If you haven’t seen the most recent episodes of Mr. Robot, you might want to catch up before you read another word as I’m covering them both in one go. Settle in, folks.
Here there be ***Spoilers.***
And, like, conspiracy theories for just DAYS.
To quote Chief Cindy: “Everyone is Elliot.”
Season 2 opens with a flashback to the night of the 5/9 hack as we watch Elliot execute the commands that start the process of destroying the Evil Corp servers. In the background, Tyrell is making a request via phone which will allow their hack to work, making both of them responsible for what happens.
In a subtle, yet astoundingly well-choreographed moment, Elliot and Tyrell swap seats in front of the computer as the hack unfolds on screen. Tyrell speaks of watching something come alive. Elliot reaches for that gun hidden in the popcorn machine.
Then, it’s a month later: one month after 5/9 and the world remains in turmoil.
Elliot has become something of a hermit, self-imposed in exile, living with his mother. He follows a boring but strictly maintained routine designed to keep Mr. Robot at bay and maintain control. He meets the same friend every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; takes in a local basketball game; journals; attends a church group; and still visits Krista for therapy, under the promise he’ll open up more to her.
It isn’t a perfect system. Mr. Robot is there, and he does try to drag Elliot back, but Elliot resists. Or he thinks he does, but we’ll get to that. And we’ll get to Elliot’s new life. And how real it isn’t.
Meanwhile, Elliot flashes back to the day his father threw him out of a window. We see both parents and Elliot during the memories, but never Darlene. We also see Elliot take a damned good knock to the head and I’m not sure if the show is throwing out a reference to what we now know a head injury can do to someone’s behavior and personality, versus what a doctor may have thought twenty years ago, but it’s a neat touch.
Darlene and Mobley have hacked and taken over the Smart House of an Evil Corp employee: a corporate lawyer who ruthlessly shoots down lawsuits against Evil Corp, especially those involving deaths. Darlene has become the reluctant Queen of the Revolution, as evidenced by a brilliantly shot scene where she emerges above her followers from a balcony bedroom and they fall silent to hear her speak, following her orders without hesitation.
Trenton and Romero are nowhere in sight, yet, but Mobley, who works as an IT tech inside an Evil Corp bank, is still fighting the good fight alongside her, though he is worried for her. He plants a bug inside the bank systems that ends up forcing Scott Knowles, the man whose wife Tyrell choked to death, to burn 5.9 million dollars in cash in a public park or risk a permanent bricking of the bank’s data.
fsociety is not done.
This new blow to Evil Corp comes just as the Government is trying to force Phillip Price, the ghoulish CEO of Evil Corp, into resigning under the threat of no more bailouts.
But Price, after some slightly uncomfortable begging, remembers he’s a cutthroat businessman. He shoots them down with a pretty spot-on reading of the psychology of government and finance, reminding them that business, banking, and government all rely on confidence in a whole shitpile of lies in order to keep going. So long as people believe whatever lie is being sold to them, things work. So long as people believe there is money in the banks, society works. It’s how they began to repair the economy after the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression: by lying about the state of individual banks, slowly but surely rebuilding public confidence.
He has no intention of resigning and leaves the government types the job of finding him some money.
Speaking of Evil Corp, never forget that Angela joined their team when her previous job prevented her from fighting them in court over her mother’s cancer death.
There’s been speculation all year about Angela’s motivations, especially considering her literal baptism of blood in the new role, but, in the brief glimpse we get of her new life, she seems at home. She’s fearless at her negotiations for media appearances, she’s brusque and dismissive of the gossipy new employees who foolishly doubt her, and, when she’s visited by the lawyer working on the suit against Evil Corp, Angela dumps her on the spot, explaining she intends to stay at Evil Corp and continue to be amazing at her job. The lawyer asks after the lawsuit, but Angela shrugs her off. She talks proudly about doing more for the suit than the lawyer ever did, but, screw it all: she’s great at and enjoys her new job. The lawyer all but calls her a whore to her face, but Angela is so deeply unmoved by this judgement that she treats herself to a hook up with some hot dude at the bar.
Later, at home — and her new apartment is fly as hell — she’s using self-help tapes to build her confidence, but she doesn’t need them. No longer caring has worked wonders for her. If she weren’t selling her soul to the devil, I would be all about her Leveling Up at life. I’m still sort of okay with it. I won’t be when it destroys her, but, while it lasts … get it, girl.
