The episode opens with another flashback, this time to several months before the series began. Darlene shows up at Elliot’s apartment to hang out on Halloween, wearing what will soon become known as the fsociety mask. They watch a low-budget slasher movie from the 80s called The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie, which apparently originated the mask. This turns out to be the night that Elliot shared with Darlene his (or Mr. Robot’s) idea for the E Corp hack.
Back in the present, Darlene visits Elliot and asks for his help with fsociety. She’s paranoid that the Dark Army or the FBI are hot on their trail, and although she doesn’t let him know, he senses that something is wrong. He still adamantly refuses to go back to that life, and he urges her to leave it behind as well.
We see Joanna dropping off the parking attendant who discovered Elliot in Tyrell’s car after the hack. Apparently, she’s buying his silence, but her funds are running low due to E Corp’s reluctance to give her Tyrell’s severance package. Joanna visits the home of Scott Knowles to ask about the severance package. Scott is still suspicious that Tyrell was involved in his wife’s death, and he refuses to let Joanna have any of the money.
At E Corp, Angela watches as the two men who were complicit in the cover-up that killed her dad are arrested. She gave them up using the evidence Price gave her in the last episode. Later, she returns to Antara and explains that she thinks Price is trying to buy her off because she is capable of damaging E Corp in some larger way. Later, she confronts Price with her findings, but he denies that she has any leverage.
Elliot meets with Ray again, and plays chess. Ray suggests that Elliot play a game against himself, as a way of dealing with whatever inner demons he’s wrestling. Mr. Robot proposes a wager: A chess match between the two of them, with the winner getting complete control, once and for all. Elliot tells this to Krista at therapy, and she warns him against giving up such an integral part of himself, one way or the other.
Whiterose speaks on the phone with Price, the two apparently in cahoots, though it’s not clear how much Price knows about Whiterose, as she uses a masculine voice when speaking with him and a feminine one when speaking with her partner, just as she dressed as a man in the final scene of season one.
Darlene is stalked off the subway by shadowy figures in suits. She’s pulled into a bar by Cisco, who warns her that the FBI is closing in with the use of some illegal surveillance system. He insists that the Dark Army is not to blame, but warns that they suspect someone in fsociety of flipping. Darlene is stuck between waiting for the FBI to find her, or running away and looking guilty to the Dark Army.
Leon tells Elliot that he needs to envision a future he believes in fighting for if he wants to fight for it to begin with, and Elliot manages to do so. He engages Mr. Robot in the chess match, but the two can only come to a stalemate. They can’t let go of each other. Elliot receives one last plea from Darlene. He goes to Ray and agrees to take his job, but it’s a pretext to getting on a computer. The episode ends with him beginning to hack the FBI.
I was a little worried after the past few episodes that this season of Mr. Robot was going to stall out, so caught up in the push and pull of its central conflicts that it forgot to actually go anywhere. This week, it went ahead and made that concern straight-up text. Silly me, I guess.
I said in my recap of the premiere that this season represents the show finally getting to what it always wanted to be about. There’s been no better example of that so far than the chess scene in this episode, a sort of neurotic Geri’s Game. The scene’s punchline is given away early on with a single visual detail – Elliot looks down at the board when he makes a play, but Mr. Robot looks straight ahead at all times. He doesn’t need to look down. Elliot is doing that for him. Elliot, it’s so easy to forget, is making every move himself. And while he can’t let Mr. Robot beat him, he can’t beat himself just the same.
It’s a pretty mean trick Mr. Robot’s pulled on him here. He’s proven that some part of Elliot is unwilling to let him go, but he’s further proven that Elliot ultimately can’t fight something that’s a part of himself. Human nature does its best to prevent possibilities for self-destruction, and it says something quite sad about Elliot that he thought it would be so easy. Even Mr. Robot is fighting for self-preservation; he’s terrified that Elliot plans to confess his crimes to Ray, pleading with him not to do it. In that moment, he also reveals a key weakness. Elliot’s one advantage over him is the same as his over Elliot: The ability to form thoughts without the other knowing about it. They may have reached a stalemate in this episode, but the battleground has only shifted. Their fight is really ramping up now.
The other storylines this week weren’t quite as full of fireworks, but I’m not one to complain about plot-lightness. The most interesting reveal of them all was that Price and E Corp are conspiring to keep Angela happy because she has a weapon so secret even she doesn’t realize it. It’s not clear whether she’s found it or not by episode’s end – Price deflects, but who knows with that guy – but what is clear is that for the first time, one of our protagonists has a visible advantage on E Corp. Fsociety may have hit them with the sneak attack, but Angela is on the front lines, and everyone can see her. This episode made it clear that no one is safe right now, but Angela’s position may be the most fragile of them all.
Whiterose also seems to have a leg up on E Corp, though it’s even less clear what that leg might be. The post-credits scene from last season’s finale is made a bit clearer here, as we see Whiterose pretending to be male over the phone with Price. What isn’t clear is the extent to which Whiterose’s gender presentation is used to mask her identity outside of their interactions. I can make some assumptions about why she might choose to present as male in the corporate world but as her true self in the hacker world. Hacker narratives have had a stealthy trans subtext going back to The Matrix (and it was extra stealthy in that film, of course). We just don’t know enough about Whiterose to know what she’s playing at here. The only thing that’s clear now is that she exerts a lot more power than we previously thought.
Then there’s Joanna. While I think she’s a compelling character (and compellingly acted), I think her story is a little plodding this season. It really hurts her that we still know nothing about Tyrell’s absence, since everything she’s done this season seems related to it. However, she seems confident that he’s coming back soon, so hopefully things will pick up in this department. I did like her scene with her boyfriend Derek, where she gives him a whopper of a backhanded compliment. Mr. Robot is great at exploring the chilly psychopathy of the corporate upper-class.
All in all, a solid entry this week. I was hoping for a bit more exploration of Elliot and Darlene’s relationship, given the cold open, but I suppose there’s still plenty of time for that. Unlike Whiterose, I’m alright with waiting a little.
- Not much extra to note this week, but I do have one possible reference that I have to mention. The film that Darlene and Elliot watch in the opening scene seems like a nod to the Czech New Wave classic A Report on the Party and the Guests, a dark satire about the banal evil of totalitarianism. The setting evoked the birthday banquet from the end of the film, albeit with a lot more bloody hatchet murder.
- Leon seems to have finished Seinfeld, so I hope next week has him talking about Curb Your Enthusiasm or something.
Featured Image: USA Network