Written by Matthew Haviland
Plot summary: Fsociety worries after Romero (Ron Cephas Jones) is killed. Elliot (Rami Malek) battles Mr. Robot but finds solace with Ray (Craig Robinson). Angela (Portia Doubleday) flirts with E Corp’s influence. Dominique (Grace Gummer) struggles with loneliness.
Last week’s premiere featured one of the best shots of the series, and one of the most oddly comforting. Elliot sleeping like baby Jesus under the midnight lights of his church group while Christmas-sounding music plays over him. Not everything is dark in Mr. Robot, and this week shows with great power that these aren’t characters just rolling around in the mud. They’re people trying to come to terms with death, loneliness, and personas that nobody seems comfortable in, except sociopath extraordinaire Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer). Saving the world doesn’t matter if you’re asking your computerized friend when the world’s going to end (reenter Dominique Dipierro), hoping soon, or if you’re the biggest outcast in a support group populated by zombies from a Green Day album.
Find out what Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek had to say about filming Season Two, Elliott’s relationship with Mr. Robot & more in our San Diego Comic-Con Interview.
Mr. Robot has become pretty lonely, given that its main character spends most of him time in his mom’s house yelling at himself. Dominique’s home life resembles the depressing existences of Rust Cohle, Jimmy McNulty, and other officers of great television. She’s streaming reality TV, looking at her social anxiety app, having cybersex (grueling), talking to Amazon’s Alexa with thick silences underneath the pauses. Which overcomes being a blatant Amazon ad by devastating us (Alexa’s monologue about the Earth being swallowed by the Sun, glowing in the corner like a warlock, is powerful) and fleshing out the futuristic society that Mr. Robot makes of our own, down to the mundane wonder of Ray asking Lone Star (Michael Maize) how hot it’s supposed to get and then saying to turn on the weather, riding off into a world that feels like The Truman Show. Ray’s another character we see talking to empty space; which seems almost grotesque, with his dialysis machine beeping and churning, until he tells Elliot the story behind talking to his deceased wife at breakfast. While Elliot, one of the bigger weirdos notwithstanding, seems just taken aback by this, the release Ray gets is touching.
Elsewhere, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) takes his control to new heights, easily negating Elliot’s vengeful overdose of Adderall with an elaborate kidnapping hallucination featuring men in black suits (surprise, the guys Elliot sees are hallucinatory, at least these ones) that finishes with a representation of Elliot making himself (Robot making himself) vomit. Identified as illusory or not, Mr. Robot can move mountains. While Malek plays eating vomit to reoverdose about as badass as someone can, it seems a weak gesture in front of this theater of the imagination squinting behind conspiracy clothes and thick glasses. Elliot was more in control last week (at least getting under Mr. Robot’s psychological skin, sometimes), but there’s nothing he can really do when the whole world can be flipped on and off like a switch before him.
Find out what Mr. Robot’s Christian Slater had to say about filming Season Two, working with Rami Malek & more in our San Diego Comic-Con Interview.
When they’re not alone, characters wear distortion masks. The severely unhappy Angela and the uneasy (and depressed) Dominique walk into their professional roles after getting into character. While their hacking work lets them be themselves, even fsociety’s main members are caught playing “normal citizens.” There’s subtle interplay between Mobley (Azhar Khan) and suspicious cops on the subway, each one grilling him as they leave the train like the parade of officers in Inherent Vice. Mobley makes all the right casual gestures, as do the cops, but they stink of suspicion. Master class in bad vibes. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) doesn’t have as much trouble as him getting into character as a citizen, because when you’re this intensely countercultural, people think, “Harmless.” And as for our hero, who’s to say whom Elliot is? He spends his whole life but to maintain his character, erase what doesn’t fit the script. Notice how his denied revolutionary nature comes through in his speech about religion, the sleep-deprived Elliot becoming the hotheaded leader in spite of himself; “Did I just say that out loud? Shit.”
As always, Mr. Robot breathes vibes. The stuffy elegance of Price’s preferred semifreddo restaurant (Fidelio’s, the orgy password in Eyes Wide Shut), soft lighting and walls covered with unpleasant yellowish art, feels like everything’s made of bile (Angela herself exuding hydrochloric acid). Elliot cowering under the American flag in Ray’s office, potted plants licking out behind his head, and then Ray before glowing tiled glass, lamplight and a cluttered board far in the corner; these are perfect emotional acoustics for Malek’s wavering admission that he thought journaling would help, for Ray’s speech about his wife’s perfect driving (“It was annoying,” Robinson says, smiling downward), how she died anyway. Romero’s mother’s (Dorothi Fox) television reflected quietly in her glass cabinets while she sits there talking about her son (beautiful work by Fox).
“I want to cry, but I’m so high that I can’t.” This whole episode is like a support group, and Ray’s musing that everyone keeps stumbling through life sounds like the group leader answering everyone’s questions simultaneously. The lonely people who crowd this season’s edges are swimming against tides and getting sucked in, but with that final conversation between Ray and Elliot (both actors doing some of their best work ever), we have hope. When Mr. Robot appears, looking like a therapist, as Ray leaves to get the chessboard, Mr. Robot goes somewhere unexpected: the possibility of Elliot resolving his issues with himself. Elliot’s narrated monologue after that is the most hopeful, down-to-Earth stuff we’ve heard yet. Of course, Ray had his henchman beat someone in front of their family, so who knows where this advice will take us.
Say what you will about this insane, depressing series, but there is some great humanity tucked into the suffering (including Elliot’s childlike vibe, Dominique calling through Mrs. Romero’s door in the morning light, Romero’s endless Tarantino monologue, and the bravery when Angela tells Price she doesn’t trust his scheme). The closing shot, the arcade’s chipped sign proclaiming “F. SOCIETY” to the whole world (or Coney Island, as it were), just reaffirms the magic. If you had one hour left to live, this is what it would feel like, everything vibrating. Watching Mr. Robot is becoming closer with life, whatever form it takes. At times sulfurous (anywhere E Corp gathers), at times feverish (Elliot’s worse days), but so often Sunday Mass.