Mr. Robot Review: Episodes 9 and 10

SEASON 2, EPISODE 9: eps2.7 init5.fve

Mr. Alderson, you’re under arrest for unauthorized use of a computer, computer trespassing, and grand larceny. – Detective

Before the title infected our television screens last week, Sam Esmail gave us a few more answers. Ray is actually the prison warden, and one of the guards that assisted with processing new inmates was the other man in the room during the “hack.” He also told us why Elliot was in jail, as we realized there would be no investigation at all had he been nabbed for Five Nine. It was a callback to season one, where Elliot stole Lenny Shannon’s dog, then hacked into his bank, mail, and social media on behalf of someone else.

That’s what got him, and against Mr. Robot’s wishes, he pled guilty to all four charges, including one felony. He was sentenced to 18 months in county jail for the four crimes, but thanks to the Dark Army (and Whiterose specifically), he was released MUCH earlier than expected. It was a non-violent offender release, but it came due to a letter that arrived after some underhanded hacktivism from interested parties.

We also saw his first conversation with Leon, who hadn’t gotten to Seinfeld yet. He gave Paul Reiser a shout out and mentioned he was binging Mad About You. I laughed, and then immediately thought of George Costanza and his wife-to-be, Susan, watching the show shortly after he proposed to her. “She wants to see The Muted Heart.”

Back in the present, Darlene embraces her brother, reminding us that these two people love each other, and despite all the activities in which each has been involved in, basic human emotion can’t be fully defeated. That same idea permeates as Elliot goes to see his actual mother in an assisted care facility, thanking her for helping him survive behind bars. While Mr. Robot has never been concerned first with feelings, it’s always been focused on emotional manipulation, and occasionally on suppression of that side of its characters.

The purpose of the Init5

It was a strong hour, maybe the best episode of the season, because Esmail found a way to accomplish a great deal with the story, and still find a way to answer some nagging questions and get us up to date on what preceded the 2016 opener. Angela was active as well, first luring an obstacle from a necessary floor and quickly copying files relevant to the Washington Township water scandal, and later an utterly compelling scene with Dom as the investigator shows up at her door with dinner…and a veiled threat about what might be to come if she kept fighting the inevitable.

When Grace Gummer and Portia Doubleday have been together in a scene, it’s been spectacular stuff. Sam isn’t overdoing it, as we’ve really only seen it twice to this point, but the way both actresses played those situations created real tension, and doesn’t even require words. Put a Dum Dum in Dom’s mouth and just have Angela stare back at her. It’s Kenny Bania gold, folks.

The more we learn about Whiterose, the more terrifying he-she-it gets. As he stands at the grave of a former E Corp CEO, he basically tells us he orchestrated the plane crash that killed the man, because he was trying to kill off one of the Dark Army’s projects. “Now he’s where he should be, and my project is alive.” Holy hell! Then, he mentions that he might need to go back to that kind of thing, now that Elliot is out and fsociety has gone off the reservation to some extent.

And, even though Darlene shattered his laptop in a fit of rage last week, Cisco turns out not to be the enemy. More than anything else, he’s just scared half to death and trying to stay alive, because as we’ve all found out while watching Mr. Robot, almost all of these people are in deeper than they ever could have imagined. Plus, the stakes are very literally life and death.

We’re finally on a high-speed rail towards a true fsociety vs. Dark Army showdown, and what makes it all the more intriguing is Elliot’s “Stage 2” query. The cliffhanger on Wednesday led us to yet another answer, this one regarding just how much power Alderson actually has, which would seem to be quite a bit. Stage 2 is HIS plan, we find out from Xun. What exactly that means is yet to be determined, but before there’s any kind of second alliance between the two groups, there has to be a war, with E Corp caught somewhere in the middle.

Whiterose is the invisible force that can’t be controlled, because he’ll slit your throat in a heartbeat. Anyone with much to lose, who acts as if he has nothing to lose, is more than just a little dangerous. Elliot might qualify, but his mental issues preclude him from “being” Mr. Robot as often as his cause might need. When he tells his sister that Xun won’t be meeting Elliot, but Mr. Robot, it was a hugely powerful moment for us, though his sister isn’t as aware as we are just what that could lead to for fsociety, and certainly for the series.

