Written by Matthew Haviland
Plot summary: Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) is back! (Substantially.) Elliot (Rami Malek) receives shocks when he finds out what Stage 2 is. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is interrogated by Dominique (Grace Gummer).
Mr. Robot spent the first season making us think it was a super-cool hacker show that played with reality before turning everything upside-down. The second season spent its time turning everything upside-down repeatedly. Now, after all the turn-arounds, it was fun to find Elliot (our imaginary friend as much as we are his) thinking that he figured out another twist—that Tyrell was dead and that his appearance was just Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) giving Elliot Stage 2 information in a way where he felt so bamboozled, he let himself blow up a building while arguing with another himself (Mr. Robot’s terrorist tendencies, which I mentioned earlier this season, haunting us—they never left, just burrowed into Elliot’s subconscious while Mr. Robot got back on his good side)—except Tyrell being dead wasn’t what happened. Elliot was being tricked, but not triple-crossed; he was merely lied to, the first time, when Mr. Robot said Tyrell was dead, which kept him docile while Stage 2 progressed. But he’s been lied to so much that even lies seem like truths intended to seem like lies. Have we seen Elliot more delusional than here, saying, “You’re not real,” to a guy threatening to kill him? More intriguing, this season has gotten us so wrapped up in the festivities that we were right there with him.
I for one thought it was an excellent climax that Tyrell was Mr. Robot was Elliot, and my mind was reeling about it for the forty seconds we were allowed to think that. I was like, “Right on, Mr. Robot! Elliot argues with himself while another himself sits in the corner and blows up E Corp.” But then, to believe that, we would have had to forget the opening, where we saw Mr. Robot speaking through Elliot—not as Christian Slater, but channeling himself through Elliot’s body. This was, I think, the second time we saw Elliot entirely from someone else’s perspective (the first being his flashback with Darlene where he tries on the fsociety mask and experiences the birth of Mr. Robot, of who wrecking equipment after blacking out at his earlier company were contractions), meaning we finally saw him as the darkly confident dictator of fsociety. This is what he must have seemed like while fsociety was being built. To quote Neo, “Whoa.” (Also, who knew that after winning his Emmy, Rami Malek would become an entirely new Elliot? And then morph back into his award-winning character like waking from a dream?)
The drama isn’t just rich from Malek’s side of things. After this transformation, we get the tearful, William-Carlos-Williams-(yes!)-quoting proper return of Tyrell, Wallström getting his chance to shine after being firmly in the background, his only moments coming from the first episode and then a fantasy sequence or two along with his voice on the phone. He takes this monologue and kills it like Scott Knowles’s wife. Speaking of the CTO, maybe the best couple minutes from any secondary character since Gideon (Michel Gill) spoke with his killer come when Knowles breaks down in front of Joanna (giving great depth to his promotion and Tyrell’s murder of his pregnant wife) before turning dark (“I wanted to give you hope, that I could step on”), achingly remorseful (“I’m sorry,” as inhabited as anything else), then brutally vindictive. This is an incredible stretch of writing from Sam Esmail, who sometimes gets into clichés but can deliver powerful, workman-like dialogue along with great techno-musings on existence.
Some great moments here are when Mr. Robot is berating Elliot over his shoulder while Elliot talks to us, the camera hovering and audio coming back in once Elliot has his say (recalling the work of Terrence Malick, and working as well as his best recent compositions of narration over unheard dialogue—this makes me pine for what the director could do with darker, story-driven material); the stark image of a roller coaster behind Tyrell under the gray clouds, working the trademark amusement-park imagery powerfully; Joanna being pummeled by Scott Knowles, one of the most shuddering scenes I’ve watched on television and revealing the unpleasant difference between sadomasochism, of which Joanna has been a constant practitioner, and unwanted violence (though she takes his punches with incredible toughness); the spider’s web that Dom has put together, each connection exploding into the next and hyperlinking to time Dom spent tracking everything down, similar to the reveal in, say, season one of True Detective after Rust Cohle’s personal investigation, except perhaps more satisfying, because we thought we were just following Dom willy nilly when everything she’s done comes together before us.
This was a satisfying ending to the season. Moreover, it underlines how much this second act has given to every character, especially the female characters. Stephanie Corneliussen delivers excellent frost playing off Knowles’s emotional trilingualism and telling Derek (Chris Conroy) to frame him for murder. Darlene also gets to shine, reaffirming her stronger role this season and showing that Carly Chaikin does deadpan drama as well as her deadpan comedy in Suburgatory (her explanation that she was having dinner with her boyfriend before the shit hit the fan being surprisingly convincing—credit to Esmail for succinct phrasing). Dominique is solidified with her gestures toward Darlene (reaffirming parts of her character such as loneliness and brash Jersey-girl confidence while manipulating Darlene, unsuccessfully), being one of the more interesting newcomers all along and promising lots of material to chew over as we watch this season again. This season is worth revisiting for every character, as even the cameo performances, right down to Romero’s mother (Dorothi Fox), were highly memorable. Angela (Portia Doubleday) is barely here but must be mentioned as having a main character’s arc by anyone’s standards. Then we have Whiterose (BD Wong) and Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer), richly realized supervillains.
This was easily one of the best episodes in what was an incredibly successful second season, whether by Mr. Robot’s writers, actors, or style itself. The plotting has become breathtaking (Tolkienesque), the themes richer, deep characters legion, and every episode offers a feast of cinematography and filmmaking. Agent Santiago (Omar Metwally) tells Darlene that this isn’t Burn Notice, there isn’t room for characters like her, and there will be no blue skies, mocking USA Network of yesteryear’s trademark programming. This series is like USA Network turning from Elliot into Mr. Robot. It takes you by surprise, makes you cry, and turns around when you call after it to become Law and Order. Whatever channel, Mr. Robot rises from the lineup and surprises you, and maybe even itself, setting up expectations, dashing them, merging into the next triple-cross scenario, Angela now seeming the mastermind, those dark machinations still turning the show in knots before Leon’s (Joey Bada$$) welcome, Marvelesque return after the credits. Leon, we hardly know ye. We shall.
Episode Score: 9.5/10 (Gripping)
Season Score: 9.0/10 (Immense)