***Spoilers: Spoilers for Mr. Robot through Season 2, Episode 4, follow. Spoilers***
The opening 12 minutes of Mr. Robot episode “eps2.2_init1.asec” does in 12 minutes what Hollywood thinks you need three hours and a seven-film franchise to do: it tells the origins story.
The remainder of the episode appears to be a study in foreshadowing. Lit through with themes of what future we’re all fighting for, clues are dropped left, right and center about what may be awaiting us as the season starts.
Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then we’ll begin:
In a flashback to before the hack, before Elliot forgot Darlene, his adorable and far more upbeat baby sister turns up to surprise him for Halloween. She’s found a mask from a cheesy horror film they love from their childhood, which they settle in to watch, The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie. It’s fictional and wonderfully cheesy horror movie, in which a killer in the fsociety outfit, the mask, tailcoat and top hat, murders spoiled rich kids. Elliot tells her he had a blackout, lost time, and destroyed a room full of servers at his job. He got fired and sent to court-ordered therapy (with Krista), but Angela might be able to get him a new job at Allsafe.
She asks about their mother and mentions not being able to remember much about their father.
Then, in a moment hauntingly soundtracked by Gustav Holt’s “Neptune” from his Planets suite, Darlene asks about their father and Elliot reveals he keeps their dad’s/Mr. Robot’s beat-up old jacket in his closet. At her bidding, he slips on the coat and, then, the mask from the film, and Darlene is so delighted. It’s a marked difference from the semi-ruthless young woman who hacked Evil Corp and scoffs at Mobley’s fears the Dark Army is after them, and we figure out why very quickly: with the mask and the coat on, Elliot, to the audience, visibly morphs into Robot. He changes his body language, matching Christian Slater dead on. He voice is a little rougher; raspier, like Robot. He talks about taking the job Angela has gotten him so he can hack Evil Corp and destroy their databases, then keep attacking, lowering confidence in them after the hack, so they can’t rebuild the databases. He talks up how before and during the hack are easy, but it’s the after that gets hard.
Darlene is this bright, shining kid, smiling and thinking her brother is goofing off, but realizing he’s given this some real thought. At some point between this flashback and the pilot episode, he radicalised her.
But buried in the scene is a wonderful, subtle Chekhov’s Gun moment: Darlene, in her college-kid, stoner delight, snaps an Instagram of a frame of the film and, presumably, she posts it.
Now, this wouldn’t stand out at all in any other show about Millennials doing Millennial shit, but this is Mr. Robot, so it matters.
You see, in her only and frustratingly brief appearance, Agent Dominque is tearing the arcade apart for proof. She drops various truth bombs on the head of one Doubting Thomas by finding a shell casing (!!!), and we all learn most of the “End of the World” party was posted all over social media.
Dominique signs off for the week by ordering an underling to use facial recognition, scour the partiers’ social media, and bring everyone present in for questioning.
Oh, she is good.
Back with present-day Darlene and Elliot, she’s stopped by to see him but, though we see her glance at their mother, the women never speak and “mother” doesn’t acknowledge Darlene’s presence.
Darlene talks up the hackers’ problems, but doesn’t yet tell him Romero is dead. He’s reluctant to come back and help and wants her to back off, too, now that Gideon is dead, but Darlene isn’t done. She drops hints about an upcoming event and something big they have planned for a bailout vote in DC; Elliot shoots her down. He says they’re on the dark side of something; an interesting turn of phrase. Darlene, as ever, is disappointed in her fellow hacker’s lack of balls.
Her day only gets worse when, later, after a few shots that make it look like she’s being followed, she meets up with Cisco, her boyfriend from Season 1 who works for the Dark Army.
Cisco insists on taking her phone before they meet in a bar he calls ‘The Looking Glass,” which feels like a callback to what Elliot said earlier about the dark side. Cisco does return her phone later, while I sit here wondering if he hacked or bugged it in some way.