Joanna, beloved, is still as freaky and terrifying as ever and my soul is made better for it. She’s meeting some random guy in a hotel for consenting S&M sessions, but her movements appear to be under some level of control as she’s rushed out of her luxurious bath for being fifteen minutes late to leave.
Later, seemingly unobserved, she finds a package left on her doorstep and, with a chilling professionalism, she searches the whole box and the music box within for clues. She even feels the lining inside the music box, checks for hollow spots or concealed compartments, before she flips it over to discover a phone taped to the underside.
Unfortunately, she’s checking on her baby when the phone rings and she misses whomever is calling.
And then there’s Gideon. Gideon first appears with Elliot, explaining he’s being rounded on by the feds as most likely involved in the 5/9 hack. When Elliot refuses to help, Gideon makes a pretty convincing threat to sell out Elliot to the feds and, all things considered, that would be terrible for Elliot.
Later, we see Gideon meet with federal agents and, from the timing, we can assume Elliot just got thrown under the bus, but, as yet, we don’t know what was discussed. And we’ll have to wait to find out because a man named Brock approaches and then shoots Gideon in the throat at a bar after Elliot starts to have blackouts. He tells Gideon, “This is for America.”
All of that happened over two episodes that grabbed us by the throat and dragged us right back into the twisty-turny world of Elliot Alderson.
There isn’t a single bad word to say. If there was any ever doubt, any concern that Mr. Robot overplayed its hand of excellence and would struggle to maintain such a high standard, the first two hours of the second season blow them right out of the water. The writing, the acting, the stunning visuals are all as on-point and A-game as they need to be. The show has lost not a smidgen of the pace or quality; the slow-burn feel keeps you glued to the screen and there’s no slacking in the visual clues and hints to keep us guessing. We’re briefly introduced to curious new characters like the pyro girl who burns a copy of Waiting for Godot and smiles at Elliot, the mysterious Ray, and the perky federal agent who questioned Gideon.
We’re left in the dark as to the fates of Romero, Trenton, and Elliot’s stolen dog, Flipper. Flipper swallowed a microchip that could do Elliot harm if the wrong person were to get it. Don’t forget the dog. But, like everything, that feels intentional. Nothing is done by accident on this show; not one thing. In fact, it’s possible we see Flipper early in the episode being walked through the park while Knowles burns a pile of cash.
But now it’s time for theories and questions.
- Is Elliot’s mother real? I assumed she was dead in Season 1; more recently than their father, but no longer living. We never see her leave the house or interact with Gideon when he comes to visit. She wakes Elliot up in the morning, sits in her chair all day, and says “goodnight.” We haven’t seen her exist anywhere else yet. Elliot said he decided to live with her because she was the strictest person he knows, but we don’t see a single shred, not a moment of that. She doesn’t appear to have any control over his life; his comings and goings — all of that comes from Elliot.
- Is Leon real? Like the mother, he only appears to occupy limited spaces: in his case, the diner and basketball court. We don’t know how he and Elliot met or why they’re friends or why Leon is comfortable talking constantly while Elliot says nothing. Elliot talks up their dinner arrangements because Elliot never has to speak or say anything. Leon is another character who only exists around Elliot and, though we occasionally see him interact with other people, it’s like it was with Mr. Robot. Elliot remains a silent observer of these interactions; never addressed or spoken to by those around them. But, if Leon isn’t real, that brings me to my next question …
- Is Ray real? I know not everyone can be imaginary, but the show clearly wants us to wonder about it. Ray basically materializes out of thin air to stop Leon getting in a fight. It’s worth noting the basketball player seems to look from Leon to Ray and seems to find Ray scary enough to utterly back down. Leon books without a word to the other man, and Ray stays and talks far, far too knowingly to Elliot about Elliot. He knows Elliot’s name; that Elliot hacks. He takes very subtle digs at the fact Elliot is sort of in hiding, projecting a fake version of himself. Robot wants Elliot to help Ray and, later on, we realize Robot — as Elliot — did, in fact, reach out to the guy. Ray is pretty super cool when he figures out Elliot can’t remember this conversation. It’s also worth noting that the second time we see Ray is the only time Leon isn’t with Elliot at the game. Part of Elliot’s routine. Could Ray be a facet of Mr. Robot: a gentler temptation to dangle in front of Elliot? Or is he a real person, but absolutely not to be trusted? Real or no, for all his gentle sweetness, Ray scares me. He is not safe.
