UK TV review: Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 10
James R | On 14, Sep 2016
This review contains spoilers. Not caught up with Mr. Robot Season 2 yet? Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 and 2.
Mr. Robot’s second season has got to the point where we’d be better off listing a series of unanswered questions than attempting to explain what’s going on. Strangely enough, though, while that might sound like a terrible situation to be in, the show has rarely been better.
Sam Esmail’s paranoid techno-thriller places equal weight on all three of those words. The result is thrilling, not just because the technological details are accurate, but because the show swims in paranoia. In recent episodes, a lot of that has belonged to Darlene and the other members of Fsociety, but it stems primarily from Elliot, who remains one of the most intriguing unreliable narrators of recent years. Even when his self-deception is obvious, as with his incarceration during this season’s uneven first half, that uncertainty seeps through every inch of the show; just as he’s not sure of anything that’s going on anymore, neither are we. And that takes us right back to the excitement of Season 1’s unpredictable climax; Mr. Robot Season 2 is at its worst when trying to hide things from us and at its best when we’re in the same boat as the clueless characters.
10 episodes on from the what-on-earth-happens-next finale and it’s becoming increasingly clear that not even Elliot foresaw the world he would be creating – a world of insecurity, where E-Corp can still come out on top by launching its own virtual currency to dominate the financial landscape in the wake of its own implosion. Philip Price, on the other hand, is more certain than ever, as we get a hint of his motivation. Put simply: Is he the most powerful man in the world yet? If not, he keeps on going. (As ever, Price treads the line between schlock and Shakespeare with a commendably magnanimous tone – one that doesn’t always work for general dialogue, but fits these kind of delusions of grandeur like a glove. Except, of course, he may now not be all that deluded.)
No wonder, then, that everyone else in the show is unnerved. The framing of the show remains a masterful way of conveying that mood, with Price always seeming to be in the centre of the frame and everyone else positioned firmly at the edges; even one of Price’s colleagues, whom he is manipulating, gets the same shallow depth-of-field treatment, with a close-up of them on the right of the screen and the rest of the world around them blurred. It’s an intrusive stylistic choice, but one that’s also highly effective. Hell, you start to suspect, maybe everything is imaginary at this point.
But there’s a growing feeling as Season 2 nears its last two episodes that Esmail has a better handle of what he’s doing – there’s no hint of padding here. And that confidence is apparently contagious: we get a brief hint of certainty, as Elliot coolly hacks his way into private phone records, using nothing but a fax machine and a tube of Pringles to pretend to be a police officer. All that, just so he can find Tyrell Wellick.
“He wouldn’t be calling from that house,” Elliot is told by Mr. Sutherland, pale as a sheet, after he traces the phone’s location.
Yes, Tyrell remains Season 2’s bogeyman – and after Episode 9’s cliffhanger, it’s a surprise that Joanna Wellick doesn’t know where he is either. “Do you really want to say no to me?” she whispers to Elliot, who is reluctant to agree to be her budding helper. Until she asks him that, of course, and he agrees – partly, you suspect, out of fear.
She’s so hard to read that it’s impossible to work out what’s going on, which leaves both us and Elliot on the same page. Heck, even Mr. Robot is scared by Jo’s wonderfully creepy presence (“It feels like she can see me”), not to mention the mysterious phone calls he’s supposedly getting from her husband on a private number. When a figment of your mind is terrified, you know something’s up.
Christian Slater’s alter-ego promptly disappears, leaving Elliot on his own while shopping for computer parts – and suddenly he’s gone from certain hacker to a lost child in a supermarket. That image contrasts with Darlene’s own heartbreaking monologue of how she was kidnapped as a kid – a moment in which she realises that she’s not the leader of Fsociety and has never been the one in charge. Elliot always has been. Yes, that scared little kid in the shop.
All of this still doesn’t tell us what’s up with Tyrell. Is he dead? In which case, did Elliot kill him? Is he alive and missing? In which case, what’s he been doing all this time? Or is he just imaginary, like Mr. Robot and probably everyone else we’ve ever met on this show.
It’s infuriating, but also brave of the show to keep him hidden so long – it’s hard to believe they’ve made it to the final double-bill without telling us what the deal is. Although it’s also potentially setting itself up for a seriously disappointing let-down when that question is answered.
For now, all this uncertainty is juxtaposed sweetly with a heavy dose of reality, in the form of Elliot and Angela meeting on an empty train – a far cry from them hanging out in public in Season 1. They spend half of the time on opposite sides of the train carriage and most of the time not talking, which is both testament to their performances, but also to the overwhelming sense of restraint and alienation that has sprung up between them. It’s a scene that’s more about what’s not said than what is, even as Angela reveals that she’s going to confess to the FBI. They kiss, briefly, and it feels like a relief after two seasons of build-up. But is it also a farewell?
Again, you have to marvel at Sam Esmail’s against-the-odds ability to rescue Mr. Robot from the jaws of self-indulgent defeat, and even from the problems that plagued Season 1 – its weak, interchangeable female characters have been comfortably redeemed, thanks to the sterling cast and improved writing for Darlene, Arlene and Dom.
Speaking of whom, if it’s Season 1-worthy cliffhangers you’re after, you don’t have to wait for Season 2’s finale: Episode 10 ends with one of the best moments in the whole show to date, period. We watch as Dom traces Darlene and Cisco to a diner down the road, but as she goes in, the camera holds back. We watch, detached, almost like CCTV, as a motorbike calmly rides up outside. We watch, held back, as a member of the Dark Army gets off and, whipping out a gun, drowns the whole place in bullets. We watch, straining to get a closer a look, as Dom ducks and comes back out, dazed and shocked and spattered in blood. It’s the kind of trick David Fincher would pull, using perspective to drive up the tension for a nail-biting 30 seconds. The biker rides off, leaving his partner-in-crime to be shot by the police with a disturbingly relaxed attitude. And still Esmail keeps rolling, not letting us go anywhere. The traffic light counts down to zero. Time’s up. Start listing those questions.
Season 2 of Mr. Robot is available to watch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, with new episodes arriving every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US premiere. All 10 episodes of Season 1 are also available to stream, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like free next-day delivery on Amazon products, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.
Photos: USA Network