Cisco reassures Darlene the Dark Army does not appear to be involved in Romero’s death, but the Feds have the arcade, and he pushes her to tell Elliot and get Elliot involved. This is enough to alarm her but he backs off and talks about caring for Darlene. Later, Cisco tells her Romero was researching the FBI when he was killed, which has made people nervous. Romero had those printouts, a list of Federal agents’ names, and it turns out he only printed pages with names of Feds who were on a specific and highly secret operation called “Berenstain,” which had a high level of surveillance. Darlene finally gets just how deep the shit they are in actually is. Cisco insists no one try and leave the city or run because they’ll be chased. He begs her to let him help and she asks semi-rhetorically, “How the fuck did this happen?”
Cisco joins all of us in going, “….. srsly?”
In the end, Darlene makes a last, pleading call to Elliot, begging him to get back on a machine and back into the fight.
Nobody’s day is any better, though; Angela meets with the lawsuit lawyer and explains she knows Price is playing her, reeling her in for something, but she isn’t sure what. She eventually figures out there is a detail Evil Corp wants, indeed, needs removed from the settlement with her hometown and that must be why he’s giving her everything she wants.
Once again, she tries to lean on her newly built confidence to demand a better office and a promotion in exchange for her getting the detail removed. When she first tells Price what she wants, he is all for it, but when she explains what she thinks are the reasons he needs her, Price does what he does best and schools the absolute fuck out of her. He tells her point blank that she’s wrong in her suspicions and even throws in a creepy little stroke of her face while he’s there. She walks away, baffled.
Speaking of Price, though, he gets a call from our favorite person: Whiterose!
Fierce as all hell, Whiterose keeps Price on a timed speaker call, putting on her makeup while Price rattles off a sort of progress report. When Price bitterly moans about an alarm sounding to signal the end of the call, Whiterose’s bitchy little smile at her own reflection is fucking hilarious.
We learn there’s a plant, a factory, that Whiterose, in her “businessman” voice, insists cannot be closed, and a vote by the UN which somehow impacts her schemes. Price unburdens a little that, for all his confidence and bluster, he’s under pressure to resign and confidence in the market is nonexistent. The President isn’t “desperate” enough to do things that need doing.
Price is, without asking, asking for more time and Whiterose, for a split second, looks incandescent with rage. But she notices her assistant has entered, and ends the call. Then, speaking Mandarin in her Whiterose voice, she calls Price “such a fussy cat” and I’m calling it right now, that’s the best moment of the whole show, and I need that and Whiterose on a t-shirt and I need it yesterday.
Whiterose reads what her assistant has brought her — a copy of a secret FBI document regarding the arcade being discovered — before her assistant helps her pick earrings and explains their other contingency plans might take six months. She lovingly kisses whom I now realise is a lover or boyfriend before sending him off and admiring her fabulous self in her gorgeous, enormous mirror.
Life goals, if I’m honest.
But, also, what the hell did THAT all mean?
Joanna has an equally shit time of her life, outside of being so beautiful it makes me hurt. She’s been paying someone off for information and to keep quiet, but he’s getting antsy now the daily money allowance is down to $50 a day. She pays him off and makes empty promises that Tyrell will be back soon and, when he leaves, her stern bodyguard/driver type points out they don’t have enough money to keep doing this.
She visits with Scott, offers to testify about the night Tyrell murdered Scott’s wife, that she left the party alone and Tyrell wasn’t back until morning, if Scott will make Evil Corp release Tyrell’s severance package.
She invokes her baby, an innocent victim of all of this, but Scott cruelly tells her that the baby will get what it deserves: nothing.
Later, she’s in bed with Derek, her sheepish S&M lover, the one who ruins their sessions by asking if she’s okay. He’s making as many empty promises as she did about the future, about taking her to Madrid to meet his friends; taking her wonderful places. She sobs that he’ll never be able to afford that. Derek talks up his DJ career … oh, brother.
And her heart breaks like you think it would. Gently, she points out he’s a bartender making minimum wage; he can’t afford to take her to Madrid or anywhere special. But, she reassures him, she doesn’t want that. She had it before and it meant nothing. She wants him, loves him, in fact.
And, as always, we come back to Elliot.
Things get existential this week as Ray and Elliot play chess and Ray uses it as leverage to try and help Elliot unburden. In a scene that, again, calls back to theories of where Elliot is, what he’s doing, Ray offers to be Elliot’s open ear almost like a priest or a shrink. Robot appears, to threaten to throw Elliot off a building if Elliot talks. Ray, beating Elliot regularly at the game, tells Elliot to take the board home and play himself.