- This leads to a bigger question about all three of Elliot’s new friends: are any of them real? If they’re real, do they actually exist in the form we see them? Is any of Elliot’s “new life” in fact real, or is Elliot in a mental hospital, or even a prison?His daily routine; his cell-like little bedroom; his mother’s prison guard-like behavior; his church group; his therapy. His unexplained friendship with Leon and their routine of watching basketball. Ray’s calm and easy placating of the fight; his knowledge of Elliot’s name and background. Ray could be an orderly; a prison guard. It could all suggest Elliot is locked up somewhere and has simply reframed his experience as something he can cope with. Even in a therapy session, when Krista asks him, “Why your mother?” that’s her wording and we only see a fragment of the conversation. She could be asking why he tells himself he lives with his mother when he’s in a hospital. There are also the possible clues that Elliot’s pets, Flipper and Qwerty the Fish (I miss when that fish talked, guys) have been re-homed. This could be because Elliot bailed on his own place on purpose, or it could be because he was taken away.
- Who is Brock? Who sent him? What did “This is for America!” mean? Brock could just have been a random, angry citizen acting of his own accord, stirred up by the media and the panic being caused. It would, in the wake of events in the UK and US in recent months, be chillingly, eerily prescient for these episodes, written so many months ago, to feature violence inspired in part by the fearmongering 24-hour news cycle. Nancy Grace appeared briefly as herself, discussing the hack on her show, and, though she discussed Tyrell, she’s the IRL Queen of the Witch Hunts and her appearance wouldn’t be accidental. Alternatively, Brock could have been a “random angry citizen” who was really an assassin, there to martyr Gideon on purpose to further The Cause. If innocent Gideon is taking all the blame, is then murdered because the Feds put his name and face out there in the press, and is subsequently cleared of all charges, the FBI, the Government, and Evil Corp continue to look not only incompetent but now dangerously negligent. If Gideon is dead, maybe it’s to further the mission. Or maybe Brock was sent on behalf of Elliot, though likely not by the man himself. Robot? White Rose?
- What is Angela’s move? Is she just taking what she can; her well-earned slice of the pie? No one could blame her, though they might have feelings about her methods. Or is she working with fsociety, perhaps via Darlene, to climb as high as she can in the company so they can do the most damage from the top down? Angela was told bluntly that the best way to destroy something was from within. She’s inside, I’m sure, but I can see her being genuinely seduced by the dark side and just committing. I’m torn between sort of wanting her to go Ice Queen and just look out for herself and wanting her to be in league with the heroes. It would be so satisfying to see Price think he can trust her and be proved wrong.
- What’s the deal with Darlene? I used to wonder this last season and I still wonder about it now. We know Elliot forgets she exists but even now that he remembers who she is, she remains absent from a lot of his memories or flashbacks. Even during the huge Times Square scene in the finale, when that beach photo flashed up on the big screens, Darlene was absent, like in Elliot’s memory, though we know she was present as a child when the picture was taken. Why does he delete just her? On top of that, Darlene herself has never, ever mentioned their parents and, when asked about Elliot this season, she demurs to answer. Her own relationship to their parents or whatever her situation is remains more of a mystery than anything. Did she grow up with him? Was she sent to foster care, perhaps?
- Finally: Where is Tyrell? Was that him on the phone; is he trying to contact Joanna? Was it really him greeting Elliot on the conspicuous red phone in Elliot’s house? Is he alive? I think he is. Elliot’s imagined head wound and the bandage he wraps it in feel like some kind of clue as to Tyrell’s fate; perhaps his appearance when Elliot saw him last. The bandage is gone by the time Elliot seems to be in contact with Tyrell, which feels like another clue about its connection to the man. I think Tyrell was shot at the arcade, but I don’t think he died.
That said, I don’t trust anything we see or experience from Elliot’s perspective — remember, he was dead certain Mr. Robot pushed him off the boardwalk. It’s entirely possible Elliot has been walking around with a healing head wound we don’t see because he forgets it’s there.
Basically, the Season 2 double-header pulls not a single punch and we’re reminded constantly that we know nothing and we can trust even less of what we see.
In short, I need more and I need it now.