Mr. Robot Recap: What’s in the Trunk?

Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson.
Mr. Robot
Mr. Robot
Episode Title
Editor’s Rating

For the initial 50 or so minutes of Mr. Robot’s episode six, I thought the show had suffered its first misstep. Shayla’s kidnapping plot felt so forced — a way to bring back Vera, one of the show’s most compelling characters (despite his brief scenes), into the fold. I didn’t understand how creator Sam Esmail would resolve the situation. It’s not like Vera was going to apologize and then let Elliot and Shayla resume cordialities on the Lower East Side.

Even the idea of hacking into the prison’s network and breaking Vera — and, to avoid suspicion, the rest of the inmates — out of prison seemed so ludicrous. Darlene, of all people, who has been portrayed as a master cybermanipulator and who helps Elliot plant the malware, cautions him that she only had an hour to create her “little toy.” “Did you write that exploit yourself?” Elliot says, berating her for becoming a “script kiddie.” The show is known for its technical accuracy, so I am sure this type of hack is possible, but it seemed implausible.

So that is why the episode’s final minutes felt so shocking. From the moment Vera tosses Elliot the keys to the car’s trunk, saying, “You just didn’t realize she was with you the whole time,” to the realizations of both the audience and Elliot that Shayla is dead, the scene is gut-wrenching.

The camera doesn’t stray from Elliot, almost swooping 360 degrees while staying firmly planted on his face, as if he doesn’t believe that Shayla’s throat has been cut. But then he breaks, a large sob wracking his body, and for the first time, the camera finally leaves Elliot and shows the trunk. When combined with Mac Quayle’s score — this ominous, low hum augmented by the prison’s sirens — the scene is one of the Mr. Robot’s best.

I spoke with Esmail last week about his influences, from directors to specific movies, and he mentioned David Fincher’s ability to convey energy and action even when the camera is fixed. While we’ve mentioned the shows numerous Fight Club–esque moments, this scene had shades of Se7en, a slight tipping of the cap to the final scene in the field.

There was no other way for this subplot to end. If Shayla had lived, would we have been disappointed? What possible existence could the couple have had after her kidnapping? She had already told Elliot in the diner that he broke her trust, rebuffing his claims to “go back and undo” his hack of Vera and subsequent anonymous tip — there really was no possibility other than Shayla’s death. Which doesn’t mean the scene is any less sad.

She made Elliot human. She was his real-world anchor, keeping him balanced amid Mr. Robot, the Evil Corp scheme, and the various hacks. He felt like a normal person around Shayla, and theirs was the one relationship that was genuine. When Elliot asks what she is thinking, she tells him about the time they first met. “Now look at us,” she tells Elliot. “Who would have thought?”

The episode is loaded with foreshadowing, and though a hallmark of prestige television is the understanding that a main character’s death can come at any time, Esmail’s trail of crumbs were only noticeable after the trunk’s contents were revealed. “[Shayla] knew exactly what she was getting herself into,” says Mr. Robot, conveniently appearing on the staircase of Elliot’s apartment building. “Do you think his employees have a long life expectancy? She was dead the minute she started working with that maniac … either way, you all end up dead. It’s the only way Vera wins … I get it, kiddo. You want to help people. Watch over them. Best thing you can do for Shayla is to allow her to become a memory.”

Elliot is just as vengeful as Vera — Isaac irritates him, so he hacks the his phone and now controls the entirety of their drug network, including the profits accrued over the years (which he later uses as blackmail should Vera ever return to NYC and try to hurt Elliot or Shayla). “Something about [Isaac] bugs me, and you like to know what I do when that happens,” says Elliot. It’ll be interesting to see whether Elliot and Vera intersect in the final four episodes.

While Elliot is scheming of how to bust Vera out of jail, Angela — spurred by her father’s ballooning debt — is planning how to revive the decades-old investigation of Evil Corp. She examines the complaint, burrows through FSociety’s data dump, and cold-calls all the lawyers who represented Angela’s family and the other plaintiffs in their lawsuit. Only one calls her back, and for a moment, Angela is filled with promise, which quickly deflates once she actually meets with the attorney who, at 9 a.m., is already into a bottle of bourbon.

“So, you want to take internet gossip to federal court and throw it at the strongest conglomerate in the history of civilization,” she asks Angela before motioning to the man waiting outside her office. “Guy in the suit? Twice convicted of sexual assault, charged again this past weekend. Raped his pregnant girlfriend, bashed her head in with an Xbox, claims she cheated during Halo, yet I have a better chance of defending him.”