Later, Robot makes Elliot an offer: they play chess and whoever wins gets to be free of the other, forever. If Elliot wins, Robot will go away. If Robot wins, Elliot will.
We skip over to find out Krista thinks this is a goddamn, fucking terrible idea. She explains Robot is a part of Elliot, an aspect of him, and to just forcibly excise him is dangerous. “Annihilation,” she says, “is not the answer.” Elliot disagrees.
Elliot visits with Leon in what has to be one of my favourite scenes of the show thus far. In their booth at the diner, Leon stops talking about Seinfeld and asks about the chess board, offering to play against him. Elliot says no, so Leon goes on, stating that, in the Age of Enlightenment, people used chess to improve themselves, so what’s Elliot playing for? Elliot says existence, and Leon calls them high stakes. Then he asks, “What are you waiting on?”
Elliot is somewhat shocked.
And the scene quickly descends into me trying to figure out just who and what exactly Leon is.
Leon looks … I mean, almost totally dead into the camera, leans in and asks:
Do you dream, Elliot? You scraping so hard like you ain’t never asked yourself this before. I said, ‘Do you want to be here right now?’ And I don’t mean ‘here’ here; I mean here in the cosmic sense, bro. Like existence can be beautiful or it can be ugly, but that’s on you.
Elliot, wide-eyed, asks which one is for him. Leon tells him, “Dream.”
He tells Elliot to find the future he’s fighting for, close his eyes and envision it, “or fade the fuck out right now.”
It’s worth mention that the song playing during Darlene and Cisco’s scene, just before this one, borrowed a riff from the same song Kurt Cobain quoted in his suicide note, specifically the line, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” This. Show.
So Elliot does dream. Under yet more beautiful music, a lullaby version of Basket Case by Green Day, Elliot dreams a heartbreakingly wonderful future.
He talks of having friends, maybe even he and Angela being a thing, Darlene getting engaged to Cisco. He introduces old and friends to new: Trenton and Mobley to Leon and Ray, Tyrell and Joanna to Angela and Darlene. He talks up going back to find poor, innocent Bill, the man from the server farm to whom Elliot was so cruel to back in Season 1.
In his dream, he apologises to Bill, who sobs. Later, Bill joins Elliot’s friends (but not his mother) around a dinner table in the middle of the street. He talks about a future where he’s not so lonely.
In his dream, he visits with Tyrell and Joanna and their adorable son as a friend. He invites them to his street dinner, too. They all watch and cheer as, Fight Club style, a skyscraper collapses. He even talks of inviting “us,” his audience; his friends.
Everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling. Elliot is happy and smiling. I want this for him, for all of them, so much.
Elliot decides he’d like to fight for that future.
Later, Elliot is ready and sets up for his chess game with Robot. He talks about how his father taught him to code using a chess program, and they both properly acknowledge Robot isn’t really his father. They talk up some of the maths of chess and, according to Reddit, every game they play is a famous one. Robot tries to make Elliot feel guilty that he’s sitting around playing games while everyone else is in danger.
They come to 3 stalemates when no one can make a winning move, but Elliot points out the astronomical chances of such an event. Robot waits while Elliot figures out he can’t play “against” Robot because he is Robot. Every move Robot makes, Elliot thought up. Elliot realises Robot knew this, and Robot is actually gentle in pointing out it’s the only way he could show Elliot that fighting him is pointless. But when Elliot resists, Robot flips the table and insists he wants to be with Elliot and Elliot needs to be out there with his friends.
When Darlene makes her final, desperate call, she begs Elliot onto their private chat network from years before, to get on a machine. She uses gamerspeak, says they’re owned (fucked, screwed, in the worst of the worst trouble) and finally, finally, Elliot looks fired up.
He dips over to Ray’s and, while Robot frets Elliot will confess and is, actually, for the first entire time in the show, worried about Darlene, Elliot explains to Ray that no one won his chess game.
But Elliot will help with the computer problem. Robot backs off, shocked. Ray drops all but a trace of his kindly “dad” demeanour and calls his assistant in while he talks to Elliot about “discretion.” He politely, but with a subtle undercurrent of threat, asks that Elliot merely do the job; migrate the site; don’t look at anything you don’t need to look at. The assistant/thug will be there to help or get anything Elliot needs. In short, Elliot will not be left alone during the migration.
