Elliot opens the episode attempting to use lucid dreaming techniques to swap places with Mr. Robot. He wants to invisibly watch Mr. Robot and figure out what he’s been hiding. Meanwhile, Joanna gets the news about her husband’s location.
Dom sits on a hospital bed undergoing evaluation after surviving yet another shootout. Her boss tells her that the Chinese government has loaned E Corp $2 trillion, severely complicating their investigation into the Dark Army. He tells Dom to go home and get some rest. At home, Dom reflects on her lack of any human connection and wonders whether it was worth it to give that up for her job.
Angela is locked in the back of a van. She’s taken to a suburban house, where she’s led into a dark room with a fish tank and a very old computer. A young girl who bears a disquieting resemblance to her walks in, and begins asking her bizarre personal questions. The girl says that she will be beaten if Angela doesn’t comply. She agrees to answer the questions, until she gets to one that she doesn’t know the answer to. A phone rings, and a computerized voice leads her through an old-school text adventure game which gives her the answer. The girl leaves and promises to return with Angela’s results.
Price meets with the Secretary of the Treasury. He wants the government to allow him to make ECoin a legitimate currency. The Secretary balks, but Price insists that it’s the only way to maintain an advantage over the Chinese. He also intimates that this has been his plan all along, including, somehow, the Five/Nine Hack.
After Angela has waited in the room for several hours, Whiterose walks in. Whiterose explains that Angela should have been killed 90 days earlier for her snooping into the Washington Township leak, which apparently is the site of Whiterose’s secret project. Whiterose is perplexed by her survival, as it can only mean that Price is protecting her for some reason. She tells Angela that the test – including the bluff about abusing the girl – was to see if Angela was prepared to learn the truth about the secret project. Rather than killing her, Whiterose wants to convince Angela that her project is worth all the damage it has caused. Later, Angela visits her lawyer and calmly asks her to forget all about their work together and to never contact her again. It’s clear that whatever Whiterose showed her has had a profound impact.
Elliot awakens to find that his trick worked. He is invisible to Mr. Robot, who is rooting around the apartment. He finds a pamphlet with a cipher on it, which when deciphered leads to another cipher, and on and on until it comes up with a phone number. Mr. Robot calls and is given a location where he’ll be met by a cab. By the time they arrive, Elliot has regained control. He gets in the cab and is met by Tyrell, alive and in the flesh. Tyrell tells him that “stage two” is ready to go, and he takes a very confused Elliot to see what exactly that means.
Did I say last week that this was the season finale? Because I thought that it was. Whoops. It’s actually just part one of the finale. The finale-finale will air next week. This seems like kind of an arbitrary distinction for a show with such a heavily serialized narrative, but hey. I’m not gonna tell Sam Esmail his business.
And in his defense, this definitely feels like prelude to whatever Big Things are going to go down next week. It’s all building towards Elliot and Angela’s meetings with the two characters who know the most about what the hell is going on. Elliot is yet to get the skinny from Tyrell, and we don’t even see what Whiterose shows Angela. That’s finale-finale stuff, I suppose.
All season, I’ve been chasing a certain unidentifiable sense that something was off about Mr. Robot. This isn’t the same show that it was in season one. If you’ve been following along with these recaps, you might remember that early in the season I identified this sense as the result of the show finally letting loose. Its biggest twist was revealed, all the cards were on the table, and it could finally tell the story it wanted to tell from the beginning. How weird it is to think that the Mr. Robot reveal once seemed like the apex. The show, it turned out, had much more on the back-burner.
Rather than letting loose, Mr. Robot’s second season has been mainly characterized by its restraint. It’s been forced to stay locked to certain perspectives to keep its secrets, often having those characters chase their own tails just to buy the show more time to lay the groundwork for whatever grand plan it’s about to unveil. Nothing made that more apparent than this week’s episode, which reminded me what a truly off-the-chain Mr. Robot looks like. With the implicit promise that they’re finally going to stop jerking the audience around next week, Mr. Robot takes the opportunity to get as weird as it ever has.
With the Elliot scenes, Mr. Robot gleefully subverts its central premise, but it’s the Angela scenes which find the show at its most fearlessly confounding. It throws us into a situation for which we have absolutely no context. It would be weird enough if we knew who Angela’s captors were, if we had seen the house before, if the personality test had come up previously, and on and on. But unlike so many of the show’s most unsettling moments, there are absolutely no connections to be drawn between this and anything the show has shown us before. At first, anyway. It’s a gambit so stupefyingly bold that it can only come from a creator who trusts his audience to have patience (or, perhaps, mere gullibility).
Things do start to come together once Whiterose shows up, but even she is more cryptic than ever. In one extraordinary shot, she shifts from center-frame to the show’s signature corner, and then back again. She shows dominance over the visual language of the show, like she is somehow operating on a higher level than the fiction she’s a part of. And strangely enough, the things she says about her secret project sort of imply that as well. Though she doesn’t go into specifics, she says that it will advance humanity to a new stage of existence, and that the limitless possibility it offers would defy Angela’s definition of reality.
Those are some hefty narrative promises. I can’t make a serious guess as to whether the show can deliver on those promises because it so rarely makes promises at all. This isn’t a show that typically trafficks in Lost-style heavy-handed lore teases. Its M.O. is to withhold information and then drop shocking reveals that were near-impossible to predict.
And speaking of which, Tyrell is back! I knew he would be back, we all knew he wasn’t really dead, let’s just quickly celebrate the fact that one of the show’s best actors and most interesting characters has returned. I expect I’ll have more to say about this next week, when we find out what he’s been up to all this time. For now, I’m just happy to see him.
- Not a whole lot of little details this week. This episode was all about the broad strokes.
- The use of that conspicuous copy of Lolita to influence Angela’s perception of the girl was so blatantly obvious that Angela falling for it makes for an interesting bit of character development. She’s normally sharp enough to see through something like that, but her empathy overrode her perception. Thankfully, the show doesn’t judge Angela for this, since that’s what Whiterose was hoping would happen.
- The code-breaking scene was just *chef’s kiss* vintage Mr. Robot. I hope that whatever’s coming next week doesn’t move the show too far away from close-ups of computer screens soundtracked by frantic typing.
Featured Image: USA Network