Welcome back readers. We’re back in the saddle with another insane ride in Sam Esmail’s MR.ROBOT, with season 2.0 having just launched. A few things of note before we kick this off. First, there be spoilers ahead. Read on at your own risk. Having said that, the formatting for this round will be much the same as it was on our previous entries with this series; that is to say, this is less a review, and more a collection of observations and themes. Consider yourself warned. Without further adieu, please enjoy our diagnostics mined from MR.ROBOT Season 2.0 premier, part 2.
Exiting the intermission, we arrive en media money drop. CTO Scott Knowles looks nervous, uncomfortable, and out of place among the capitalist cattle he is routinely shielded from. While monitored by a nearby security agent, Knowles’ body language says it all. He is suspicious, distrustful, and defensive in regards to this section of humanity. His actions betray his thoughts – to him, every single one of this people could be a threat; is a threat. Following a possible red herring, Knowles receives his correspondence from f*society. With some additional probing via his mobile, Knowles takes action, and f*society get much more value than the easily tracked currency would have ever brought them. As stunned onlookers gather, we catch a glimpse of Darlene in the crowd, admiring her masterful handiwork. That Phil Collins’ Take Me Home plays in the background during this scene is just icing on the cake if you simply listen to the lyrics.
This scene is important for a number of reasons. Not only has f*society outsmarted Evil Corp while simultaneously dodging their net; they have robbed Evil Corp not only of the funds (likely a mere pittance) but have also taken something else – their confidence. They have remained one step ahead. Beyond that, the statement set by the action is paramount to their movement. As the crowd of have-nots watches, you can likely guarantee that most of them have never and will never see this amount of money again in their lifetime, and as you watch it burn, you can almost feel the discomfort building as the ropes that bind them tighten and twist at this perceived lack of sense and compassion for their financial situations.
A world away, Phillip Price sits non-nonchalantly at the head of a long conference table, staring down what appears to be a governmental committee. Unperturbed by the the chastising his request has garnered him, Price makes his mindset and power readily known by his fixation on appearance, rather than the gravity of the situation he finds himself in. After trading barbs and lamenting the state cashflow, Price doubles down. Employing first names and patronizing language, he makes his play. Following a request to resign, Price counters the way you would expect him to: con the consumer. Lie. The only way to engage in damage control is to keep the con in confidence, and keep consumer spending flowing. Threatening further apocalyptic financial tidings and belittling the commission’s ability to find an answer, Price somehow walks out of the meeting not only intact, but in complete control. The system is indeed rigged.
Elsewhere, we happen upon a scene lacking modesty. Joanna Wellick, literally in the flesh, re-emerges, and appears to be up to her old habits again, sans Tyrell. Going a step beyond where the line in the sand used to be, we get a brief glimpse of a new player in the game. Is this man a pawn, or something else? Time will tell.
Another skip in the track. The setting rests at a local bodega. In a whirlwind of seemingly meaningless action, we are introduce to another new face. This one, it seems, works for the Feds. With a quick escalation of skills displayed, the transition is quickly cut short as our new friend finds herself sat across the table from Gideon Goddard in a locked interrogation room. Enter Dom.
Back at the basketball courts, Elliot continues his consideration of order and chaos, of masks and true selves. An escalating episode of unchecked adrenaline avoids erupting into violence and introduces another unknown entity. As we get to know the interloper, Ray (played by the extremely talented Craig Robinson), we witness a strange exchange. Elliot acknowledges Flipper for the first time this season, who has been as absent as Tyrell. Ray seems strangely knowledgeable not only about Elliot, but also about some of the same thought processes Elliot has just concluded considering, albeit offered through a calm, semi-street filter. While (one-sidedly) discussing business, MR.ROBOT shows up to weigh in with his opinions.
Elliot leaves, shoring up his resistance to MR.ROBOT while talking the viewer through his defenses; the loop is key. In sticking to the regimen, in maintaining tight control, not allowing himself to be near technology or be compromised, Elliot hopes to neutralize any power MR.ROBOT might hope to exploit.
In a nice, upscale suite, we re-visit Joanna and her new plaything. Uncomfortable news regarding Tyrell is broadcast. The illusion of the previously seen power-structure between Joanna and her current beau is shattered in their exchange. Is this just a fling, or are there other factors at work here. A Wellick is involved, so my money is on the later. An interesting display of the familiarity between those of means and the help they employ. The tension between the remaining men in Joanna’s life, regardless of their role, pricks at the ingrained societal norms most of us feel.