Angela is undeterred. Terry Colby is the first crack in Evil Corp’s façade, and she only needs to break someone close enough to the cover-up. According to the lawyer, “If you miraculously find someone on the inside to flip … unless you are Facebook friends with one of those assholes, this hypothetical is just that.” Angela visits Colby, who is under house arrest, only to realize that she’ll need to go another route.

Angela and Elliot, in some way, share a similar plot thread this episode — both are trying to save someone who is already dead. Elliot toils to rescue Shayla, while Angela, who is still angry at the cover-up, attempts to bring back her mother.

When Angela visits Elliot, who is in the midst of his “hack a prison and rescue Shayla” mission, she reveals her scheme. “We always knew what Evil Corp did. We didn’t have the proof, but we knew,” she says. “I have an idea that will change the world. I know it sounds really stupid, but I know how to do it. I think it could actually work.” This scene is a reminder of episode five’s ending — Elliot reminiscing about the time he went to the beach with his father, and the idea of the time needed to move all the sand from the shore to his bedroom. It takes more time than we have to change the world, he warns us, but Angela’s urgency signals that timeline could speed up (and that Elliot and Angela’s paths to revolution may intersect).

The introduction of Scott Knowles as Tyrell’s nemesis has added another layer to the (short-lived) interim CTO’s plot. Tyrell knows he is always the smartest person in the room, but even for the brief moments where he is caught unaware, he quickly recovers. As Joanna, his wife, mentioned to him in the previous episode, his job is to find out what his opponent loves and then take it away. Tyrell thought he had accomplished this when Sharon, Scott’s wife, seems to acquiesce to his advances after he follows her into the bathroom during the dinner party. But Scott is quick to inform Tyrell that his “silly, silly games” are just that. “Did you enjoy the view?” he says. “What — you think she wouldn’t tell me? You want to watch me piss, too? I’ve had several glasses of water. Happy to pull my dick out for you if that’s your thing, watching the Knowles family urinate.”

Scott has more than a few scrapes from his days of corporate infighting, and clearly Tyrell’s scheme, concocted just as quickly as Elliot’s prison-break attempt, isn’t going to work. Scott has played the game, and Tyrell knows he has grossly overstepped his boundaries — he clearly isn’t the CTO, and he may not work for Evil Corp under Scott’s helm. “I want to see that look wash over your face,” says Scott, and it’s the first time since the third episode that we’ve seen Tyrell actually panic.

He destroys his kitchen, while Joanna, bemused, eats takeout. She warned him that Scott was dangerous, but he can’t be cowardly now. “You’re spinning out of control,” she says, hatching a new plan that still involves Sharon. “Now we know what she wants,” she adds. “To be wanted.”

Joanna is far more manipulative than Tyrell, who, true to his former hacker self, seems to prefer brute-force total takeovers than simmering while waiting for the right moment. Joanna understands the long con, and with her in control, the sand under Scott’s feet is much less secure.

Additional Thoughts

  • I have to wonder whether Shayla was even at the diner. The show has played with the concept of hallucinations, and while we know Shayla is real, I don’t think she was actually with Elliot. I think she was already dead by this point, and the breakfast with her was a figment of Elliot’s mind. A few points of evidence: Neither of them touched their food, so when the old woman comes by and asks whether their meal was good, she might have been speaking to Elliot. Also, when Isaac drags Shayla from her seat, the camera makes a point to show no one in the diner noticed. Now, maybe that is because Vera’s crew runs the neighborhood and people wouldn’t give an action like that a second glance, but it is still odd. And when Isaac walks to the car, he doesn’t put Shayla in the trunk — he immediately goes to the driver’s side door. This could be way off-base, but I really believe Elliot’s conversation was with himself, imagining Shayla and how he wishes he could have apologized and have a few final moments with her when, in reality, Vera already had her murdered.
  • This episode’s prison break was exceptionally perfect timing with the Dannemora escape.
  • Esmail’s take on corporate politics and dynamics is flawless. He nailed the status symbol of the tie in episode three, and he does so again this week, highlighting Scott’s Patek Philippe watch (he doesn’t even remember who gave it to him). It’s a sign that for all his machinations, Tyrell is still an underling capable of being replaced, which Scott makes clear when he offers Tyrell the watch: “I feel bad, after all. You’ve got a child on the way, you need all the help you can get. This will probably pay off the rest of your mortgage. Aren’t you still in that neat little two bedroom in Chelsea?”