’80s slasher flicks, freak-outs out in server rooms, and shitty parents–Mr. Robot takes Darlene and Elliot to the past and gives us a glimpse of fsociety’s origins.
Mr. Robot: “eps2.2_init1.asec”
It began one stormy Halloween night. Darlene returns to New York and reunites with Elliot. To ease a string of panic attacks triggered by her anxiety, she declares “init1.” It’s a code they use when they need one another without question. So Elliot agrees to hang out. They watch The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie, one of their favorite movies, and catch up. When the conversation turns to their father and how they’re remembering him, misremembering him, Elliot shows Darlene his jacket he managed to salvage from home. Putting it on makes him comfortable enough sharing ideas he’s had since Angela offered to get him a job at Allsafe. He theorizes what he could do to Evil Corp if he were providing their cyber security, how easy it would be.
In the present, fsociety is cracking under Darlene’s leadership and she can’t manage on her own. At their mother’s house she asks Elliot to leave his treatment and join up with her again, but being unable to determine whether it was him or Mr. Robot who decided to initiate the 5/9 hack he’s no longer a true believer in the cause. Darlene doesn’t care, and tells him perhaps Mr. Robot is who she really needs.
Dominique connects New York federal agents on Romero’s list to interviews with Gideon, showing clear interest in Evil Corp’s cybersecurity. Her fellow agents don’t see the link and wonder just what they’re doing going through the abandoned Fun Society arcade, then she shows them the bit of evidence she found on her own: a shell casing.
Elliot and Ray’s friendship takes a turn for the tedious with endless chess games. When it’s clear that there’s nothing he can teach him, Ray tells Elliot to take the board home and play against the person living in his mind; it’s the only way to understand him. He agrees and shares this strategy with Krista in full, and though she disagrees Elliot plans to play Mr. Robot in a consequential game of chess. The winner gets complete control of Elliot’s mind forever.
Three stalemates into their competition, a statistical impossibility, Elliot realizes that Mr. Robot’s true plan was never to take over but to encourage cooperation. It’s the only way either of them get what they want.
After seeing Evil Corp executives arrested, those involved in the Colby coverup, Angela tells Antara she thinks Price’s help and accommodations have to do with the settlement that’s being negotiated. When she discovers a demand Antara has is rejected again and again, to have independent oversight over the pollution at the Washington Township plant, she demands a big promotion form her boss in exchange for her cooperation for it to be lifted. Price is amused, but tells her what she sees in the negotiations is all “in her head.”
Price, too, has quite a few things on his mind and Whiterose reminds him of that in a cryptic phone call about a plant she refuses to have closed. Details about their collusion is scant, but before long her attention is turned towards the FBI. After accessing a confidential report on the Fun Society arcade, she decides to investigate them.
Cisco tells Darlene about the FBI is closing in on fsociety following Romero’s murder. She feels the need to run, but he cautions against this. Not only is the Dark Army observing everyone in the group, and if she looks suspicious they’ll target her for turning on them, but the FBI is running a secret surveillance project called “Operation Berenstain,” which might have marked her.
In a final effort, Darlene reaches out to her brother with another init1 request and begs him to contact her via their private IRC. Elliot is hesitant until she apologizes for before, telling him she needs her brother, not Mr. Robot.
With no computer access, Elliot returns to Ray and agrees to help him with his computer trouble. Ray’s excited that they’re on the same page and Elliot’s confident he can handle the site’s migration with ease. But when Ray’s henchman walks in to babysit, and it’s made clear that he is not to look into what the site’s hosting, it’s clear to Elliot that he’s complicit in something he wouldn’t otherwise agree to. Chatting with Darlene on IRC forces him to ignore that, so he can hack the FBI.
One part slasher movie reveal (not new territory for Rami Malek) and one part superhero origin story–that’s how the first 12 minutes or so of this Mr. Robot episode feels. Though the scene feels like something taking place in a cabin on Camp Crystal Lake, it’s conversation could’ve been lifted from a comic book when Elliot talks about an early Mr. Robot outburst that led to court-appointed meetings with Krista and Darlene showing up with fsociety’s iconic mask, picked up at a 99¢ store. It’s two people quietly gathering small, seemingly insignificant pieces for something that’s going to eventually spiral out of their control, both for its power and how unwieldy it’ll become. But the ’80s movie magic stretched over this episode that sets it apart from everything in Mr. Robot so far is Darlene and Elliot being in their most natural state together.
Despite them being so close, Elliot’s disorder has made for very little time between the Alderson kids and this episode shows you some of what we’ve been denied so far and how it could look when these two work together. There’s little daylight between them despite what we’ve seen on the surface. It contrasts with what’s been shown in the past, that this is actually the person Elliot is most comfortable with. It makes you wonder why given how little’s actually shown from the early days of fsociety (I think). And it’s nice, in it’s own way, to see Darlene suffering under her own mental illness. It ties these two together in a way that makes the fsociety origin purely personal. Not just because it’s revenge for their dad, but because it connects to small and stupid things like an abusive mother and a favorite crappy movie from childhood.
There’s a sublime touch of style Esmail’s brought to this season, and I’m glad that it’s going to continue since he’s directed all 12 episode. But like The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, which is heavily referenced here, this episode is a walk through dreams. Not much plot movement, but a lot of inner exploration.
Taking Leon’s advice, Elliot focuses on the world and life that he wants were his disorder not an issue. It’s of course a highly idealized reality where all his relationships are meaningful and positive, but also one where his revolutionary ideals of saving the world begin and end with the demolition of Evil Corp. It’s a not so subtle way of saying that this introspective trip has come to a pause and it’s now time to return to our regularly scheduled revolution.
Though we’ll never be done with psychology on this show, Mr. Robot has clearly done the bulk of its talk therapy for season 2 with these four episodes and is now taking all its background action to the forefront now that Elliot’s connected, back in the fsociety loop and hunting down the FBI.