Mr. Robot “Runtime error” review

Adam Mathew 17 November 2017

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Runtime indeed (for one nimble camera guy)

The biggest question of the episode: what does Elliot remember? For a few seconds in the last ep, this Dr Jekyll snapped out his Mr Hyde state and saw two betrayers (Angela, his conniving so-called best friend, and Tyrell, the God-complex hacker). But did that new info sink in? Elliot was jabbed with a tranq soon after. Did the files write to the fragmented hard-disk that is Elliot's brain? Yes and no.

When Elliot "wakes up", he's in an Ecorp elevator on his way to work. To his left is a creepy German co-worker who turns, and in his native tongue remarks: “all beginnings are hard, starting is easy, persistence is an art." It's as cryptic as hell. Perhaps he's referring to the TV in the lift that's broadcasting current events. Top news of the hour: the UN is taking a vote on China's proposed annexation of the Congo.

Before he (or we) can analyse more, Elliot is jolted out his reverie by Angela. She's playing it cool and is asking if he's going to answer his vibrating phone. Darlene is on the line, and she says they need to talk in person, downstairs. She'll have to wait, however; Elliot has to continue on autopilot and mull more pressing concerns. Chief of which: what day is it, and why are the memories of his weekend missing?

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The pieces start falling into place as his nattering cubicle “friend”, Samar, shares his dope-ass sexcapades. (There's also a hilarious moment when Elliot's inner monologue becomes an insulting outer one.) Samar takes it like a champ, however, and even lets Elliot use his terminal when our hero realises he's been locked out of the system (due to being fired). A quick check of the logs reveals that the Dark Army tried to initiate Stage 2 of their hack at 6 in the morning. Before anything more can be determined, HR and security appear on the edge of the cubicle farm, forcing Elliot to go on the lam and gain access to another open terminal.

Entering stealth mode – by adopting the blank office stare of a corporate drone – Elliot manages to finesse his way upstairs and into somebody's workstation. It tells him that the hackers have the means to write legit firmware (thwarting his last defence against them). The only solution is to get up to the Hardware Security Modules up on the 23rd floor. And so Elliot's Solid Snake run through the office continues.

Security is right on his arse when he hits the next elevator, however, and in this moment of high stress Elliot loses composure. He asks himself what to do next. He asks us too, though he knows that's a waste of time (you and I never interact with him). Not like Mr Robot, who is his subconscious Mr Fix It. He materialises and chastises Elliot for even talking to us, his imaginary friend. Mr Robot crows about Elliot never being able to reach the HSMs up on 23. Hell, if it were him, he'd be over at the building that's about to be blown up, trying to evacuate the people inside.

Elliot sees the sense in it. He descends to street level, whips out his phone and tries to warn an Ecorp operator about the impending disaster. He even goes through the science of it for her: hydrogen + spark = boom.

Speaking of bombs, Darlene wanders up and drops a major one. “I'm working for the FBI,” she tells her brother. Before he has time to process this, she follows up with another: Angela is knowingly working with the Mr Robot persona and the two of them are in cahoots with the deranged Tyrell.

Now all of Elliot's betrayers are out in the open. His sister, his best friend, and himself. As this sinks in, we go on one of the most elaborate character perspective shifts ever put to film. The protest around the siblings begins to swell and mutate into many people angry about a lot of different things. This tinderbox ignites and protesters bottle the riot guards and pour inside Ecorp.

As a bunch of ne'er-do-wells storm up towards Angela's office, she receives a call from Irving. This mini riot is all for her benefit. She shouldn't feel afraid to leave and collect a package that has just arrived for her. Sure enough, the horde of graffiti-spraying anarchists ignores her completely.

Irving's plan is not unlike Elliot's – they want her to whisk him up to 23, so he can make a backup of the HSMs. The package in her hands includes the hardware needed to get this job done, plus disguises to get them both up there. They're to pose as members of an internal audit team out of Detroit.
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Just as the situation looks to be wrapped up nicely in a neat little (literal) package, random chance intervenes as Angela is en route. A nosy security guard hops aboard her elevator and becomes suspicious when a high-access security pass, that clearly isn't hers, plops out onto the floor. Fortunately, the jig gets right back on track when some guardian angel anarchists stomp the guard (though, oddly, a few of them unsuccessfully try to catch her as well).

Angela locks herself in with the HSMs and proceeds to jack in as the world goes mental around her, both on this level and down on the street outside. Random chance tries to derail things a second time, too; while searching for additional equipment, Angela cops the third-degree from an employee assigned to the area. Their awkward conversation is interrupted by an excitable Anonymous-wannabe (or "anonnabe") who breaks in and is neutralised with a can full of mace to the face. When the backup is done, Angela uses the anarchist's mask and trenchcoat to slip past a hall full of pals.

The TV in the elevator ride down says that the vote has gone in China's favour. Worryingly, one of the talking heads also says “this is why we need somebody with the business acumen like Donald Trump as President”. Irving calls and interrupts that awful opinion piece; he's not impressed with her deviations to his plan. Elliot was supposed to be there, not her. He also wants the name of the employee that made her go upstairs. Ominously he says he'll “take care of it” when Angela names.

One quick trip back downwards and Angela has to hand over her package to a stoic delivery man. He's decked out in a DNA suit, like a murderer who's worried about two things: leaving no trace of himself, and blood spatter. Fortunately, this fixer merely takes the backup from her, and hands over some takeaway. Shaking like a leaf, Angela shuffles back to her office and is shocked to see Elliot waiting for her.

“Is there something you want to tell me?” he asks. The silence that follows would be pregnant if it weren't for the klaxon alarms, and the sound of the world outside, tearing itself apart.

VERDICT

What an episode. I love a good long-take, but hats off to the cinematographers for making an entire 42-minute episode look like one. The time and talent required to pull that off boggles the mind. As we finally approach the near-mythical stage 2 of this hack, Mr Robot continues to be riveting television.


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