Sunday, June 16, 2024

Mr. Robot Delivers a Masterclass in Tension

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Spoilers for 2×10 “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx” ahead. Also a Breaking Bad spoiler in that first link.

Wow. This was about as close as Mr. Robot can get to a 5/5 episode without quite earning such a score. Quick tangent; one thing Breaking Bad did better than any show I’ve ever seen was simultaneously delight and infuriate with cliffhangers. Vince Gilligan and his incredibly talented crew knew how to give just enough information to satisfy while also ending episodes with infuriatingly teasing and tense scenes that guaranteed you watch next week. It made for fantastic television. So when I say that this episode managed the same kind of tension and cliffhanger that reminds me of Breaking Bad, I’m definitely giving a compliment. Those last 15 minutes are the closest thing to that kind of tension I’ve felt since that show ended its run. Yet, they are also the reason I can’t quite give this a perfect score.


Mr. Robot elliot-joanna

Much like last week, “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx” did a great job of bringing together the plotlines and mysteries of the season. The search for Tyrell Wellick again took center stage through Elliot’s storyline, while Dom finally got some significant screen time in her pursuit of the fsociety and the Dark Army. By the end of the episode the two separate plotlines had merged, leaving us with even more questions even as we received long-awaited answers.

Remember last week when I mentioned Elliot dragging everyone he loves into danger? Well this week that danger hit hard. Whatever false sense of cooperation existed between Elliot and Mr. Robot (that I fell for as well) fell apart as Mr. Robot continuously insisted on abandoning the search for Tyrell. The two-part finale airs next week and we still don’t know his true fate. Everyone with reason to care is invested in the search; Joanna, Elliot, the FBI, the Wellick’s bodyguard, everyone except the one person who knows. Besides the obvious Doylist perspective of this mystery being dragged out too long at this point for Tyrell to be truly dead, Mr. Robot’s complete unwillingness to provide answers should not exist if there’s nothing to find but a corpse. His episode-long disappearance after the call to Joanna’s phone was no coincidence.

And with the new knowledge gained through Elliot’s investigative tricks that those calls came from a phone in Cisco’s apartment, the mystery of what exactly Stage 2 is and what plan the Dark Army and Mr. Robot came up with during those missing 3 days after the 5/9 hack.

I thought this episode a particularly heartbreaking episode for Darlene. Her struggle to lead fsociety has been evident throughout season 2, and this episode saw her face some hard truths about herself. A couple weeks ago I questioned whether she took a more active role in fsociety’s activities than initially portrayed. Well, never mind all that. Her heartbreaking story of her kidnapping at 5-years old, and her questions about the better life she may have had with her kidnapper, say otherwise. She has lived a life where she felt no choice, where she never thought anyone cared what she wanted.

Assuming she’s still alive after the Dark Army attack on her and Cisco (of course she is), this story will almost certainly lead to some very sorrowful flashbacks of Elliot (or Mr. Robot) coercing her into this fsociety hack. I highly doubt she only meant her parents while talking about lack of choice in her life.

While Angela did not end the episode dodging gunfire, she faces no less danger. Like Darlene, she has spent all season cracking bit by bit until she could take no more. Her intentions to confess to placing the femtocell device came as no surprise considering Dom’s advice last episode. Her conversation with Elliot on the subway summarized their relationship pretty well. They care greatly for each other, but there has always been a distance between them going back so far as their childhoods. Each has struggled in their own way to deal with E Corp’s tragic influence on their lives, and that struggle both built their friendship and kept them distant from each other. This season was no different despite Angela’s involvement with fsociety’s activities.

TV common sense tells me that despite the “farewell” vibe of their conversation, Elliot’s kiss leaves too much unanswered between them to not follow up on. I guess it speaks to the effectiveness of the scene that this felt like goodbye. The stakes have been so high this season and it feels like Elliot will lose someone before the credits roll next week. He cares for Darlene and Angela more than anyone else in the world, and now both of them face possibly mortal danger (we know Darlene does). I don’t want either to die or leave the show, but can either escape this season without it feeling a bit like a cop-out?

