Mr. Robot: Well, That Escalated Quickly

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***Spoilers for Mr. Robot through “S2.E5 eps2.3_logic_b0mb.hc”

Did anyone else just notice how this show just briefly set the two male leads aside and gave them the smallest subplot while all the female characters were handed every single narrative-advancing moment, like, of the season?

Because holy shit.

I don’t have a clue where to even start so I’ll go with the name bouncing around my skull:

Joanna, Queen, Empress, spends her screen time having absolutely no fucks left to give and making a start on cleaning house. She has a conversation with her informant, Kareem, the nervous guy they can’t afford to keep paying and he drops into conversation the fact she appears to be somewhat protecting Elliot, though he doesn’t mention our boy by name. He’s also convinced he’s being followed and while we figure out he’s not because the FBI appears to say so pretty clearly, it’s a mystery how Joanna knows for a fact he’s not.

How does the show prove she knows? Because she has her stone-faced, surly bodyguard murder Karim. To death.

In one of the spookiest scenes of all time, Joanna is feeding her infant son when her bodyguard returns to vividly describe the murder, including Joanna’s specific request Karim be incapacitated for a few seconds before his eventual death. When asked why she wanted this, Joanna answers the adult, but addresses the baby, as she explains that giving a man a few brief seconds to think before he dies lets him at least figure out the who and the why of his death. He goes with some understanding as to why he has to go at all.

She sweetly coos at her baby, “Otherwise, we’re just ruthless murderers.”

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O…kay.

In between bouts of terror and contract murder, Joanna has her own head-spinner of a week; she’s been left another package: this time, an ornate silver rattle for the baby. Both gifts, the music box, phone, and rattle are untraceable, as are the calls that came to the phone, but Joanna is allowed to get one step closer to her caller.

When the phone rings late at night, initially, the exact same sounds are heard as were when Elliot spoke to Tyrell, including what sounds like breathing. No one speaks on this call, but, thanks to some nearby sirens, Joanna realises the caller is standing outside of her house. She sprints out, but if she finds someone before she goes back inside, we’re not privy.

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The (my) dream team of Angela and Darlene also get back together, as Angela finally appears to pick a side. Darlene visits with Angela, with an ease and comfort around her that speaks volumes about their history, and asks for her help dropping something on the FBI-controlled floor of her office building. This simple task will allow fsociety to keep the feds at bay and erase or alter anything that will lead back to Elliot and the gang.

Angela initially refuses, but Darlene pointedly mentions the CD that Angela installed in her PC at Allsafe, the one fsociety used to access Allsafe, then Evil Corp, and basically served as the lynchpin for the entire attack.

This mention drags poor, poor Angela and even poorer The Audience back to **siiiiigh** Fucking Ollie.

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie.

In such a wonderfully awkward scene that I may never fully recover, Angela meets Ollie in their old favorite bar and his opening conversational gambit is reminding her of that time they sat in a booth by the window and he said he loved her for the first time.

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Angela literally says, “Oh … yeah,” and I die for a thousand years. Even more awkwardly, Ollie knows Angela’s working for E Corp now and hands over his resume. You know, just in case she hears anything.

Because Portia Doubleday is a fucking gift, you can actually see any glimmer of anything like affection for Ollie that remained in Angela just burn to ashes behind her eyes.

In a neat callback to how easily Cisco got Ollie to take and promise to listen to his Trojan horse CD, Ollie clumsily and obliviously segues into a theory he heard 5/9 was a false flag operation and, golly gee, does Angela think that CD was involved at all?

He was recording their conversation, but Angela catches him out and gets him to admit to speaking with the FBI and that they have a sketch of Cisco, but only after she dumps his phone in his beer. He squeals about not being able to afford a new one while she storms out of his life and into my heart.

She pops over to visit with Elliot, and I like how each episode is punctuated with these visits. Their scene is so sweet and so sad; more so when I remember Elliot harbors some romantic feelings for Angela, and I think she carries a few back.

Basically, she agrees to help despite his objections, but she points out what we all know: that, if they do nothing, eventually, they’re all caught anyway. Elliot seems to silently acquiesce and Angela moves the talk on. She misses him and she’s clearly sad, though not hurt that he hasn’t responded to her attempts to reach out.