A small slice of American office politics and gossip is on full display in the next scene. Angela Moss, one time champion in the legal fight against Evil Corp, has gone native. Her PR manager station seems oddly out of place when we start to consider what we can see. Despite her position, she works a small desk at a cubicle with the other underlings. Her area seems to be a shrine to positive thinking and empowerment. While not out of character for her, the steady ramp up of these items in her life indicates to me the depths of the divisiveness roiling within her. We have only begun to understand the changes that are at play for Angela.
Angela plays a dangerous game with a number of networks looking to interview Phillip Price regarding Scott Knowles’ escapades in Battery Park. Her desperate gambit pays off (albeit not without potentially dangerous concessions on her side), but also starts to show some of the cracks in her foundation. Is this the new Angela, or is this simply an extremely well acted ploy to take Evil Corp down from the inside? Will she continue to succeed in a den of snakes, where most parties want nothing more than her failure? If she does make it, will she still be Angela? Right now, there are many questions, but few answers.
Joanna returns home to a strange site. A carefully wrapped giftbox awaits her on the stoop to the Wellick brownstone. It’s contents are not initially cause for alarm, but Joanna’s response gives us pause. Removing the jewelry box from its vessel, she quickly seems to check for irregularities in it’s structure. Finding nothing within, she continues her investigation, revealing a phone strapped to the underside of the container.
At a white collar bar, Angela warms a stool. She is soon joined by Antara Nayar, the lawyer she had previously convinced to continue her litigation against Evil Corp for the deaths of a number of employees, including both her mother and Elliot’s father. There discussion regarding Angela’s choice to stay with Evil Corp becomes heated – quickly. Angela’s decision hinges upon her statement that she likes her job; this appears to be self delusion, as the strain in her is easy to see, even in her limited screen time. After commandeering the younger women’s drink and listening in quiet consternation to a quick personal attack from Moss, Antara offers sage advice before exiting. A ruggedly handsome coping mechanism enters the recently vacated seat shortly thereafter, and we are left to wonder if Angela has fallen so far as to fall for this as well.
This is one of the few instances where we do not have to wait long for an answer. Leaving her shame in her own bed, Angela retreats to happy place – her positive affirmations. While my disappointment in her is deep, realistically, I feel for her, as the completely tragic character she has become. She is so lost, little more than a designer blouse propped up by vapid self-help mantras on repeat. You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain, and Angela has indeed survived.
Away from the trappings of the corporate shark tank, Elliot continues to invest in the loop, to abide by the strict regimen he has established for himself as a fail-safe against MR.ROBOT’s anarchistic proclivities. Ray visits him again. Ray gain attempts to enlist Elliot’s services. There is some confusion, apparently the two had some meeting the previous evening. MR.ROBOT has been at work. The revelation is catastrophic for Elliot, confronted with the knowledge that his methods have failed. Despite dedicating himself to a monk’s lifestyle, he has not been able to stop MR.ROBOT. A quick consult of his journal pinpoints the previous night as the most likely time of his evil alter ego’s duplicity. The stress causes a jump in the record, and suddenly, we have skipped time. We watch as our hero reaches the end of his metaphorical mental rope, and breaks. It will drop every ounce of chemicals in your brain straight down the back of your spine.
The use of camera work, audio, and fantastic writing combine to craft an exchange here that defies description. For those who are long term viewers, the impact of this moment is almost indescribable. If you have ever had a close friend or relative with a mental disorder, you likely have an idea of the rampant storm of emotions this scene will evoke. For those without… well….hold on to something. As quickly as it occurred, the entire event is over. The quick rush of normalcy, like waves of the tide pounding a beach, is unlikely to give you comfort. We are rewarded, however, with the most perturbed look we have ever seen on MR.ROBOT. It seems even he is not immune to the mysteries of Elliot’s mental construct.
Gideon Goddard cannot seem to catch a break. Drinking alone, the tortured man is unable to escape the constant fear-mongering of the 5/9 hack attack. Having his image destroyed and his word impugned, he appears desperate for some relief. It is nearby, although not in package he expects. Following an odd conversation with an unknown man, he is granted a reprieve from further dealings with Evil Corp, and MR.ROBOT’s previous prophecy transitions to fact. That Goddard lost everything while sticking to his morals and attempting to protect those around him is of no comfort. In life, it is possible, and even likely, to have done everything right, and still lose.
Joanna continues her investigation of the music box, the included cell phone close at hand. Tragic, then, that she misses a call from an unknown while attending to her child. Gideon’s eulogy plays us through the next several scene changes. “I am alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.” More examples of loops, religion, and rebirth and father-son relationships. The record skips again, and we have suddenly lost time again. Elliot is on the phone at his mother’s house, but looks confused. He hold the line, waiting for an answer. A static breaks the ring. “Hello?” he says. “Is it really you?” “Who is this?”
Catch MR ROBOT on USA Network Wednesdays at 10/9c, or stream full episodes on their site.