Mr. Robot: Kernel Error. All Spoilers

***Spoilers (through S2,E3), obviously. Spoilers***

The third episode of 2.0 hits us with the news that Gideon didn’t make it, and, aside from appearing in a flashback that details the cursed history of the Fun Society Arcade, aka the former fsociety HQ, neither did Romero. Mobley finds the surly old phreaker dead from a gunshot in his greenhouse, the same place Elliot/Robot pulled a gun on him that one time.

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Mobley makes no bones about his suspicions, taking Darlene to visit with Trenton (yay!) and accusing the Dark Army first and Elliot later. Darlene promises to check in with her brother and find out what he knows, but dismisses their fears as paranoia, points out that Gideon was shot by a random lunatic, and also that Romero dealt drugs, and so probably had other enemies. She’s in denial, it seems, but we don’t know what she knows about Elliot’s situation or location. She reminds the other two to be calm; be cool.

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But they’re right to be afraid. Romero’s death leads federal agent Dominique, whom we last saw talking to Gideon, straight to the old arcade on Coney Island. I guess Gideon didn’t give up Elliot, but it looks like he didn’t need to.

Simultaneously, after what’s nearly exactly 40 days at Evil Corp, Angela talks with the Devil in Philip Price and is offered an incredible temptation: to destroy two of the men who took part in the cover-up of the toxic leak in Angela’s hometown — the leak that killed her mother, Elliot’s father, and set this whole thing in motion.

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Their scenes are a study in power moves: Price tries to shut down her media deal; Angela fights back and wins. Price demands she take a seat in his office; she sits across the room on the couch, like an equal, rather than at his desk like a subordinate to be spoken down to. But this is Price. He settles in right beside her, just this side of intimately close; asks her to dinner; sort of acts like it might be a date. When she arrives, there are extra guests and because, and I can’t stress enough, this is Price, he waits until they’ve all had a lovely evening of dinner and talking before he reveals who they are to Angela.

vlcsnap-2016-07-22-18h38m27s268She looks gut-punched, but Price hands her a disk of evidence of the two men’s shadiness — enough to destroy them both forever — and moves all the way into her personal space to whisper to her that, if she removes emotion from the decision, it’s a very easy decision. Angela looks understandably shaken, and not just because Price served her a lesson in goddamn power moves. On the one hand, Price is offering her a chance at actual retribution that she can’t get any other way.

On the other: This. Is. Price.

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We all know the show takes great pleasure in teasing us about what is and is not real, far beyond the revelations about Mr. Robot himself. Watching Season 1 back, it takes more episodes than you might think before we see the other hackers interact with anyone other than Elliot, and I recall speculating then whether it could turn out they were all facets of Elliot’s personality like Robot was.

Obviously, they’re all real, but the show hasn’t lost that wonderful troll-like way of playing it out and keeping us guessing with myriad clues in every facet; every image; every sound.

Season 2 already opened with a few doozies, including strong clues Elliot was in some sort of institution, and suggestions Leon or Ray could either be imaginary or could be very different in reality from how Elliot perceives them. Leon could be a fellow inmate or patient; Ray could be a prison guard.

But Episode 3 seeks to take down at least one of those theories pretty definitively: Ray is real. Ray has a wife who died some time ago, though he still talks to her every day at breakfast to deal with his grief. He has to have dialysis every morning.

He runs or makes money from some kind of website that deals in Bitcoin, but, presumably thanks to the fsociety hack, is constantly crashing and failing, which is causing Ray stress — enough stress that someone in his employ beat the ever-loving shit out of the IT guy who manages the site for them, leaving the man and his young family utterly and completely terrified by Ray’s soft-spoken visit to their home.

So we learned why Ray needs Elliot, but we also learned that he’s very different people in public and private. With the family, he’s subtly threatening; he’s soft-spoken, but there’s a cold edge. Elliot, he handles like a shy puppy; all friendly and paternal. He snaps orders at the goon driving his car while complaining about the oppressive heatwave.

Ray is dangerous.