It warms my heart she takes this approach; that she knows it’s not about her if he’s cutting her out. I love Angela. I didn’t, but I do.

Elliot is so sad and vulnerable when he admits that, when they last spoke on the train platform, she told him to take care of himself. He wanted to do just that before she saw him again. As it is, his dead father is standing behind her. Angela glanced around but otherwise gives no reaction and kindly offers to still be friends. She cares and they can talk and that might help. They talk about Qwerty, whom she thinks she’s overfeeds.

It’s a beautiful and simple scene, repairing a lot of emotional hurt without any melodrama. Too many TV characters have egos where they think everything is about “them.” Mr. Robot has no such problem. The only problems Angela thinks are about her are the ones that are. I really hope this continues, she and him. I don’t know if I ship them romantically, but I want them to be good, close friends. He needs her.

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So decided, Angela paranoids her way around NYC before finally meeting up with Darlene. Darlene has sent the Brass Balls Guy to Washington in her stead, to oversee the execution of the plan she mentioned to Elliot last week — for the record, it seems to feature a drone of some kind. So watch out for that to go to absolute hell.

Remaining behind and presumably back with The Cause are Mobley and Trenton, and Angela arrives to meet them all and get to work.

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Shit, yeah.

On that note: Darlene? The shaken kid from last week has been hidden back under that wonderful giant nest of hair. With Elliot back in the fight, she’s as cold and hard as ever, taking charge and issuing orders like she was born to it. See if you don’t cackle like a witch when beardy jock hacker thirsts for her attention until she calls him a pussy for being so damn needy.

In a rare and daring move this week, I won’t end on Elliot and Ray. Bigger shit happened, believe me. Elliot is working on Ray’s website and talks us through how easily he’ll be able to hack the FBI’s Android smartphones; protect himself, Angela, Darlene, all of them. He’s doing so under the watchful eye of Ray’s HenchGoon, who spends so much of his guard duty on his phone that I am convinced he’s monitoring at least some of what Elliot’s doing. I wouldn’t put it past Ray to have some remote view of the desktop, to be honest.

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The other reason I suspect this is very simple: Elliot talks Ray into letting him meet “RT,” the bruised-up IT guy Ray menaced an episode or so ago. The tenderised tech is brought in to decrypt part of the site Elliot can’t see, and Elliot notices not only the guy’s bruises, but also his technical skill.

In short, Elliot figures the guy is more than capable of the site migration, so why the hell Elliot was brought in? Using a desktop notebook app to surreptitiously chat with the guy, Elliot is given a sense of the nature of Ray’s business, a Tor marketplace with highly controlled, limited access. In a last act of defiance, or the last gasp of a dying man, RT logs Elliot into the site under the name “Dread Pirate Roberts,” another allusion to secret, controlled, and created identities and realities.

It is indeed a marketplace. Elliot sees ads for drugs, weapons, for hitmen, and, oh, yeah, for 17-year-old Thai girls who are specifically labelled as “Abducted.”

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Back home, Elliot and Robot are arguing over what to do next while Elliot considers that, for him, the only course of action here is to destroy Ray. Initially, he wonders if perhaps Ray just runs the marketplace and takes no heed of what is sold there. Perhaps if he just knew how poisonous it was, he would stop. But Elliot, not Robot, just Elliot and plain old logic argues him back out of that assumption and back to the more likely reality that Ray is just dangerous.

Robot is furious; wants only to be back on mission; but this is Elliot. This is what he does.

He doesn’t get the chance, though. Because, once again, either exploding or adding to the theory Elliot is in an institution, the boy is dragged shrieking from his bed and taken outside to meet HenchGoon, who shows off RT’s bloody, scalped-off rat-tail hair.

A positively demonic looking Ray emerges from his truck and, while Elliot’s confused questions are answered with a rain of punches and kicks, Ray calmly intones, “I told you not to look.”

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Dominique still has a worse day, though. First of all, she has to play clumsy stand-in for the writers to highlight the lax security Angela will have to bypass for her mission, only to learn seconds later her plane-sick ass has to fly out to China that day.