Phillip Price gets very cryptic in the rain with his umbrella, and he’s in no mood to play around now that his bid for a federal bailout went up in smoke. He blames the attack in China for killing its chances, and sees his own future very much in doubt. Usually, when someone is cornered, we see the full weight of what that person might have left. In Price’s case, he’s going to fight, and he’s willing to burn the whole thing down if he has to do so.

Many pieces were on the move in the episode, but it was more true to form than last week’s diversion. Both were effective, but this felt more like Mr. Robot, and most importantly, the show felt good. The season has been uneven, and thus so have my reviews, as well as my feelings on the episodes, but I’m really starting to enjoy almost everything that’s going on.

There’s always a distance between Sam Esmail’s story and his audience, and I wish we could get just a little bit closer to understanding what Price’s role will be in the end and occasionally why we’re stuck watching something that seems disconnected from the plot. That said, however, it’s a show not content to be what it was, and instead will be whatever its creator wants it to be. In some ways, you could see Season 1 as Radiohead’s O.K. Computer and Season 2 as Kid A. Either way, the experience is well worth the trip.

SEASON 2, EPISODE 10: eps2.8 h1dden-pr0cess.axx

This was my plan, and I hid in a cage while everybody else took all the risks. – Elliot

The shortest episode of the season was also its most heart pounding, by far, as every key player in the story risked exposure, arrest, or death. What I most paid attention to was what seems to be maturity in Sam Esmail as a writer, because since the jailhouse reveal, the show has been on its best stride to date. He’s still doing it his way, but there’s a very real sense of structure and emotional resonance behind the style.

Wednesday’s episode was one near miss for a major character after another, and as we build towards the finale in two weeks, we may look back on this episode as the turning point, not just in the season, but also potentially in the series. Make no mistake; this was Mr. Robot at its best.

We’ve talked before about Joanna Wellick being utterly frightening, and she has both the cold immorality and the complete lack of care for anything other than her goals, and those of her husband. With all due respect to Whiterose and the Dark Army, the real dark army is Joanna’s jet-black hair and the callous nature in which she lives her life. Plus, she’s also got the femme fatale thing going on, and I’m not going to lie, I like it. I like it a lot. We’re left wondering, or at least in doubt, as to whether Elliot actually murdered Tyrell Wellick. It wouldn’t be above Mr. Robot to play a trick on his alter ego, you know, the one that actually exists.

Stephanie Cornelliusen is flat out awesome in this role.

Darlene showed something new this week also, as she spent the entire hour in the company of Cisco, which sounds much better than it actually was. We get a glimpse into a fresh part of her psyche, where there’s a soft envy of her brother’s “specialness.” He’s the one the Dark Army pays attention to, he’s the one with the plan, and as she confides in Cisco, you can see in the subtleties of Carly Chaikin’s facial expressions a sense that she wishes it was she. In those moments, we see her desire for power.

No one’s desire for power trumps Phillip Price, and in a spellbinding opening sequence, we see Price and Terry Colby (welcome back Bruce Altman’s sliminess) in the former’s office, talking about global manipulation, and other political maneuvering that is less important than the motivations and beliefs of the two men in the room at that time. If you toss out the Congo and China, annexation, bailouts, and any other of the important specifics of their conversation, just watch and listen to how Esmail portrays Price, I’ve said before how much I like Michael Cristofer, and over these last two weeks, his personal intensity has never been better. As he answers Colby’s question as to why Price cares so much about his job, we see into Phillip’s soul.

Or, more accurately, we look into the black hole where a soul should exist.

I’ve always been curious as to Esmail’s political leanings, but he writes from a place that looks upon both extremes with disdain. We may be rooting for Elliot, but Sam does enough with fsociety to cast aspersions on the heroic qualities of what’s going on from week to week. E Corp, with a logo that is a direct rip-off of the Enron “E,” still the most indelible symbol of corporate corruption and the evils of capitalism, is cast as the continuous villain. I question whether there’s a hero to be found anywhere, and as everyone fights for control, or what they believe to be the higher cause, every one of them is willing to go as far as murder if they have to do so.

Thus, when Price says he does it because he has an insatiable desire to be the most powerful man in every room, admitting it’s always true (except for two, and you can probably guess those), his comment that he aspires to follow the path set forth by God. Now, that doesn’t mean the Christian life of humility and self-sacrifice. Instead, he means the POWER of God. I laughed when I heard it, because it’s exactly what I anticipated him saying, because on Mr. Robot, that’s what a corporate executive is portrayed as, sometimes more blatantly than it should be. This worked for me precisely because it was so over the top, so ridiculous, and so unapologetically Sam Esmail.