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Speaking of Elliot, our boy has … he has a week. His spooky phone call with Tyrell doesn’t go so well, not least of all because Tyrell might be an edited recording, or even just fragments of Elliot’s memories. The call ends quickly with no other information from Tyrell about what’s gone on other than what can only be described as a subtle, sexual tone to his voice.

Things get worse when Robot ends the call after crowing he’s the one who let it happen in the first place, violently losing his temper when Elliot pushes back about wanting to know what happened in his missing 3 days. The acting in the brief encounter is outstanding, for the record. Elliot’s flinch when Robot hits the wall will break your heart.

But Elliot has a plan to deal with Robot, in the form of Adderall; absolutely fucking loads of it. Leon hooks him up — which raises more questions about whether the men are locked up at all — and, initially, Elliot takes every single one in front of Robot, ten or eleven by my count, figuring an Adderall OD might do him some good.

In a frightening example of just how mentally ill Elliot is, his overdose is interrupted by some spooky Men in Black types who force Elliot into a van, tie him to a chair, and use wet cement to make him violently sick.

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Except we see Elliot is, in fact, back in a room and puking, and Mr. Robot is making it clear that whole episode was his doing; it was a hallucination, and Elliot will never be free of him.

Elliot, in the grossest moment of, like … maybe all of television, dives into his own puke and chokes down the few undigested pills he can find. Even Robot recoils in horror.

The scene plays out to a piece of music by Philip Glass that was originally composed for a film called Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, a book and film about Yukio Mishima, a post-war writer from Japan, which, in part, details Mishima’s rejection of modern materialism.

But I was most familiar with the song from the final scene of The Truman Show, in which Truman literally reaches the edge of his constructed reality and, after a debate with what amounts to his Creator, his God, finally breaks free and enters the real world for the first time.

It’s an apt choice of song as Elliot’s drug abuse leads him into quite the headlong crash with his church group. See, after six days of Adderall and no sleep and no Robot, Elliot is as manic as we’ve ever seen him: a giddy jumble of directionless, talkative energy; screaming at the basketball games; skipping to his lunches with Leon, who, for the record, is visibly disturbed by the change.

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But Elliot knows he’ll crash and, when it hits, the timing couldn’t be worse. Elliot is in his church group when a member shamelessly talks about his racist attack on an Indian man and his belief that he was forgiven immediately afterwards by God because he saw the sun shining through the rainclouds.

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Elliot finds this as gross as we all do. When asked for a contribution to the group, told that God can help him, Elliot goes off:

Is that what God does? He helps? Tell me, why didn’t God help my innocent friend who died for no reason, while the guilty roam free? Okay, fine, forget the one-offs. How about the countless wars declared in His name? Okay, fine, let’s skip the random, meaningless murder for a second. How about the racist, sexist, phobia soup we’ve all been drowning in because of Him? And I’m not just talking about Jesus. I’m talking about all organized religion; exclusive groups created to manage control. The Dealer. Getting people hooked on the drug of hope. His followers are nothing but addicts who want their hit of bullshit to keep their dopamine of ignorance. Addicts afraid to believe the truth: that there’s no order. There’s no power. That all religions are just metastasizing mind-worms meant to divide us so it’s easier to rule us by the charlatans that want to run us. All we are to them are paying fanboys of their poorly written sci-fi franchise. If I don’t listen to MY imaginary friend, why the fuck should I listen to yours? People think their worship’s some key to happiness. That’s just how He owns you. Even I’m not crazy enough to believe that distortion of reality. So fuck God. He’s not a good enough scapegoat for me.

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It’s quite the rant and punctuated by Elliot’s internal realization that he said the whole thing out loud and not inside his head, like he usually does. He leaves and dumps his notebook on the way, but it’s Ray, of all people, who returns it to Elliot at the diner, non-explaining that he knows the chaplain and inferring he read Elliot’ entries. Later, at his office, he and Elliot talk more and it appears Elliot has opened up quite a bit as he openly courts Ray for advice. Ray seems pretty in-the-know about Elliot’s mental health issues and reassures the kid not to fight for so much control and, instead, learn to sort of move from one crisis to the next and just make the most of the time in between. They settle in for a game of chess just as we see that, to Elliot, now free of the Adderall in his system, Mr. Robot is back.

