Mr. Robot Review: Episode 4

SEASON 2, EPISODE 3: eps2.2 init1.asec

The only way to patch a vulnerability is by exposing it first. The flipside being that exposing a vulnerability leaves you open for an exploit. – Elliot Alderson

As much as I enjoyed much of last night’s episode of Mr. Robot, I was just sitting there waiting for it to end without any tease of something momentous happening. I was ready to hop on my MacBook and type out an, “Alright, it’s time for something to go down,” kind of review, where I took Darlene’s heart-framed glasses off and saw this show for what it seemed to have become. Was Sam Esmail’s show nothing more than anticipation of events or escalation that would never actually arrive? How much of this cutesy crap can we take?

First off, these have been LONG Wednesday nights. As several others have pointed out, the last two episodes require 90 minutes each, unless you watch them later and speed through the commercials. Fun fact: That’s what I did. We can easily go back to 60 minutes, trim some of the fluff away, and tighten things up. It’s probably not the episode to voice that complaint about, because I actually enjoyed most of the oddities and drawn out nothingness that led to the final scene, but it shouldn’t be normal for Mr. Robot episodes to have these run times outside of a DVD or Blu-Ray uncut release.

Secondly, other than Gideon Goddard’s death, what has actually occurred this season? We’ve seen a lot of setup, but not much payoff. I’m not sure what we’re watching for at this point? It’s so well done, but what IS it. Who is Mr. Robot was the old tagline and still the website address, but maybe the better question is WTF Mr. Robot? The content is heavy, but it’s empty.

These are the things I was ready to write.

And then what I was prepared to say changed during the chess match between Elliot and Mr. Robot, and I erased those comments from everything but the opening to this piece the second our antihero decided to hack the FBI on Ray’s computer. Because, finally, Elliot Alderson had returned to Earth, even if temporarily, and the actions he took can’t come without equal ramifications and retaliations from his enemies. Considering what we already know of Dom and the lengths she’s willing to go to advance the case and try to bring fsociety out of the darkness and into the light (provided there’s a window in the jail cell), business has picked up.

The entire literal and figurative idea of the chess game worked for me, and if you’ve read my stuff in the past, you know I use metaphors and analogies to chessboards and pawns semi-regularly. It’s funny, because although I know how to play, I’m positively awful at chess. Ray’s character has been so needed this season, as along with Leon, he’s the therapist Krista can’t be for Elliot, because she knows too much for his comfort level, thus he can’t fully trust what she says. He tends to like advice that comes from people oblivious to everything about him, almost like it’s the friend you had before you got famous.

Another part of Mr. Robot that changed last night was Darlene’s emotional range, as she became the first character to cry, to show fear, and to take steps to protect her life and that of those she cares about. During the open, when we see the night Elliot voiced what would become fsociety and the scheme to destroy Evil Corp, the show finally gives us a look at a different Elliot Alderson, and a much different Darlene. We see where the infamous mask comes from, a (fake) 1984 slasher film called Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie. We hear her talk about her relationship, and we see Elliot symbolically put on first his father’s jacket, then the mask, and begin talking about what would become his family’s future.

Later in the episode, during the sequence featuring a xylophone and orchestral version of Green Day’s “Basket Case,” Elliot asks us questions and asks himself questions about what his future could look like, and whether that reality is worth fighting for, and he comes to the conclusion that it is. It’s a powerful few minutes, and it’s also visually compelling, but it’s more effective because Esmail makes sure it leads to something at the end of the episode.

While we can guess the stalemate that results from the chess match, the process of sitting down to play the game is the change for Elliot. He’s willing to do something other than self-medicate or sit in the dreariest room known to mankind. In the words of Ray, he’s “developed his game.”

Also, I would be remiss not to mention Christian Slater, who may have turned in his best performance in the series. He was extraordinary last night, moving between a very reasoned character and one that exploded on Elliot at Ray’s place.

Joanna Wellick played a bigger role than usual, as we find out that Tyrell’s severance package is still somewhere floating in an invisible locker at E Corp, which is problematic for a young mother and her daughter. She’s dealing with many hardships in her husband’s absence – to the point she’s willing to testify in favor of Scott Knowles – but she’s also in love with a bartender, almost entirely because the man can’t provide the bells and whistles that accompany money and materialism.

The anti-consumerist message somehow made its way into Joanna, and it’s the one overarching theme of the series, though which side is right isn’t altogether clear. Her own feelings on wealth are similarly inconsistent, as it is with most people.

One story that is not working for me at all right now is Angela Moss and Phillip Price, which did move to a place where we see motivation in what she’s doing that goes beyond ear buds, positive affirmations, and self-help tapes. However, she’s willing to sell out what she has to in order to rise up in the company, at least for the time being. I still think she’s inevitably going to become fsociety’s biggest asset, once she stops trying to be someone else and returns to the land of the living.

I like watching Portia Doubleday and Michael Cristofer, but if I had to point out the portion of the series that I look forward to the least, it’s the class action and the settlement and Angela trying to figure herself out. The work is strong, but the material is a little weak. I recognize it could change. I expect it to change.

At the end of the episode, Elliot realizes what we knew long ago. He can’t vanquish Mr. Robot from existence, because it’s part of who he is. Once he’s willing to accept that part of him, he can move forward. It leads to the phone call with Darlene, where Rami Malek’s expression – even his eyes – seems to shift into a conscious state. It’s not the comatose Elliot Alderson. This one’s actively aware of his world and of the danger he and those he cares about are in.

His sister is terrified, and she’s worried about both the Dark Army (Whiterose is shown in drag and talking to Price in a strange scene, but one that again shows communication, if not collusion between parties) and the FBI. She hasn’t met Dom yet, but it’s coming. They’re all going to meet Agent DiPierro soon enough.

When Elliot sits at Ray’s computer and sees the news he’s missed while waging a war he can’t win, he snaps into action. The FBI has found the arcade, illegal surveillance is underway, Operation Berenstain is in effect, and Romero has been killed. Without stopping to analyze anything for more than a few seconds, he tells Mr. Robot he’s hacking into the FBI database.

Now THAT’S the way to end it, and indeed that’s how Esmail ends it. As soon as Elliot says the words, the credits roll. And that’s why most of these words have been positive. I liked the weird stuff much more this week than last week, but we actually got somewhere in the final minutes. It’s a longer season, and these episodes have basically added another episode to what we’ve already seen, but something had to give, and it did.

I’m excited about this show again. Halfway through last night’s Mr. Robot, I was starting to waver. I took a ton of notes, far more than I usually do, but as I referred to them, I wondered why I had even bothered. But, with that finish, we’re back on track. Outside of the Angela-Phillip muck, I was drawn to everything else that occurred. The fairytale scene was a thing of beauty, and after a somewhat frustrating week two, the show gave me something to look forward to and brain jam on for the next seven days. That’s a good feeling.

I’m @GuyNamedJason on the Tweets. Follow me. When will you finally realize that I’m here for a reason? Oh, and seriously, I am freaking horrendous at chess.

Written by Jason Martin

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