Things look even dourer when she’s watched at the airport by two dudes wearing what looks sort of like Chinese Opera masks depicting demons or dragons. Audiences know these men are Dark Army. Dom does not.

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But things look up when she managed to surprise Mr. Zhang, the Chinese Minster of State Security, with her insistent questions about said Dark Army.

Once again, the audience knows Mr. Zhang under slightly different circumstances. As Whiterose.

So, just to clarify, for my squealing, shrieking delight: Whiterose is the Chinese Minister of State Security. Whiterose, key figure in the hack, Chinese government.

Outstanding.

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Zhang is diplomacy personified, giving the FBI as much access as they could want to everything they want to see, but only after a dinner party at Zhang’s home because Mr. Zhang is just so kind; so proper. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance from whom the show would have us believe is the most dangerous player in this entire game.

Later at the party, Dominique finds herself accidentally embarrassing Zhang when she finds a collection of clocks and reveals one of the pieces, a very expensive, “one of a kind” German clock is actually a cheap K-Mart knock-off, but Zhang is actually delighted with her candor. She asks about all the clocks, and Zhang quotes Macbeth back at her about the brevity of life. She understands the clocks to be a reminder of mortality and Zhang clarifies that there is always so much work to be done; great work ….

Dom sheepishly and awkwardly jokes she should buy a watch. Oh, my God, Dom. Girl.

Zhang is quite delighted by her, though, and shows her a painting that depicts the agony of losing one’s identity to the masses and gently goads her into admitting that she joined the FBI after walking out on her would-be fiancé in her last year of law school. For reasons not yet clear, she couldn’t marry the person and became a Fed so she could be disgusted but fascinated by the things people do to one another.

She marvels that she’s telling this all to Zhang, but Zhang just continues to be delighted with her as she rattles off how funny a story it will be to tell her dad at Thanksgiving.

In a moment of … really curious vulnerability, Zhang takes Dom to the beautiful dressing room from last week and glowingly shows off Whiterose’s collection of exquisite traditional dresses.

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Zhang is a gleeful font of information on the dresses, picks out a centuries-old, traditional piece and its modern-day equivalent, enthusing more about the dresses than the clocks. Even Dom is stunned by the beauty of the gowns, and she asks how they came to be in the house and, after a flicker of a heartbeat of pause, Zhang claims a sister stores them there for her occasional travels through the city.

And, I wonder, had Dom simply asked if they were Zhang’s, what answer she’d have gotten.

Zhang asks Dom what she thinks the world would look like if 5/9 never happened and, then, to blow all of our tiny theorising minds, talks up the fact that some believe in alternate realties, 5/9 never happened, and, in fact, we’re all different people, leading different lives. There’s a pregnant pause and, with carefully restrained emotional, Zhang admits; ‘The contemplation moves me very deeply.”

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And let’s all just take a moment of reverie to enjoy and be thankful for BD Wong, shall we?

Then, all the clocks and the chimes strike midnight and, like we’re in Cinderella, Zhang cheerily leads Dom back to the party.

The next day, she’s hung over as hell and singling out the specific weirdness of her encounter with Zhang to her FBI friend, who wonders if Zhang was flirting. Dom knows that isn’t it. No, what was weird was his claim that the dresses belong to the sister Dom knows Zhang doesn’t have.

Wait, this whole sequence is a single shot. Sweet.

Just as we learn Bill from Season 1 inadvertently destroyed Elliot’s prints at the server farm, with no warning at all, Dom and her fellow feds are shot down in a spray of automatic gunfire. The gunmen wear ski masks. Dom dives clear and returns fire, wounds a guy, and watches just enough to learn the attackers will kill themselves rather than risk being taken alive, but the show leaves her, currently a lone survivor, concealed from heavy gunfire and with no way out.

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WTF

OMFG

I can’t even.

No, you can even, Nadine. I believe in you. You can even.

Okay. Okay. Theory time.

