Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Mr Robot Provides a History Lesson

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Now that the intro is out of the way, let’s dive into season 2 of Mr. Robot proper!

Last week our characters adapted to the realities of their new world and some did better than others. Mr. Robot still haunts Elliot, and his actions the rest of the world. This week some take action, while others simply try to survive (physically and mentally). What did I think? Let’s get to it. Thanks to two supersized episodes there is quite a bit to cover.

Mr. Robot s2ep3_elliotphone


We open this episode with a look back at the day fsociety acquired their arcade HQ. Romero gives Mobley a gruesome history lesson of the property’s former owners; a man who killed his wife and children before killing himself, a woman who got drunk and impaled a pool cue through her neck, a twin who used his brother’s gun to shoot their father, only to fall through a window because of the kickback. Turns out Romero shared a prison cell with the framed twin left alive and acquired the key to the property from him. After the history lesson Mobley recruits his very hesitant friend for the plan fsociety carried out in season 1, and we get a look the dilapidated Fun Society sign missing a U and an N. Foreshadowing?

While Romero had more personality to me than Elliot and Darlene’s other fsociety lackeys, he still suffered the same problem as Mobley and Trenton. Each of them have been more “character to serve a purpose” than a real person I care about. I thought this opening, and the introduction to the mother he takes care of, went a long way in increasing the impact of his murder. Much of the episode revolves around this crime. Darlene, Mobley, and our newest character, FBI agent Dominique DiPierro, all focus around the aftermath of Romero’s death.

As the opening and much of season 1 suggested, Mobley and Romero were closer than any other two members of our hacker group. It is no surprise that Mobley handled it worse than anyone else (besides the fact that he found the body as well). He is not nearly so militant as the rest of fsociety. His involvement was more for the company than the cause. And the murder alone was not all that bothered him. He suspects that the Dark Army seeks to eliminate all connections between themselves and the Evil Corp hack, and that Darlene and Elliot are involved. Darlene certainly does nothing to assuage that paranoia. She reacts coldly to Romero’s death. She cares more about Romero’s mother identifying Mobley. If we didn’t see things from her point-of-view, I’d suspect her involvement, too.

I think my favorite part of the episode was our look into Dom DiPierro’s life. She is a perfect fit with the rest of the cast. She spends her nights struggling to sleep. An Amazon Echo device named Alexa is her only company. She has depressing cybersex she can’t finish, a Joyable app on her phone for social anxiety, and asks Alexa when the world will end. Then she gives up on sleep, puts on her makeup, and goes to work, where she is totally different. Personable, charismatic, intelligent, bright-eyed and smiling, more like we saw in her brief appearance in the premiere. Grace Gummer plays the two dichotomies very well. I can’t wait to see more of her.

DiPierro is the only of a list of agents found at Romero’s house to respond. She quickly dismisses the list as part of a well-known leak of names, but revisits the photos she takes with her phone (after refusing to touch the actual sheets a detective was sneezing all over). When she went back to see Romero’s mother (and roll her joints for her) you knew she was likely to discover something leading her to fsociety. Mr. Robot’s arcade may be a forensic no-go because of the party described in the flyer DiPierro found, but the F. Society sign clearly told her something she wanted to know.

Mr. Robot s2ep3_elliotrobot

Though much of the episode revolved around what happened to Romero, our main character has the larger focus and we pick up with Elliot right where the last episode left him; mouth agape on the phone with Tyrell Wellick. Or is he? The phone call provides absolutely no information. Mr. Robot is quick to end it. Elliot immediately questions what just happened. Combined with the very prison-like appearance of the fly by over the neighborhood before the scene, I once again wonder just where Elliot is and what is happening around him.

Elliot decides to stop Mr. Robot’s appearances with large doses of Adderall procured from Leon. It doesn’t take long for Elliot to hallucinate a “kidnapping” with men in black suits pouring wet cement down his throat. The vomiting scene when he returns to reality was absolutely disgusting to watch. Damn if it wasn’t great TV to watch Elliot dig through the vomit to retrieve the Adderall pills, though. As he says to Mr. Robot in the aftermath, “I will not be owned.” Desperate measures, but he wants the alter ego gone. And he succeeds for a few days. We even see a…happier Elliot? More like a sleep-deprived, drugged up Elliot, but the change is entertaining. He smiles and skips happily down the street. He gets into the basketball games and church groups and participates in Leon’s rants about Seinfeld, though Leon dislikes him doing so.

Finally the sleep deprivation catches up to Elliot and this ends, ultimately culminating in his rant against God in the church group. Not a huge fan of the speech, but the realization that he actually spoke aloud was terrific, and Rami Malek sold it.

By the end of the episode Mr. Robot predictably returns and Elliot must yet again change his approach. There is no ignoring this other side of him. There is no drugging him away. Like the story of Ray’s wife and her death, Elliot can do what others consider “right” and still lack any real control. He will have to continue stumbling along, trying to fix the flaws as they appear. I wish him the best of luck, but I doubt that happens anytime soon.

Mr. Robot s2ep3_angela

Other thoughts:

Ray seemed like a good guy last week. Not so much here. We know he’s involved in something involving bitcoin hacks, and he’s having those working with him beat up for failing to stop them. He’s clearly trying to manipulate Elliot into helping. He will likely succeed soon. And he doesn’t seem the most stable of people himself, if his conversations with his dead wife while hooked up to a dialysis machine are any indication.

Angela continues to be manipulated towards the dark side by Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price. It’s bad enough that she seemingly thought she was going on a date with the scumbag. Seeing him try (and likely succeed) to rid her of sympathy using the insider trading info on their dinner companions has me worried for her downfall. Like Elliot, I hope she manages not to fall too much further. Also, Price’s World War I theme in his office is kind of weird.

