The episode opens with a flashback to Romero and Mobley scouting out the abandoned arcade that would soon become fsociety’s headquarters. Later, Mobley goes to visit Romero at his mother’s house, and finds him murdered. Spooked, he and Darlene visit Trenton, the last remaining original fsociety member. Trenton explains that she left because she became disinterested in fsociety’s move towards juvenile pranks. Mobley worries that the Dark Army is after them, attempting to cover their tracks after assisting fsociety in their big hack last season, but Darlene is unconvinced.
Elliot continues his phone call with Tyrell from the last episode, though he doesn’t learn much other than that he is still alive and in hiding. Elliot’s next attempt to purge himself of Mr. Robot involves overdosing on adderall. He has a frightening hallucination, but he is determined to continue, hoping that inducing a “kernel panic” in his brain will fix his problem once and for all. He continues to dose himself with adderall. While it keeps Mr. Robot at bay, it also prevents him from sleeping and causes even more bizarre hallucinations. Elliot becomes wrapped up in intense anxiety and paranoia.
Angela, still upset over Gideon’s murder, is invited to dinner by Philip Price, at a restaurant being protested due to its association with Price and E Corp. She arrives to see two other men, fellow E Corp employees who join them for the meal. After the two leave, Price explains that they are consummate company men with loving families, and also that they were involved in the cover-up that killed Angela’s father. He gives her a disc with evidence that will implicate them in insider trading, and leaves her to decide between vengeance and loyalty to the company.
Dominique investigates Romero’s murder, as he was previously convicted of hacking and she suspects him of having some connection to fsociety. Though she is highly effective at her job, she seems consumed by it, and she strives for deeper human connection. She visits Romero’s mother to ask her more questions, and finds several scraps of paper with code written on them, as well as a flyer for fsociety’s End of the World Party with Mobley’s name on it.
Ray contacts Elliot again. He seems to be a fixer of some kind, if a gentle one, and one of his clients has a problem that only a skilled hacker can fix. After an anti-theist outburst at his church group, Elliot tossed away his notebook, and Ray found it, meaning that he knows all about Mr. Robot. Ray implores him to stop searching for a single solution to his problem, repeating Mr. Robot’s claim that control is illusory. He says that Elliot can only fight his demons by process, not in one fell swoop.
The episode ends with Dominique finding the old arcade, hot on fsociety’s trail.
Mr. Robot is ostensibly a show about hacking, about anti-authoritarianism, about fighting The Man and The System. Its biggest, loudest moments announce this intention to occasionally eye-rolling effect. Elliot’s monologue about atheism delivered to a room full of true believers is, despite Rami Malek’s always-stellar delivery, the sort of thing someone might find compelling at age 15. I know I would have eaten it right up when I was a disgruntled teen, but now it strikes me as generically destructive rather than pointedly (and righteously) angry. The show often gets dismissed on the basis of moments like this, when it steers too close to Fight Club territory. But if you’re only seeing those scenes, you’re not seeing the full picture.
This isn’t a show about hacking, or any of those other things. Primarily, I’d say it’s a show about mental illness, but in a broader sense it’s a show about the tension between trusting oneself and trusting everything outside of oneself. The System is corrupt, The Man is out to exploit everyone, and no one can’t talk about their problems for fear of losing whatever social foothold they’ve managed to dig out for themselves. They have to work to create a version of themselves that both they and the world can live with. As Ray says near the end of the episode, everyone is always falling, and all anyone can do is to try and slow their descent a little bit.
This manifests most in Elliot, for obvious reasons. He’s the only main character struggling with truly severe mental illness, to the point that he literally cannot trust his brain not to work against him. But it shows up in pretty much every storyline in this episode. Angela is forced into a position where she has to fight her self-serving instincts to move forwards, a deliberate move by Price to either expose her true loyalties or ensure her loyalty to him. There’s something to be said for Angela’s plot in this episode as representative of women in the corporate world. Price physically intimidates her, disarms her with vague non-threatening threats, and makes her turn her back on her murdered father in order to keep her job. She’s forced to jump through hoops and smile at monsters, all to keep a job at the company responsible for her dad’s death. She’s made to be not herself, to instead be a person that the men who work with her can deal with. She recites affirmations to herself in the mirror. She has to tell herself that she’s good, over and over, brainwashing herself into believing it. Angela is gaslighting herself, and it doesn’t seem like she’s going to snap out of it anytime soon.
Meanwhile, we get to learn more about Dominique, who stays up until four in the morning watching viral videos of marriage proposals and miserably masturbating to an unfulfilling sex chat. This character could easily become the unfortunate trope of the “hard-working career woman who just needs to find love,” but in focusing on the banalities of her depression (not to mention refusing to shy away from her sexuality), Mr. Robot is set up to do something much more interesting. I already love this character, and I really hope they don’t screw her up.
Plot-wise, this episode was mostly table-setting, but its greater success is in digging into its main characters, setting them on their heels and watching them react. They’re all struggling to make something of themselves in a world that doesn’t care about the individual. They all want to find the road to normality, but they’re discovering that there really isn’t any such thing. It’s too bad that embracing abnormality on this show is such a terrifying proposition.
- I love the detail that Mr. Robot can hear and react to Elliot’s narration. It’s all in his head, after all.
- The computer sound effects in Elliot’s adderall montage were a brilliant sound design touch. Are there Emmys for that? They should invent some for this episode.
- The shot encircling the table while Ray speaks has this great moment where he says, “I’m more of a positive reinforcement type of guy,” right before revealing the mother and child cowering in the other room. What a killer reveal, though we still know very little about Ray’s whole deal.
- The mention of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern got me thinking about Tom Stoppard’s great play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Stoppard’s absurdist tone seems to be an influence on this episode, and the show at large. The sneezing FBI guy during the search of Romero’s place in particular seemed right out of Stoppard.
- Happy to see Trenton again, if briefly. I hope she doesn’t disappear again.
Featured Image: USA Network