Ray leaves and we’re as much in the dark about his sinister machinations as ever, but Elliot DGAF. He’s on a computer. Like watching Clark tear off his glasses and work shirt, we watch Elliot flex his hands, then start to type. He accesses his chat network and gets the news on the FBI and Romero and, without any hesitation, he navigates the internet. Robot asks what he’s doing.
Elliot: “I’m hacking the FBI.”
A calmer, more deliberately paced episode that was more about the past and the future than much of the present, Episode Four might be my favorite so far. Malek shines, as always, but especially in that brief instance when he wore the jacket and the mask.
The episode seemed designed to tie up a few lingering threads and questions, but, at the same time, to plant a lot of foreshadowing clues about what is to come and utilised the idea of a future; a goal to work towards wonderfully to spur on the action and keep us guessing.
Elliot, for perhaps the first time, seemed to understand he can want to feel happy and can work towards feeling happy if he wants. Leon’s little speech was the swift, cosmic kick to the soul that Elliot has needed these past episodes; the reminder that, despite his fears, Elliot can, in fact, take control. He just has to work out the right way to do it.
But what, if any, questions did the episode leave us with?
- I will harp on this one until I get an answer: Darlene’s exactly specific relationship with her family still seems so strange. She’s never mentioned the abuse Elliot has. She talks of their parents, but not the way Elliot does. Her visit to the house was so very odd, and I still wonder why he forgets her entire existence. I don’t think Darlene lived with them all the time.
- What’s he hiding? Elliot called back to a phrase from Season 1, about “scratching that part of his mind” when Ray warned him off examining the site too closely. Elliot explained it’s what makes him hack people. Is Ray selling drugs via Tor? Child porn? Nothing about Ray suggests he’s got ties to anyone but Elliot, but we still don’t quite know how Ray knows who Elliot is and what he does. Did Leon tell him? We’ve never seen the pair have a conversation. Hell, I was working on the theory they were both imaginary until recently.
- Tyrell appearing in Elliot’s dream: wishful thinking or a clue about what Elliot knows? Gideon, whom Elliot appeared to genuinely like, didn’t appear, but Elliot knows for a fact he’s dead. Did Tyrell only appear because Elliot wants him to be alive, or, since our dreams are our subconscious, was that a clue Tyrell is at least alive and capable of returning? Joanna talked about him coming back, too, far more wishfully than anything, but in an episode littered with foreshadowing, it gets me thinking.
- Whiterose, what are you up to? Whiterose was talked of last season with breathless reverie and for good reason. The mercurial hacker is an absolute mystery, playing both sides to some advantage that likely only benefits her. But does it? Is there a larger plan? Whatever it is, the President and the UN are pivotal to its success, but so, apparently, is destroying Evil Corp, or Whiterose wouldn’t help with the hack.
- How fucking sweet was the callback to poor, innocent Bill? That kind of shit is why this show is so damned good.
- And Leon. Leon, Leon, Leon. His whole speech about dreaming, which, like I said, is delivered almost straight into the camera, their mysterious “friendship,” getting the drugs, serving as the occasional existential sounding board, hisdead-onn advice that lined up so perfectly with everything else Elliot was being told — it all means something. And, like Robot can do so well, Leon convinced him, actually got him to try something new and come away with a fire he never had before. And like Robot, (and Elliot’s mother) Leon is the only person we’ve yet to see exist outside of Elliot’s scope of awareness.
Is Leon real or another facet of Elliot?
I’ve had a few conversations with people about what will and won’t be real this season and, obviously, the hope and concern are that the show won’t go too far in what will turn out to be in Elliot’s head. Ray is clearly real and I’m moving further away from thinking Elliot is locked up somewhere. I’m still not sure about his mother.
But Leon? Leon is becoming practically a spirit guide for our boy and I am convinced he is utterly vital to the story, more so than we’ve yet begun to understand. Between Leon’s existence and Darlene’s strange relationship to her family, we still know very little, despite the sheer amount of info dumped on us in the cold open.
I can’t wait to see where this goes.