and puppeteered by Joe Fusco) was an alien trying to understand and fit in with human beings.

I imagine that this is often how Elliot sees himself, as an alien trying to fit in with humans.

So, anyway, one of the main ways that the brain deals with trauma is to escape into idealized memory space. Sam Esmail talked about asking the question "what would Elliot's safe space look like." Note that he said, Elliot's safe space. He then mentions that it would probably look like one of those idealized sitcoms. But, if you pay attention, behind every idealized moment is something terrifying in Elliot's "Safe Space."

But, for Elliot, a vacation in the car with his family (with all of its massive amount of warts on full display) is still his idealized, if surreal, memory space.

His Mom literally punches Darlene (Carly Chaikin) unconscious twice (and puts a cigarette out on her arm). Edward spends part of the trip covered in blood. Gideon shows up as a cop and is hit and run over by Alf. Angela shows up as an employee in the E-Corps gas station only to be maced in the face by Elliot's Mom. 

Let me also mention, in defense of my theory that both parents are abusive, for the fifth time on the show, Edward's push of Elliot out the second-floor window is raised again.  

Darlene says to Elliot, "If you're not careful, Dad's gonna push you out a window again."

Edward also tries to convince him, after looking at his wife, that if he is anything like him, he will find the "other fish in the sea." This again suggests that the ideal "Father Edward" may have existed at times but that he was not always a good father or husband.

The distance between is reality and his idealized memory/fantasy space is tiny (if you look on Darlene's Game boy during the scene or in the rearview mirror of the car you will see Elliot getting beat down by Ray's goons). Elliot's nightmares are also present, one is in in the trunk of the car. Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) bound and gagged and by the end of the 80's section, Elliot's father Edward is again attempting to kill Tyrell (one of his big fears is that he, through his Edward persona, killed Wellick) eventually ending up bathed in Wellick's blood.

At least we finally got to see Tyrell Wellick, right?

So, what was the point, Edward tells Elliot that, no matter what happens, he can escape to this idealized space and hide.

Basically, this means that Elliot escaped to this "place" in order to escape from the pain of the beating and Edward is letting him know that he can come back whenever he needs to.

But the larger point here is that protective spaces can reveal (by absence) many of the problems that we face as well.  The 80's was the "Greed is Good" decade and Oliver Stone's movie "Wall Street" was one of its most effective deconstructions.

Elliot may be most comfortable with his family, but being with his family was objectively also a terrifying place for him. Esmail is asking us to look behind all of the shiny marketing and social wallpapering of our safe spaces to seek out the truths hiding behind the imagery of things.

The E-Corps commercial is the best demonstration of this, E-Corps will "always be on your side" reminds one of the cynical "I'm an Energy Voter" Ads which are filled with actors making fake heartfelt and personal (scripted) pleas for big oil. 

This is Esmail's version of another 80's classic, David Lynch's Blue Velvet.  Your walk home might seem amazing and idyllic, but if you look really close, there might be a decomposing ear hiding between the blades of grass. 

Anyway, Elliot wakes up to his hospital room and to Ray (Craig Robinson) and his goons. Ray tells him a scary story about how his dog Maxine got so sick from parasites that she realized she could only continue to survive if Ray agreed to allow her survival. Ray concludes this terrifying story by saying that knowing that once Maxine knew that she was no longer the Master of her own domain it killed her faster than even the parasites could.

In other words, Ray is letting Elliot know that he is owned and that self-awareness can do him nothing but harm from now on.

Elliot is no longer the Master of his own domain, according to Ray. Ray owns Elliot.

Later, Ray's goons take him from the hospital and dump Elliot in a basement. Once they leave the room, the Edward persona (Christian Slater) returns.

Elliot thanks him for being there and for helping him get through it all (with a big hug).

Then, Elliot flashes back to another idealized memory of the real Edward telling him about having cancer and about getting fired, asking him not to share the information with anyone, and then telling him about the new computer store he is going to open.

As the strains of Television's classic song "Guiding Light" plays, Edward tells Elliot that he can name the new store. We now know that the name Mr. Robot came from Elliot just like the Edward persona is part of Elliot.

By the way, I am starting to think Ray might just be exactly who he appears to be. I still think that the Ray's computer problem means that something is up, but I am starting to doubt the Elliot - Hospital theory. If it turns out to be wrong, apologies. I still suspect something is up here, but I may have misread the shape of things to come.

You Are A Foot Soldier

Another person who is "Owned" is Cisco (Darlene's former BF who is connected to the Dark Army played by Michael Drayer). He is seen asking one of his Dark Army contacts for more details of what is going on because he is worried about his friends (fsociety).

He is immediately grabbed by several people in masks and the contact shoots him full of something. The contact tells him in no uncertain truth that he should remember that he is only a foot soldier and that foot soldiers follow orders.

Cisco also showed up at the beginning of the episode in the 80's credits sequence  kissing Darlene. This suggests that he was Darlene's boyfriend starting when she was still in High School which might also explain his continuing devotion.

