UK TV review: Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 11 and 12
Ivan Radford | On 09, Oct 2016Reading time: 7 mins
This review contains spoilers. Not caught up with Mr. Robot Season 2 yet? Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 and 2.
Is Tyrell Wellick alive or dead? Was he even real in the first place, or just a figment of Elliot’s imagination? That’s the big question going into the finale of Mr. Robot’s second season. You know, along with 50 million other questions.
There’s something unavoidably frustrating about a TV show that leaves loose ends hanging at the end of a season – but there’s something undeniably bold about a TV show that does it twice. Creator Sam Esmail has repeatedly straddled the boundary between inspired and annoying in this second run, answering questions with mysteries, mysteries with enigmas and enigmas with plain weirdness. It’s no wonder that people have struggled to keep watching.
Episode 11 – because Mr. Robot is the kind of show that likes to deliver its finale as a two-parter – is a prime example of the series being at its most deliberating obfuscating. At a point where we want conclusions, we instead get Angela kidnapped by Whiterose and interrogated by a small girl. Questions such as “Is the key in the room?” devolve into a David Lynchian sequence of surreal, nightmarish nonsense – and, of course, have nothing to do with all those other questions we’ve got hanging around our necks.
It’s a visually stunning sequence, complete with freaky fish tank and eerily old-school computer, but it irks more than entertains, not least because it takes up the majority of the episode, to seemingly no real purpose.
What we do get in the other bits of runtime, though, are two crucial pieces of information.
Firstly, that Price’s evil plan has been to set up E-Corp as a loan provider to the masses in the place of a central bank or state reserve – a private bank, funded by China, that will leave everyone enslaved to its crypto-currency, E-Coin. (What follows will distract you from this, but don’t forget it.)
Secondly, we learn that Tyrell Wellick is, indeed, alive – and that he looks as good in a suit as ever. Of course, “alive” in Mr. Robot can mean all manner of things, from alive to simply being a walking, talking hallucination of Elliot’s warped mind.
Their walking and talking takes us into a warehouse-cum-hacker-HQ, which has apparently been set up by the Dark Army for them to carry out Stage 2. It’s hardly a penthouse, but it’s functional – and that function is revolutionary. Stage 2? Stop E-Corp from getting its electronic records working again, so that it has to keep stockpiling all of its paper records in a New York warehouse. Then, blow up the warehouse. Elliot, of course, is firmly against the loss of innocent lives, but Tyrell and Mr. Robot, of course, have no problem whatsoever.
Meanwhile, Darlene is walking nowhere, as FBI Agent Dominique finally has her quarry cornered for some harsh quizzing. Grace Gummer is as fantastic as you’d expect, pushing, pulling, twisting and manipulating Darlene as best she can. Carly Chaikin, meanwhile, gives as good as she gets, demanding a lawyer, refusing to answer and generally being rude. (“You’re not on a TV show,” quips Dom. “This is not Burn Notice.”)
And, just to add to the left-field curveballs, we also follow Joanna Wellick, who learns that Tyrell hasn’t been sending her messages after all: they’ve been coming from Scott, of E-Corp, whose wife was killed by Tyrell all those episodes ago. Stephanie Corneliussen is astounding here, at first seeming to express sympathy for him, before bursting into more hateful invective, insulting him, goading him, saying that she’s glad his unborn child died – and he responds in kind, by erupting into a violent rage and beating her face to a pulp. It’s nasty, surprising stuff.
So far, these developments aren’t taking us any closer to closure – but Jo’s storyline reminds us just how carefully planned out Mr. Robot is, as it turns out that she wanted Scott to assault her, so she could run to boyfriend Derek (good old Derek) and get him to tell the police that Scott was his wife’s killer. The violence? That’s a distraction. The real damage is being done out of sight.
That’s true of the whole show, literally in the case of Elliot, who has found himself increasingly unable to keep track of Mr. Robot’s whereabouts, as he set about setting up Stage 2. By the time Elliot’s in a room with both him and Wellick, you can understand why Elliot would be doubting what’s going on.
Rami Malek is superb, as unhinged as he was all the way back in Season 1. Christian Slater remains excellent as his ruthless, charismatic alter-ego. But they’re both eclipsed by Martin Wallstrom as Wellick, who manages to avoid his much-delayed appearance feeling like an anti-climax. Instead, we see him become increasingly angry at Elliot’s belief that he isn’t real – something that’s almost like rejection from the one guy he felt understood his world-changing ambition. Poor, Tyrell.
The reintroduction of Chekhov’s popcorn gun, combined with the intensity of this three-way conflict, makes for a genuinely tense centrepiece, as Esmail begins to let Mr. Robot flicker in and out in the background, reinforcing the sense of uncertainty. And sure enough, the gun is fired – not at Mr. Robot or Tyrell, but at Elliot, as Tyrell aims to prove that he’s both alive and real.
It’s one of those moments that you really don’t see coming – and that unpredictability is what makes Mr. Robot so thrilling to watch, even when it’s all over the place. Until Wellick pulls the trigger, we don’t even know who’s real on-screen and who’s imaginary.
We end on that final shot, an annoying but absurdly brave way to see out an already uneven sophomore run. Whether you’re a fan or not, Sam Esmail undeniably has balls.
And that decision is par for the course for the show, which reveals that Romero was only killed by a random bullet and that Cisco is dead, but otherwise leaves things up in the air. Dom shows Darlene that they’ve mapped out the whole of FSociety, but is that enough to get Darlene to switch sides? Goodness knows. Joanna’s continuing plans aren’t followed further. And what of E-Corp and Whiterose? We don’t see any of them for the whole of Episode 12.
It’s a reminder of the importance of misdirection in control – a thematic concern that Esmail repeatedly echoes structurally. Angela and her interrogation? It doesn’t matter. The violence shown against Jo? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the planning that’s going on away from the camera. The planning by Mr. Robot, the planning by Jo, and the planning by the Dark Army.
An epilogue catches us up with Mobley and Trenton, who are working at a computer store. On a lunch break, she reveals that she can reverse the whole 5/9 attack – but even that is less unresolved, as Leon (good old Leon) pops up on his bike. The message is clear: the Dark Army can find you anywhere.
The result is often annoying, but, given a while to sink in, an impressively provocative finale to a challenging second season. “You’re only seeing what’s in front of you,” says Tyrell to Elliot. “You’re not seeing what’s above you.” Sure enough, our poor protagonist looks directly up at the sky above him. But down on the ground, there’s an underlying, unspoken truth that gives Mr. Robot Season 2 enough oomph to make up for many unanswered questions: for all of FSociety’s talk of changing the world, it’s clear that the revolution hasn’t worked. In fact, if anything, it’s made their enemy even more powerful – the fact that our lead is now bleeding out on the floor is testament to this. And so Mr. Robot gambles its overall truth against the immediate cliffhanger of whether Elliot is alive or not. And that leaves us disturbed, riled and angry in a way that’s entirely intentional. After the exciting rush of possibilities at the open end of Season 1, Mr. Robot’s second season makes us feel the pain of order being beaten back into place, with only one question resolved: no matter what, the system always wins. And yet the fact that Mr. Robot will return for Season 3 tantalises us with the suggestion that this might still not be true. Will Stage 2 ever take place? Well, you’ll have to wait another year for that answer.
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