Elliot hacks the FBI to destroy any evidence against him, Angela, and fsociety, but is forced to stall for time since he is still working on Ray’s computer. He lies and says that he needs the old sysadmin to unlock an encrypted database to complete his work.
Darlene breaks into Angela’s apartment and asks her for help in the FBI hack. She wants Angela to drop a bug in the FBI office which shares a building with Evil Corp. Angela refuses, even though she knows she will be implicated as she assisted in the preliminary AllSafe hack. Joanna meets with the parking attendant whose silence she’s been buying. He is convinced that the FBI is spying on him since he lied to them on her behalf, and he wants out. She tells him not to worry.
We cut to Dominique’s office, a place she knows so well that she can tell that a random person doesn’t work on the floor. This bodes ill for Angela’s job. Worse, Dom is actively tracking Joanna and Mobley. Dom and her coworkers travel to China to ask for the government’s cooperation in their Five/Nine Hack investigation. They meet with the head of state security, who turns out to be Whiterose, presenting as male and going by “Mr. Zhang.” Whiterose agrees to the FBI’s terms, but takes notice of Dom’s request for additional information on the Dark Army.
Joanna meets with her bodyguard, who is trying to track Tyrell using the enigmatic gifts and mysterious phone calls Joanna keeps receiving from him. He killed the parking attendant, but paralyzed him with a drug first per Joanna’s request. Angela meets with ex-boyfriend Ollie in a bar. She quickly figures out that he’s recording their conversation, and he admits that the FBI has been questioning him. They seem to know about the CD that Elliot had Angela use to facilitate the hack.
Whiterose hosts a party for the visiting FBI agents. While looking for the bathroom, Dom stumbles into a room full of clocks. Whiterose finds her and takes her on a tour of the mansion, while probing for details about Dom’s professional and personal history. She shows Dom a closet full of her outfits, but lies and says that they belong to her sister.
The old IT guy, named RT, helps Elliot get the access he needs. This is the guy Ray threatened earlier in the season, and he’s still beat up pretty bad. After some pressing, Elliot gets RT to show him what the site Ray is having him migrate is all about. It turns out to be an online black market, everything from sex trafficking to rocket launchers to drugs.
Joanna gets another call from Tyrell. This time, she hears sirens on the other end of the line that just so happen to be coming from an ambulance passing by her house. Tyrell is staying close to home. Angela goes to fsociety’s hideout and agrees to do the job.
A pair of Ray’s goons drag Elliot out of bed and starting beating him up on the sidewalk, as punishment for snooping into Ray’s business.
The morning after Whiterose’s party, the hotel where Dom and her colleagues are staying is attacked by several masked gunmen. Most of the other agents are killed, and Dom is left hiding alone.
Alright, we need to talk about Whiterose. It feels a little awkward to lead the recap with a character who still feels so separate from the main action of the show, but this episode is dominated by a hefty middle act where she shows Dom around her mansion, so I think it’s fair for that section to dominate my review. In any case, like I said, we need to talk about Whiterose.
Troubled as I am by the casting of cis men as trans women, I wasn’t too bothered by B.D. Wong’s casting after the character’s original appearance. Whiterose isn’t in the mold of, say, The Danish Girl, dying tragically to teach her cis lover an important lesson. The show also expects you to understand, in that first scene, what her whole deal is without just laying it out for you. Elliot refers to her with female pronouns, so she’s a woman. But that’s clearly Jurassic Park and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit star B.D. Wong, so (the show expects you to conclude) she’s a trans woman. It’s a really sinister cinematic shorthand, but the treatment of the character herself wasn’t all that objectionable.
Then came the post-credits scene of season one, where we see her cavorting with Philip Price, but presenting as male. The show has been playing off of this duality a lot in season two so far, and I’m not sure it’s aware of the tightrope it’s walking.
I’ll sum it up like this: I found the scene in front of the closet to be moving, but Jesus Christ Mr. Robot, you’re really gonna do that scene literally in front of an open closet? It’s another example of the show working well in the micro but being embarrassingly blunt in the macro. In the scene, Whiterose talks about the possibility of an alternate universe where the Five/Nine Hack never happened, and further mentions how the two could be “other people.” It’s clear that Whiterose wants Dom to understand her implication, especially since the lie she uses about the owner of the clothes is so easy to debunk that Dom has done it by the next morning.
But why does Whiterose feel comfortable opening up to Dom? I think the middle half of the tour contains a telling moment. Whiterose gets Dom to talk about why she joined the FBI, and Dom reveals that she did it after running away from her partner after they proposed. I say “partner” because Dom deliberately avoids referring to their gender. The only explanation I can think of is that Dom is talking about a woman, but she sidesteps that detail because she isn’t aware of any cultural taboos that may cause “Mr. Zhang” to take offense. The whole section begins with her colleague rudely commenting on cultural differences in China, remember. So we have two queer women, both hiding that fact from one another, and one trying to reach out to the other using coded language. Compelling stuff! Why’d you have to go and cast a cis dude, Mr. Robot? You’re killing me.
Anyway, some other stuff happened in this episode too, all of it major escalation but none of it as interesting as the Dom and Whiterose scenes. Everything else in the episode bookended that section, and it’s so far removed from its bookends that it stands out all the more. The show tries to compensate by introducing a handful of major revelations, plot twists, and bursts of violence, and that’s all great. Mr. Robot rarely fails to be exciting. But I found myself longing for the heady wheel-spinning of the season’s first few episodes. I like just tripping around in Mr. Robot’s weird headspace. The sudden shootouts certainly aren’t hurting anything, but it says something when the best part of an episode like this is the part where nothing really happens. I use “happens” in the TV recapper sense of the word — “plot development” is the other, equally useless buzzword you could use. I like it when stuff happens on Mr. Robot. I just hope the show knows that it doesn’t need to fight for my attention.
- Lest you think I’m reading way too much into Dom’s character, check the TV in the bar where Angela and Ollie meet. You’ll see a big chyron with the words “Same-Sex Marriage Legalized” on it. It’s to give us a sense of the passage of time since the Nine/Five Hack (that SCOTUS decision happened last year at the end of June, so that’s where Mr. Robot is at right now) but we got that already from Angela and Darlene’s scene earlier. Prove me wrong!
- The lighting effect in the cold open is bananas. Sam Esmail put together an in-camera vignette effect. Very cool.
- This show should get more credit for the steps it takes to avoid being too faux-edgy. I was expecting the reveal of Ray’s website to be much, much darker given the buildup. Not that it isn’t super evil, but I appreciate that the show respected its limits and didn’t go for a big shock here. On this note, I fully expected Dom to walk into the women’s bathroom and gasp Whiterose is there just being trans all over the place! Speaking of B.D. Wong, when the scene didn’t play out that way, I felt like every judge on a Law and Order episode: “I’ll allow it, but watch yourself, counselor.”
Featured Image: USA Network