Some interesting glimpses into the post-hack world this week. Romero’s mother can’t pay her bills and cuts up a credit card. Someone Ray knows has to close up their flower shop due to lack of fresh deliveries. There is mention of a $50 daily allowance. Seeing the bad of fsociety’s actions is very important to avoid romanticizing the good. Just as many were hurt by the hack as helped.

Mr. Robot s2ep4_darlenemask


More fsociety history lessons! Though I thought this episode’s opening weaker than the horrifying history of the arcade. Darlene shows up at Elliot’s apartment on Halloween sometime before Angela gets him a job at Allsafe and shortly after losing another job. The most interesting aspect of this flashback is the potential first appearance of Mr. Robot when Elliot tells the story of trashing a bunch of servers after falling asleep in a room with them. We find out he was court-ordered to see Krista because of this incident. I liked this part of the story and the bit of happiness with the siblings as they watched their weird horror movie (a fake movie, before anyone tries to find it). Which we also find out is the origin of the fsociety masks.

The very unsubtle planning of the eventual hack didn’t work so well for me. Seeing Elliot put on his dead father’s coat, then the fsociety mask, then start describing everything that would later happen with the ominous music swelling…a bit much. Mr. Robot can heavy-handed, but this was extreme. Still, it was an effective opening for what came afterwards, especially Elliot’s discussion about the aftermath of their plan. Darlene’s continued dedication comes from Elliot himself.

If it was not yet obvious where Elliot is, the present-day conversation with Darlene all but confirmed he is at some mental institution. The lack of acknowledgement for “their mother” hinted it, but the language beat me over the head with it. Elliot chose to be there. He sought help. Darlene could never see herself allowing such vulnerability. On top of everything else this season I would be shocked if wrong. At the very least Sam Esmail wants us to consider the possibility.

Much like the first 3 episodes, Elliot spends this episode in direct conflict with Mr. Robot. Only this time he spends the hour gearing towards final conflict for full control. Chess has always been an apt metaphor for intellectual struggle, and the eventual game made for excellent TV. I loved the sound design with every piece slid on the board and the quiet music. You could really feel the stakes of the game. And of course they stalemated over and over. Like Krista says, Mr. Robot is a vital part of who Elliot is, for better or worse. No self-played game of chess could ever eliminate one or the other.

Mr. Robot s2ep4_elliotrobotchess

It was interesting to see the weight of that eventual game burden Elliot. He outright argues with Mr. Robot in front of Ray. We find out Krista is aware of the persona. He wants to confess to his culpability in the Evil Corp hack. He never really tries to hide his psychological struggle, and is encouraged throughout to face it. Ray gives him the chessboard specifically to play his alter ego. Leon totally accepts Elliot’s claim that he will play chess for “existence” and even encourages him to decide whether he wants to exist or not. Maybe my favorite part of the episode was his dream about the future he wants. Seeing Elliot desire friends and family and to make things right with those he wronged (including poor Bill), it speaks to the kind person Elliot desires to be. He is a long way from such happiness.

And his decision to assist Ray as a means to help Darlene and fsociety makes that future unlikely. I’m still happy to get a positive glimpse inside Elliot’s mind for once, a future where Mr. Robot vanishes.

Unfortunately it will likely remain just a glimpse. The FBI found the arcade and a spent bullet casing. Apparently they have an “Operation Berenstain” and possible surveillance of fsociety’s members. Darlene learns from her ex, Cisco, that their involvement has the Dark Army nervous. And we see again that Whiterose and Evil Corp are involved with each other, which puts the legitimacy of the entire plan into question. Darlene and Elliot were over their heads from the start, and we’re likely to see them swallow water for quite some time before they break the surface. If they ever do.

Other thoughts:

Speaking of over her head, Angela! She played right into Price’s hands and made use of the information Price gave her in the previous episode, and may have blown whatever leverage she found in the settlement negotiations by trying to parlay it into a promotion. Price seemed almost disappointed in her request. Perhaps he expected more ambition.

Another episode and the only glimpse of Tyrell came in a dream. It’s clear his wife has no idea where he is. The FBI found that spent casing at the arcade. I would be very surprised if he is dead, but you have to consider the possibility, right? That casing came from a bullet put in either Romero’s head or Tyrell’s.

Probably the coldest part of this episode was Joanna tearing down her boyfriend’s hopes and dreams. She claims she doesn’t need money to be happy, but she was awfully quick to offer to testify against Tyrell in exchange for his severance package. That offer tells me she not only doesn’t know where he is, she would turn him in immediately if she did. I wonder if Scott Knowles will take advantage of her going forward. He’s drunk, grieving, and very bitter.


A pair of solid episodes this week, though they both felt a it long, “eps2.2_init1.asec” especially. Sam Esmail realizes the length problem and promises shorter episodes going forward. Not that the length ruined these episodes, but paste experience worries me. USA Network hit gold with Mr. Robot. They are likely to give in to all Esmail’s demands. Anyone who watched Sons of Anarchy can tell you the dangers of a network giving in to any and all of a showrunner’s indulgences. I’m glad to see shorter episodes return, and just in time. The season has found the focus to carry it forward. Better the episodes remain shorter and focused as well.

Speaking of shorter content, we have one more double review and then I’m down to single episode reviews! I’m just as glad to have a little more breathing room to cover the many, many things that happen on this show. Hope to see you there. And for those of you looking to give the show more tangible attention USA Network will notice, be sure to watch full episodes on their official site.

All images courtesy of USA Network

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