He shows up later at fsociety's temporary HQ and Angela (Portia Doubleday), busy training for her femtocell insertion at E-Corps, looks at him like she is seeing a ghost. I am probably missing something here because I am tired, but she says that she "thought she recognized him" but was wrong. NOTE: Cisco was the guy who gave Angela's BF the Disc to put in the computer at E-Corps in season one. I am officially an idiot. Thanks to reader "Coltar the Barbarian" for the kick in the butt (reminder).

Something else is probably going on here as well. It could certainly mean that something has been inserted in the femtocell package that gives the DA a backdoor to the FBI hack. Lots of possible implications for Cisco in future episodes.

"Their Mission Wasn't To Slaughter Us...it was to Disrupt Our Investigation"

So Dominique "Dom" DiPierro (Grace Gummer) survived the shootout in China. How? And, as she tells her boss Santiago, she reveals that the second member of the Dark Army hit-team chose to shoot himself in the head rather than kill her.

Mea Culpa.

Okay, so I was wrong that whiterose (BD Wong) ordered the hit in order to get rid of Dom.

But, I was right that whiterose ordered the Dark Army hit. Dom calls BS when Santiago tries to pin the hit on the Uighurs (an oppressed ethnic minority in China).  She concludes that the point of the hit had been to disrupt the investigation and not to kill the FBI agents.

Remember that the original plan, before the attack, had been for the FBI to visit the E-Corps backup facilities in China. Now, the survivors are back and nobody investigated either the DA in China or the backup facilities.

Dom refuses to go on a six-week leave, rolls up her sleeves, and gets right back to work (hunting down the truth). 

She makes a quick detour first, though.

She goes to the store where we first heard her getting sassy with the Anonymous guy (he really was one of the founders of Anon) in line with her. This was yet another of the scenes where we are shown the impact of the 5/9 hack on "regular" people. The owner of this store, with as Dom puts it, "The best Turkey Sandwich" in the city, can no longer afford to pay his rent or buy new inventory because nobody has enough cash left to buy anything he sells.

Anyway, Dom is working at the E-Corps building and she ends up at Angela Moss's desk at the exact moment when Angela is trying to relink the wireless signal that Darlene needs to use to erase all of the traces of Angela's dirty work on the 23rd floor. More on that in a second.

My Success Is Assured...My Success Is Assured...My Success Is Assured

The main action sequence in this episode is Angela setting up the Femtocell so that fsociety can "own" the FBI. 

But the beginning of the sequence starts with Darlene in a disguise that looks very much like the Mall scene that precedes the above clip in Brian De Palma's Body Double (yup, yet another 80's movie). I will have to try to think about connections here but it seems like some kind of an homage at the very least. Darlene breaks into a hotel room and sets up the femtocell on her end (using a nice trick with the main desk and a maid).

Angela bravely bounces up to the 23rd floor and walks right past FBI agents and police officers, she heads into the bathroom and does the coding part of her job (wearing an earpiece so she can talk to Darlene). As she walks out she runs into a horny agent trying to hit on her. Portia Doubleday proves her acting chops as she switches from cold to hot on a dime in order to get him to stop asking her questions about why she is on the 23rd floor.

She finds the right cubicle to hook everything up and does everything she is supposed to do. Darlene tells her that she can go celebrate, but right when she is getting ready to pack it in they lose the wireless connection and Darlene tells Angela that she has to go hook it back up from her computer at her desk downstairs.

Everything is going great, and then right at the last second before she hits enter (after doing a bunch of entry work that was clearly designed as an Easter Egg and that I will explore tomorrow morning). Dom shows up and says her name.

This should be interesting. Dom has magical investigative powers and wasn't supposed to be back in the building until tomorrow.

Keep your fingers crossed for Angela until next week.

Don't Shit A Shitter, John

Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) is trying to get a bailout but the Speaker of the House basically hangs up on him. 

He wants to leave, but the building is surrounded by protesters and his driver doesn't think it is safe to leave.

He asks his assistant to call Zhang, but he is not answering. I do want to mention that he calls whiterose "Zhang" which is a small bit of confirmation that he only knows whiterose as Minister Zhang. Price does, however, know about Zhang's time fetish, so I could still be wrong.

For once things are not going well for E-Corps CEO. 

Not too much more going on here. But I have to be a "Good Man, and thorough." 

There was also another Easter Egg, a site address from one of the 80's commercials which was ecorps.online.com (I think). 

Lyrics To The "Mr. Robot Sitcom" Theme Song

Thanks to Nerdling for transcribing this for all of us:

Used to be you could trust in the story
Vilify the villains and celebrate the heroes
You could believe in the guts and the glory ways
Those were the better days
Where did those times go?
When the shimmering sky turns cold and gray
Searching for that spark of life
Just close your eyes and say the words
“Everything’s gonna be all right”
Imagine a world gone insane
Picture yourself high above
Imagine yourself in a world numb with pain
Where the crazies believe in their twisted love
Deep in your heart hope stays alive
Stand up tall and surely you’ll survive
Imagine a world gone insane
Let your mind just drift away

I have often cautioned about believing any of Mr. Robot's characters are  binary constructions or cut out of the whole cloth of traditional television storytelling.  In Mr. Robot's world, you can't easily celebrate or vilify and where you can place your hope in the promise of the love of crazies.

Well, that is the end of another really great episode of Mr. Robot. Things are really starting to heat up. Plus the 80's bit was outstanding.

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