Mr. Robot Review: Episode 8

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SEASON 2, EPISODE 8: eps2.6 succ3ss0r.p12

We’ve all been down this warrantless wiretapping road, Doug. If word were to get out about Operation Berenstain… Kirby Rixton, Deputy General Counsel

No offense to the stellar talent that is Rami Malek, but I’m thrilled we never laid eyes on Elliot Alderson last night. I’m not angry with him for lying to me, again, but I needed a week with Darlene and her fsociety brethren to remind me of the ridiculous nature of their actions. It was a shorter episode, but one packed with intriguing moments, and it told me a lot about these people.

Saul Alinsky has always been a semi-savior for the far left, a man whose “Rules for Radicals” book influenced both our current president and his former Secretary of State, who is currently leading in most polls to succeed him in the Oval Office. Without delving too deeply into this history lesson, one of this man’s primary beliefs and teachings is the concept that the ends justify the means, which he cribbed from Machiavelli. If the product or result of a decision is laudable, it excuses deceit, violence, or manipulation.

When Darlene sat on the subway train and told Cisco that she didn’t think she was capable of what she had done that night, I immediately thought of Alinsky. She said she didn’t feel bad about it, that she always knew something inside her would stop her from something so abhorrent, but the voice never spoke, and it led her to murder E Corp’s General Counsel with a stun gun.

I wrote several weeks ago about how virtually every character in the world of Mr. Robot, at least the hacker side, is basically an automaton. They mask their feelings, or medicate them away. If you looked at Darlene’s face as she described the lack of conscience that permitted such a heinous act, it was blank. She was stunned, but not in the way she finished her victim. She couldn’t believe what she had done, but her reaction was more “Huh, how about that,” than “Holy shit. I’m awful.”

Mobley (Marrakech) tells Trenton that what they’d done was effing stupid, and it was past time they realized it. Eventually, the means catch up with the ends. That’s one of the things Alinsky never spoke about, because it wouldn’t have led to riots in the streets and the chaos he craved more than anything else.

As it relates to Mr. Robot, what exactly is the point of what fsociety has done? What has Five Nine achieved, other than near destruction of the global financial system? Think about the two people who put it into motion. Elliot and Darlene recruited people to a cause, but did so based on a half-truth. While they may well despise capitalism and the so-called “one percent of the one percent,” their primary motive was to avenge the death of their father, right?

Even if they didn’t realize it, that was the truth. Their hatred of this company was built around how it affected their family. That transferred to vitriol towards the very system that propped it up, and bad B-movies became their King James Version.

Who would have gone to war with E Corp along with them, risking what for example Trenton did, based on that information?

So, everybody with money and privilege becomes the enemy, and again we bring Saul Alinsky back into the mix. Alinsky always spoke of everything being on the table against an enemy of the proposed ends, for that person was also an antagonist to progress or an impediment to necessary change. Who decided what changes were appropriate and who would institute them? Well, the same people Alinsky was speaking to and inspiring.

fsociety now has the power to tap into an FBI conference call and reveal the widespread surveillance and illegalities of Operation Berenstain, but they still don’t have real control. It’s a sugar rush, the energy drink that will eventually wear off. They’re running for their lives. Anyone in uniform might be the one sent to take them in, which did indeed happen to Marrakech as he tried to pack his important belongings. Trenton couldn’t even say a proper goodbye to her family, because it would have put them at risk.

And, Darlene picked the hideout of a woman she’s held a vendetta against since she was four years old. She saw Susan Jacobs smile on television after E Corp was cleared of all charges in the case that meant everything to her and her brother. Yet again, Darlene basically became the one percent of the one percent OF THE ONE PERCENT. She’s above them all, even the people she’s asked to do so much.

Yet, she’s still not the top dog, which she finds out for sure as she snoops into Cisco’s laptop and finds the communications with the Dark Army and Whiterose. Then comes the baseball bat, because he’s now the enemy. She can’t trust him, and for good reason. Simultaneously, after Marrakech doesn’t go to the place he first met Trenton, we see her trapped in the establishment as someone enters. We don’t know who that person is, but unless Sam Esmail is back to his old tricks, perhaps this guy isn’t who he says he is either.

The problem with Alinsky’s concepts is they rely on an absolute immorality. Even if the goals are indeed worthy, being willing to do anything to get to them has a price on the soul. And, in a group filled with a false sense of justification, we come to another famous saying, this one not from the author of “Rules for Radicals.”

“There is no honor among thieves.”

Everybody Wants to Rule the World was released to the world in the spring of 1985. Tears for Fears front man Curt Smith describes its meaning in this way:

“The concept is quite serious. It’s about wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.”

Angela’s gorgeous karaoke scene, interspersed with shots from Susan’s house, is one of my favorites of the season. Portia Doubleday sings in a way that immediately made me think of Trent Reznor’s voice in “Hurt.” There’s brokenness to it, and a flat feeling, even though Portia uses more range in portions of her performance. Moss eviscerating Steve the Plumber was more “March of the Pigs,” but damn was it cutthroat.

The warfare of the future, and increasingly of the present, takes place behind computer screens, whether that means drones or various hacking attacks. Five Nine is a major shot in a war, where the stakes are enormous, but the purposes fairly abstract. In terms of misery, look at all these people and the state of their lives. Look at the innocent men and women who have watched their small businesses close, for lack of customers or other reasons related to the hack. I’m not even sure Alinsky disciples would put on one of those masks, because are the ends even worth a small portion of this degree of hell?

This season has been built around the idea that control is an illusion. It’s the tagline on all the key art and posters, and it’s certainly been an apt description. Even after murder, incinerating a body, hacking and posting the FBI’s dirty laundry, and taking a baseball bat to a traitor, Darlene is still searching for the happiness that she’ll never find. Her motivations, at this point, are curious. How much longer can she tell herself that she’s in the right? When “Fight the Power” becomes “We’re the Power,” then what?

Or, is it too late? Survival has replaced whatever “ends” the Five Nine “means” were designed to accomplish. Whether she knows it or not, Dom might figure out the “who” before she finds those answers or the actual source of peace in her life.

I thought this was a riveting hour, with some of the better performances we’ve seen from the cast. We didn’t see Rami or Christian, and I didn’t miss them. They’ll be back next week, but the reprieve enabled me to see the entire forest, as a few of the trees blew to the side as I was standing in the grass. It also proved what we all already knew, that longer episodes are often a bane, not a boon. This is one I plan to rewatch, and Carly Chaikin has never been better than she was last night.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a serious hankering to listen to Pale Shelter.

I’m @GuyNamedJason on the tweets. Pursue me at your own peril. I will not back down. I will destroy you. (Not really. I’m actually very non-threatening, but I will be out of the office from July 7 through July 27.)

Written by Jason Martin