Recap

Another flashback opening! This time it’s a quick recap of Elliot’s imprisonment. Turns out he was put away for hacking his therapist’s boyfriend last season (and stealing his dog). He pleads guilty as a way of keeping Mr. Robot at bay. Back in the present, Elliot is given an early release. Apparently, the Five/Nine Hack has lead to such a dramatic increase in crime that prisons are being forced to let non-violent offenders go. Meanwhile, Angela uses the data-stealing USB from fsociety to get information about the Washington Township leak off of her boss’ computer.

Darlene picks up Elliot from prison. She hasn’t heard from Trenton or Mobley, and she’s worried that the Dark Army is cleaning house. This doesn’t make sense to Elliot, since he knows that Whiterose was looking out for him in prison. Speaking of Whiterose, we see her visit the grave of the previous CEO of E Corp. She intimates that she had him killed after he tried to block one of her projects. She pisses on his grave.

Darlene and Elliot go to Cisco’s apartment. He is (figuratively and literally) still sore about Darlene hitting him with the baseball bat. From inside the bathroom, Elliot hears Mr. Robot talking to Darlene and Cisco. Neither of them understand what just happened.

Whiterose (as Mr. Zhang) meets with Price. He explains that the feds are taking control of the Washington Township plant due to E Corp’s financial instability. This concerns Whiterose, as it turns out that Washington Township is the special project she referenced earlier. Price demands that Whiterose get the Chinese government to bail out E Corp, and the two threaten to go to war with one another.

Darlene, Cisco, and Elliot prepare to hack Cisco’s Dark Army contact to get information about something called “stage two.” The plan is to let the Dark Army guy know that they know about it, and then listen in on his conversations afterwards to see if he spills the beans. Elliot and Mr. Robot continue to experience strange glitches. Meanwhile, Angela hands over her information to the FBI, but later gets spooked and leaves.

After the meeting with the Dark Army contact, Darlene sees clips from the last fsociety tape being played on the news. She realizes that she left the early cut of the tape — the one with her face on it — back at the smart house. She sends Cisco to go get it. Dom visits Angela’s apartment and gives her one last chance to fess up and work with her. At the smart house, Cisco finds something horrifying, but we don’t see what it is.

Darlene listens in on the Dark Army contact’s conversation with Whiterose. Whiterose reveals that “stage two” is actually Elliot’s plan. Elliot returns to his own apartment to find Joanna parked outside.

Analysis

I hate the “for the sake of it” line of criticism. People will whine, “Oh, you just did that cool thing for the sake of doing it!” as if that makes the thing less cool or worth doing. It’s a limiting outlook, a creative chokepoint. I’m not of the belief that this medium requires a reason or a rhyme for every decision.

That being said, man, that prison twist sure does fit the bill. It essentially amounted to a seven-episode pallete-swap, changing the optics but none of the context. It ties up the loose end of his therapist’s boyfriend from last season, as well as that mysterious knock on the door, but why the illusion? Much as I hate myself for asking this question, what was the point?

I suppose I know the answer that the show thinks it’s offering. Elliot lied to the audience because he didn’t trust them with the truth. His very explicit relationship with the viewer has always been one of Mr. Robot’s most intriguingly underdeveloped aspects. This would have been a great opportunity to expand on it. Now that we know Elliot’s unreliability as a narrator can be intentional rather than accidental, the show has opened up some neat avenues for itself. But the prison arc was only translated visually, not metaphorically. This twist was only skin-deep. I don’t want that to bother me as much as it does, but here we are.

I would even be okay with it as just a shocking narrative turn, except it’s not. Elliot is released from prison almost immediately after we find out that that’s where he’s been. Again, I don’t like levying this critique, especially against a show that’s earned the benefit of the doubt by now. I just can’t help but feel like Mr. Robot is taking its audience for granted a little bit.

But let’s not harp on what is ultimately such a small part of the episode. Of more interest to me is the introduction of Elliot’s glitches. Several times this episode, he sees or hears Mr. Robot talking to someone while he is too far away to intervene or interact. As someone who’s had their fair share of dissociative moments, I found this to be a compelling turn to say the least. I almost wish that this had been the meat of his arc this season, but I suppose it wouldn’t be quite as meaty if they hadn’t reconciled a few episodes back. After spending so much time fighting each other for perspective control, now they’re both under attack from something else.

Angela’s storyline finally starts to heat up in this one, too. Her scenes feel like the culmination of an otherwise wayward arc. She takes advantage of the workplace sexism she’s been dealing with for a while when an executive confuses her for a secretary. More importantly, she finally leverages her newfound position of power to exact the revenge she’s been fighting for since season one. It’s satisfying to watch all the evidence flow right into her hands, after months of having to pretend like she no longer cared.

Of course, not everything can go her way, not that it ever does. But it’s just as satisfying to see Angela recognize a clear danger and bolt while she has the chance. A worse version of the show would have her as a more grounded character, the counterpoint to the rightfully paranoid Elliot and Darlene. She would be the sweet fool who is tragically unaware of the threats enabled by everyday technology. But that’s never been Angela. Mr. Robot has always allowed her to be just as smart and savvy as the hackers, even without their hacking skills. Most shows about smart people have at least one token dope for contrast, but Mr. Robot tends to resist that.

We’re nearing the end of the season now, with only two more weeks to go. Though I’ve been enjoying season two quite a bit, I wonder whether its endgame can vindicate some of its more egregious wheel-spinning. No doubt we’re in for another major climactic twist. I wonder which character will be revealed as having been Elliot all along?

Etc.

  • I actually have some thoughts about that. Given Joanna’s appearance, I can’t help but wonder if Tyrell was actually another one of Elliot’s personalities. I don’t remember season one well enough to decide if this makes sense, but it would explain the weirdness surrounding Tyrell this season. Tyrell Watch 2k16 continues.
  • Dom Is Gay Watch 2k16: She tells Angela about a dream she had about a “beautiful sexy woman.” I mean come on.
  • This season has been great about introducing little details regarding the fallout of the hack. In addition to the reason for Elliot’s release, a few scenes this week are interrupted by power surges, because the electric company’s workers are on strike.

Featured Image: USA Network