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And so we’re left with a few answers and new questions. Angela and Darlene remain unknown quantities, though Angela is pretty forthright in telling Price she doesn’t trust whatever he’s doing. Not him, mind, but his actions. Darlene’s strange absence from so much of Elliot’s memory will, I hope, be explained as the show goes on. Otherwise, we’re left with:

  • Who killed Romero, and is it linked to Gideon’s murder? Is, as speculated, the Dark Army closing the book on their hack and are there others targets? Is it Tyrell protecting Elliot? Romero was the most against Elliot and the plan; the most suspicious of him; the most cogent of his strange behaviors; but he also appeared to just want out of the group more than harboring any actual grudge. Why would he be considered a threat?
  • And the fed investigating, Dominique: who is she? She parallels Elliot wonderfully, having her own social anxiety and sleep issues and what might be a germ phobia. She even has a Robot friend she talks to when she’s alone, in the form of a Siri/Cortana-like app that gives her coldly logical answers to her rumination on the end of the world. She’s like a more functional version of Elliot on the right side of the law. What could have been had he had the right guidance? It’s not clear, yet, but, for all her anxiety, she has this outward fearlessness that makes her so intriguing. I sort of love her and I want to see more of her.
  • Was that Tyrell on the phone? Or Elliot’s imagination? Or, as I’ve pondered, was that some sort of recording of the man? The intentionally strange tone of the call was delightfully eerie and left me wondering how complex of a system Elliot and/or Tyrell set up to keep Elliot at a distance, or, naturally, whether Tyrell really might be dead, after all.
  • This may not seem as significant, but what was up with the odd fade-outs of several scenes? For a show this slick and sleek, they stood out as weird and maybe a little amateurish. Nothing on this show is an accident, however, so what was going on? One theory is that it’s Elliot/the show making sure we don’t get as much information as before, as he promised in the season opener. Only the fades happen in scenes he can’t have been a part of, as evidenced by other characters’ use of “E-Corp” — which has become my totem for deciding which scenes are absolutely real. So what’s with the fades?
  • And, finally, coming to Ray and the Institution theory: Well, things got interesting this week. A lot of Elliot’s experiences suggest he’s free in the world: getting the pills from Leon in the first place, the attempted overdose making himself sick and then plucking his pills out of the vomit, the continued use of the drug and his disturbing, obvious change in demeanor. His timetable is still in place, but, if he were locked up somewhere, his behavior wouldn’t go unnoticed and unchallenged. It would seem the institution theory is blown to hell.

    But, then, you look at the Men in Black incident: Elliot being bundled into a vehicle, restrained, and made to be sick. Robot claims responsibility, but could Elliot have been filtering a legitimate medical rescue through that brain of his? His timetable does stay the same; he never leaves his little bubble of a neighborhood, despite his manic state. And then there’s Ray. Ray somehow knows Elliot’s church group, retrieves Elliot’s notebook, and the pair have a fairly frank and intimate talk about Elliot’s situation, all of which feels like a hospital or a doctor’s involvement — except Ray’s scenes suggest something shadier pays his bills than psychiatry, so we’re back to square one.

  • And, lastly, for those of you who saw the Mr. Robot VR experience via the Within app last night: What were the occasional flashes Elliot seemed to see? If he’s in a hospital, is that how he might perceive electro-shock therapy?

As always, I wait for next week with bated breath.

Nadine Morgan

Nadine Morgan

Nadine Morgan is really terrible at the ‘About You’ part of life. Nadine developed her reviewer skills writing epic facebook rants about the details script supervisors forget and trying to explain why Carol on The Walking Dead broke Lizzie by accident. Nadine loves TV, film and books but she wishes someone would pay her to be the continuity editor. She can be found on Facebook and in her forest garden and if she’s not yelling at her TV she’s trying to convince a cat to be an Instagram model and refusing to let 90's fashion die.

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