Many shows out there have solid first seasons, but it’s usually the second that determines whether or not it’s got the legs to run a complete, coherent narrative worth the dozens of hours to make it through every episode by the time it’s all compiled into a complete series. So what’s the premiere of Mr. Robot’s second season say about its chances to be more than just fan hype?
Mr. Robot: “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1&2.tc”
Elliot and Tyrell record fsociety’s last message to the masses (following the 5/9 hack, as broadcast from Times Square and around the world). But where Tyrell’s gone to is a mystery. New gaps in Elliot’s memory push him forward weeks into the future. Worried about where Tyrell had disappeared to and returning to his untrusting self (even denying trust to his friend), Elliot places his care in the hands of his mother. Hopefully her strict, abusive attitude and spartan house in Brooklyn can keep him from damaging behavior, even if he has to relive his accident in surreal nightmares.
Elliot’s days run on a strict routine: he eats three meals a day at a local diner with his new friend Leon, who’s a Seinfeld fanatic and espouses nihilistic observations he’s picked up from the sitcom; Elliot watches basketball games; helps his mom clean up around the house; notes his thoughts in journals (by pencil only); attends appointments with Krista; attends group therapy at a church so he can socialize; and returns home to catch bits of news about the 5/9 hack on TV. Elliot willfully submits to analog hell in an effort to starve his father’s memory and ultimately rid himself of Mr. Robot for good. It’s working. Slowly. But Mr. Robot is easily agitated.
In her brother’s absence, Darlene has stepped up and become fsociety’s commander. The small hacker group’s grown into a guerilla force that’s carrying on the fight, pulling off small victories like castrating the Bowling Green Bull.
Along with Mobley, the only other original hacker who’s all in, she hacks into the smart home of Susan Jacobs, Evil Corp’s top legal expert, and forces her out with malfunctioning appliances and a thunderstorm of Mozart. Darlene then assumes the home as their rebel base from where fsociety will continue their campaign.
Darlene and Mobley’s first strike at Evil Corp hits them right in the bank. Mobley, who happens to be part of the Evil Corp IT department, infects their network with ransomware. The demands are simple: an Evil Corp executive must deliver $5.9 million dollars in cash to Battery Park. Scott Knowles accepts the challenge, and at the last moment he’s given new orders and a package. For the sake of the Evil Corp network, Knowles slips on an fsociety mask and sets millions on fire.
Evil Corp tries to find the billions they need to build a new network from scratch, one fsociety has no access to, while also managing bad publicity. Phillip Price heads to DC to bargain with the government. Their reluctant to hand over a dime, but Price reminds them who really keeps the country going, and it’s not them. Angela, who’s now near the head of Evil Corp’s PR department, bargains with financial networks looking for an interview. She’s shrewd and cold, but she gets Bloomberg to agree to the softest of questions, impressing her boss.
She celebrates with drinks, where she meets with Antara Nayar, the lawyer who managed the Terry Colby case. They’d agreed that Angela’s job would be temporary, and that she’d provide any information she could after the fact to help with prosecuting Colby. But Angela likes her job; she’s good at it, knows it, and decides she’s valued there even if she has to endure backstabbing from co-workers.
Joana’s also in the Evil Corp loop. Though she’s left alone with Tyrell’s child, Mr. Sutherland still guards her and provides her with the luxuries she requires. The world is searching for Tyrell but no one seems closer to locating his whereabouts. Upon returning home she discovers a package left for her–a music box with a phone taped to its underside.
Under constant pressure from Special Agent Dominique DiPierro, who believes he had something to do with the 5/9 hack, Gideon pleads Elliot to help him learn who’s been hacking his computer and monitoring him. But Elliot prefers to stay in his analog hell.
With DiPierro coming at him with new force after Knowles’s cash fire, his marriage ended and Allsafe shuttered, Gideon goes out for a drink, drawing the attention of a curious man. It seems Gideon’s found the last sympathetic ear in the city. That’s when the stranger accuses Gideon of being a “crisis actor” and guns him down in order to (in his mind) save America.
Elliot’s regimen seems to be holding, but more people try to break through his shield. Ray, a new face in the neighborhood, tries to make friends with Elliot by appealing through his interest in basketball, love of music, love of dogs, but Elliot resists. He wants no part of it. But it’s clear there are gaps in his memory when Ray knows more than he should about who Elliot is and what he can do.
Knowing that Mr. Robot has found a way to assume control again, Elliot tries to shelter himself and exorcise this corrupting persona. He thinks he’s successful, but time skips and when Elliot comes to he’s on the phone waiting for Tyrell.
Mr. Robot comes back feeling both familiar and strange. Esmail wrote and directed both episodes and its easy to see his hand in manipulating images. More of that “bad” photography tricks the brain to lean in closer and obsess over details that repeats statements made in the last season but expands on them in interesting ways.
There’s a lot of growing occurring. Angela’s gone from plucky but anxious to a corporate shark that worships at the altar of self-help videos, obsessed with opening “new neural pathways” and dominating her work space. Darlene’s no longer the reckless anarchist wanting to destroy the world so she can exercise her anger. Now she’s an underground, take-no-shit general operating with tact that’s arguably better structured than Elliot’s Steel Mountain hack, yet she withdraws as to expel building pressure. These are not the characters we left behind; these are adaptable people in a volatile situation, one that’ll only get worse when they’re aware that they’re on opposite sides. Then again, that can always change.
Elliot, as was always the case, is much more complicated.
From the sight of Mrs. Alderson a few moments in, we’re reminded that there’s a lot Elliot knows that he won’t share. Then there are the things he doesn’t know; things he doesn’t know he knows. In keeping with Esmail’s treatment of Elliot, there’s no getting better, but a deeper descent into madness. Elliot’s gone all Scribbler trying to manage convoluted psychology with a composition notebook and Mr. Robot chips away at his thick skull bullet by bullet. It’s an admission that he’s trying his hardest to beat mental illness, but he still doubts that the pencil is mightier than the gun.
Unreliability and action with real jeopardy is what made this show work, and Esmail’s kept true to that with gaps in exposition that informs just enough to keep us watching without getting lost and allowing us to be surprised again and again.
No sophomore slump here.