Mr. Robot Elliot and Angela

I guess that depends on what plan Mr. Robot put in place and the Dark Army’s intentions for the rest of fsociety. I doubt Darlene herself was a target of the brief shootout at the end. Pretty clear she was just acceptable collateral damage in the attempt to silence Cisco. However, we can’t know that for sure considering the unknown fates of Mobley and Trenton, and Romero’s murder earlier in the season. Mr. Robot himself continues to be a considerable unknown factor. We don’t know his intentions, his methods, his true goals or ruthlessness. We don’t know if he has Tyrell out in the world doing things for him or why. Whiterose’s intentions remain unknown, but we do know her ruthlessness.

All of these plotlines came together in an amazing final 15 minutes featuring constant quick cuts between Darlene and Cisco at the diner, Elliot and Angela on the train, and Dom piecing together the evidence that brought her to the diner just before the Dark Army attacked. The blend of conversations felt so natural and so connected, even as we jumped between various parts of those conversations from moment to moment. As the music grew louder and more frantic, with each blended scene reaching a mutual climax, the feeling of dread only worsened. Could Dom find Darlene and Cisco in time? Who would Elliot and/or Angela run into on that train? How would the Dark Army figure into these events? Genius stuff. If Mr. Robot doesn’t win awards for directing and cinematography for its first season, it damn well better for the incredible creativity this season.

So why am I scoring it below a 5/5? For all the brilliant tension built up regarding Elliot, Darlene, Angela, Dom, the Dark Army, and Tyrell, the episode cut short before fully resolving that tension. It left me a bit unsatisfied. If “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx” had ended with, say, a Tyrell reveal or some solid answer about Stage 2 like the last episode did, then this would be the best episode of the season. Instead I feel a slight disappointment that the resolution of that masterclass of tension was the brief Dark Army attack on the diner. It felt like the episode was building to something more.

Let me stress the word slight. This was a terrific episode.

Predicting the endgame this season might as well be impossible with so much unknown about the two main schemers. Next week has a lot to cover. I expect a lot to go unanswered. It’s inevitable; most of the big questions are the kind that can’t be answered until the show reaches the end. All I ask is that Mr. Robot provide a strong resolution. Considering the way the past few episodes have delivered, a two-part finale has plenty of time to do the same. That, or it will fall into the overly dragging trap of earlier episodes. I’m not too worried about that, though. The merging of the season’s plotlines has Mr. Robot running like a fine-tuned machine.

Mr. Robot dom

Other Thoughts:

  • Price’s monologue about needing to be the most powerful person in the room did a couple interesting things. It established his ginormous and entirely unsurprising ego, for one. It also implied that Whiterose is the only person in the world he doesn’t feel more powerful than. Seriously, who is this person and how is she so powerful?
  • The Price scene also gave me a laugh with the Trump jokes. I’m a simple, Trump-hating person, what can I say?
  • Yay, Dom! Her reduced role has been disappointing for me and I was glad to see her so involved in “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx.” Maybe it is cliché to have her so much smarter and on the ball than her FBI colleagues, but I don’t look at her that way. I look at her as more hardheaded than the others, not smarter. Her boss knows how to piece together the case as well (see him being a step ahead of her with the cab Cisco took). I’m sure he’s not alone. Unlike Dom, the rest of the FBI cares more about their job than busting a group of hackers. Dom has nothing else in her life and has seen the few things she cares about suffer because of fsociety.
  • I mentioned before how the 5/9 hack only seems to have increased E Corp’s influence. Now we see their “E Coins” providing discounts on the equipment Elliot buys. E Coins are probably the only way most people can support themselves at the moment. Mr. Robot was quick to point this out as well, proof that fsociety’s job is far from finished.
  • Did Joanna poke an entirely new hole in her ear when putting in her earrings? Sure looks like she pierced somewhere new and not in a previous piercing.
  • Like last week, the editing and cinematography of this episode stood out remarkably. Besides the previously discussed cuts and music creating such a masterclass of tension over the last 15 minutes, my favorite bit of camerawork has to be the zoom out scanning shot of Elliot’s apartment while he tunes out Joanna’s bodyguard.

Images courtesy of USA Network

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