UK TV review: Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 7 (Handshake)
James R | On 22, Aug 2016
This review contains spoilers. Not caught up with Mr. Robot Season 2 yet? Read our spoiler-free review of Episode 1 and 2.
What do you call a plot twist that you’ve already worked out? Disappointing? Satisfying? Dull? Your answer to that will determine your reaction to Episode 7 of Mr. Robot Season 2, which revealed the thing that many fans had already worked out back in Episode 1 and 2 – that ELliot has, in fact, been behind bars all along. That routine and “perfectly constructed loop”? Those group therapy sessions? That canteen-like diner? Those are all courtesy of the US justice system. No wonder he’s still been seeing Krista. And no wonder fellow inmate Leon spent all day watching Seinfeld.
It’s a huge milestone in what has been an often uneven second run for Sam Esmail’s show – a programme that was thrilling in its first run, precisely because it was so hard to know what to expect, has now become unexpectedly predictable. Perhaps that’s the biggest surprise of all. And it’s not an entirely positive one, after the show has staked at least part of its credentials on being able to deceive us with its knowingly unreliable narrator.
It’s telling that Elliot reveals the twist with an apology: “I’m sorry for not telling you everything. Please don’t be mad too long. This will be the last time I keep things from you. I promise.”
To focus on that revelation, though, does a disservice to other strong moments in Handshake. For starters, we finally learn (courtesy of Mr. Robot) what happened that night with Tyrell – that Elliot did, indeed, use the Chekhov’s popcorn gun and kill him. It’s arguably predictable once again, but it also pushes Elliot into firmly different territory. Over the episodes, we’ve come to rely upon him as our friend and hero; while we haven’t always trusted him, we’ve had faith in him to do what’s right. The reveal of him as a convicted inmate, then, is a genuine shock; we’ve just been rooting for his decision to take down Ray’s black market (apparently operating from within prison), only to discover that he’s a murderer.
Ray’s thugs waste no time in exacting their revenge upon him, but there’s another more interesting reveal; Ray, who faces off with Elliot in one last game of chess, explains how he came to set up his dodgy site in the first place: he and his wife just went with the money, slowly easing into the kind of murky water that was never initially their intention. It’s a boatload of exposition to deliver in one speech, but Craig Robinson is so good (as he has been all season) that it’s one of the best monologues of the whole show to date – a reminder that this universe is one full of shades of grey and compromised morals. Follow that up with the fact that Leon (the seemingly chill Joey Bada$$) has been working for Whiterose all along (“Make sure you say I did you good”), shanking Elliot’s attackers and saving his life, and things are far more uncertain than they first appeared – even when you factor in the fact that you may have guessed the wider twist.
And what of Angela? After Dom interrupted her hacking last week, Angela blags her way out with an I-was-making-lunch-plans excuse – only for the FBI to get well and truly pwned and for Dom to promptly work out what’s going on.
Angela, though, shows no signs of stopping making other plans – namely, getting her hands on those files relating to the scandal she’s had hanging over both her and her parents’ heads for years. To do it, she engineers a sideways promotion into the Risk Management department at E Corp. Is this so she, like Elliot, can redeem herself as a hero? Portia Doubleday is as sensational as ever at balancing that focused determination with childlike naivety and terror – the moment she opens her mouth in a management meeting in her new department, they immediately stonewall her and cancel the whole thing. Do they know what she’s up to?
There’s certainly a sense that E Corp is still on top of the overall situation – we briefly hear in the background of one scene that taxi drivers are now accepting E Coins as payments, something that sounds an awful lot like E Corp’s own digital currency. Even more interesting is the implication that this is because the dollar has become unstable, thanks to the Fsociety hack at the end of Season 1 – for all the frustration you may feel being caught in Elliot’s loop and effectively taken back to square one, it’s these glimpses of the world outside of his bubble that have given Mr. Robot its forward momentum this season. It’s no coincidence that the scenes with Dom at the FBI have been some of the most gripping. And don’t forget, of course, that Whiterose has been nattering about E Coins for some time. There’s still a meaty mystery to unravel here – not to mention the matter of whether Tyrell is even dead or not.
There is some satisfaction in Elliot’s character development, meanwhile, as he finally accepts that he and Mr. Robot are one and the same. They shake hands, as the episode title suggests, and are able to help each other, both mentally and (when Elliot is set upon in the prison yard) physically. “Sometimes you need illusion to gain control,” Elliot reminds us, after apologising. The real question left hanging is: does Mr. Robot still have control over us as viewers? Now that the big reveal is out of the way, Episode 7 quietly puts enough other pieces in motion to make for a promising second half of Season 2.
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: Peter Kramer/ Christopher Saunders / USA Network