  • Are our girl’s motivations as pure as the driven snow? Is she out to protect herself and the gang; join fsociety and the ongoing war? Or is she protecting her own back at any cost? When she met with Elliot, she calmly and rationally discussed how, if she was arrested, she’d make a plea deal. With what exactly? The thing about a “deal” is you have to have something to offer. She has Elliot. And Darlene and, now, Mobley and Trenton, and she has proof they hacked a house. Though her actions seem to say one thing about her long-term prospects, they could also be viewed as utterly self-serving.
  • Besides all of that? What did Darlene do to Angela’s laptop before Angela came home? She saved some kind of image file on a USB she took before Angela got her machine back. Only after did she launch into her little mission speech. By episode’s end, it’s still not clear exactly what Darlene did. We can only assume this will come into play later. Like the computer chip Flipper swallowed. You watch, Elliot will get away with everything relating to 5/9 and then Flipper will shit that chip and it’ll all go to hell.
  • What did Karim mean about protecting someone who sounds very much like Elliot? If Joanna is in some way steering the feds away from Elliot, her motivations are a mystery. Well, the obvious answer is that she’s hoping he can lead her to Tyrell, but considering the complexity of her relationship with Tyrell, that further complicates the issue. There’s long been speculation she could be in with fsociety; maybe has been from the beginning; and this would fit with the theory; could be her role: she puts up the funds for their projects or pays to keep them safe.
  • And who was calling her? Who sends her the gifts? Tyrell, obviously, and the opening seconds of her call sounded identical to the opening seconds of Elliot’s call, the same sounds that make me think the caller is at the boardwalk, up until that siren kicked in. I still ponder if that part of the calls is a recording. But these are intelligent hackers trying to avoid the feds. Would Tyrell or anyone actually be on the street, or is there a speaker system rigged up in or around Joanna’s house that’s letting someone feed a live loop into their calls?
  • And China. What the hell happened in China? I could ask a dozen questions, but the main one is about Whiterose. What are their motivations? Whiterose’s public face is not only friendly with Evil Corp higher-ups, but a pivotal figure in Chinese Government. Whiterose could just be a rogue agent using the hack to her own ends, or is this larger? Is Whiterose working for the government; was the hack a sanctioned act? It would be easy to argue Whiterose is out for her interests and gains, but, thus far, Whiterose isn’t a sinister character. Scheming and plotting, obviously, but everyone on this show is. Murderous … presumably, as the leader of Dark Army who is more than capable of murder. But all appearances of Whiterose, so far, as Zhang or Whiterose, depict someone kind and gentle, and without that villainous air Price wafts all over the place. I think Whiterose is chasing a goal specific to her, but I don’t think those goals are necessarily selfish. I want to believe Whiterose is a true believer to Elliot’s cause, to the dismantling of the system and the saving of the day.
  • That said, did Whiterose send the gunmen?? Again, as the leader of the Dark Army, we have to assume she did. But a direct strike against visiting FBI agents, in a case of this scale? That’s huge. If Whiterose was outed as a Chinese minister, combined with the hack it might be viewed as an act of war.

 

In his brief appearance, Ollie mentioned the belief some people held that 5/9 was a false flag operation, and there’s merit to the idea that could be what’s happening here. An action like the hack, combined with the murder of Government agents, would certainly pave the way for some terrifying law changes across the world, especially laws regulating the internet. I wonder if that’s the larger goal here for Whiterose and others. Not just to destroy the corporations, but perhaps even to reshape governments, to correct legal imbalances; to find a way to stop black marketeers like Ray from selling teenaged Thai girls without impeding the freedom of law-abiding citizens. Something huge is going on; something bigger than Elliot’s idea of deleting debt records; something more world-changing than a few months or years of economic discomfort.

Elliot was out to save the world, but I think Whiterose might want to reshape it.

 

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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  • mzblackwidow

    I was wandering, lost – after watching the new episode – having very little clue what any of it means. Thankyou for explaining last week so well, Nadine. It helped me at least attempt to work out some of this week.
    All I know for sure about tonight’s episode is that Sam Esmail has a career in corny sitcoms if he ever wants it !

    PS – awaiting your review of this ep, so I can keep watching this bugshit show that I barely understand but love anyway.

  • The artist of that surreal painting is Fang Lijun, if anyone is wondering. 🙂

    • Dnt..

      thanks, as soon as I seen the paint, watching the espisode, I had to stop and look for it.