I noticed this week that I always see the craziest, most artistically obtuse and off-kilter camera shots when Phillip Price is on screen. Every time we’re in his office, we’re guaranteed visually arresting photography, and yet again, as he and Colby discuss first “The Last Honest Man” and then their plans for the future, take a good look at how it’s shot. We are NEVER, ever supposed to be comfortable around Phillip Price. For this show, that’s an unimpeachable decision, but it has to be calculated and intentional. If not, the coincidence is definitely strong with this one.

Dom’s relentless push to find fsociety, solve Five Nine’s “who” question, ramped up even further, as she was only a few footprints behind Darlene and Cisco throughout the hour. When the decision is made to put the BOLO out, we also discover that Dom is interested in getting to the bottom of things without putting those involved in jeopardy. She warned Angela last week, which led to the incredible sequence on the subway train on Wednesday night, and she pleads with her supervisor not to go to the media and put Cisco’s life in danger. She may be the only person in the entire federal government, and certainly within her division, that fully appreciates and understands the gravity of the Dark Army.

She’s also extremely smart, and as Variety’s Mo Ryan put it in a tweet last night, there’s some “Breaking Bad feels” going on here. Dom is Hank Schrader in the back half of that series, where his every move seems to be correct, and where she becomes the only legitimate legal threat to the antagonists that drive the entire narrative. The final scene at Lupe’s diner was one of those I’m always going to think about when someone asks me about Mr. Robot. Actually, everything from the second Elliot sits down on the train with “Claudia Kincaid” is, because in that last several minutes, we got a taste of every facet of this show.

Angela, before she was drawn into the fsociety web of subversion, wanted two things in life. She wanted someone to pay for what happened at Washington Township to her family, and the loved ones of those she cared about, and…

She wanted Elliot Alderson.

Portia Doubleday’s tears on screen after the kiss, and her watery eyes after Elliot’s hand separates from hers, reminds us of the very early stages of the first season. She loves this man. She grew up with him. She wants to trust him, and she wants desperately to believe that someday, what he’s doing will be enough to move on in his life permanently. She sees a future with him, because she’s had a quiet, repressed crush on him (sometimes loud and obvious) since the first second we met her in 2015. Also on that subway train, we see what we always suspected.

Elliot Alderson wanted Angela Moss.

Surrounding all the most outlandish, globally catastrophic events at play within Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail gives us a few seconds of raw tenderness between two young people at the highest level of stress imaginable. Similarly, as Darlene listens to Cisco, who despite what he does in his free time, we see another pairing where both parties respect each other to the highest degree. It’s this revelation that might be my favorite from the series thus far, because it’s a signifier of the basic feelings that drive every human being on this planet. Even Joanna Wellick loves someone, though she might try to beat that emotion away with a spiked baseball bat.

Angela, en route to see her attorney, planning to confess to planting the Femtocell (though not giving up her friends), likely didn’t make it. Two people approached her on the train and kept their backs to the camera, so we don’t know who they are, but I’ve got a guess.

Dom had Darlene and Cisco dead to rights at the Diner, before the assault rifle wielding motorcyclist arrives to save their asses. As she sprints out and backup arrives, after one of the officers shoots the assailant dead in the street, a police car speeds past the scene. I looked in the background of the shot, went back and watched it three times, and I never saw either hacker creep out a side door or even out the front door, but I’ve got no doubt they’re gone. I wanted to make the case that they’re in the car, but I can’t see how they got to one that quickly, and it’s definitely nowhere to be found on camera.

Two episodes left in the season, which may have started slow, but is the single most compelling thing on television right now. This last three episodes in particular have each been unique, but the highest of quality. Esmail has built things appropriately as well. We’re salivating for the penultimate episode, where the drama always finds its zenith. We’ll be left breathless, and then comes the finale.

One question I’ll leave you with, because it left me in utter confusion. When Elliot takes the phone call in the store and hears the breathing, why does Mr. Robot vanish? I have no doubt there’s an answer to that question. It feels awfully foreboding. See you next week.

I’m now @JMartOutkick on Twitter. Follow me there. Do you really want to say no to me?

 

 

Written by Jason Martin

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