UK TV review: Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 8 and 9
Ivan Radford | On 05, 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.
Dogs. If you had “dogs” down on your Mr. Robot Bingo Card, congratulations: you’re our lucky winner. Because yes, that’s the reason Elliot was locked up way before the start of Season 2: because he hacked Lenny, Krista’s ex, and stole his dog. It’s a fantastic reveal, not because it’s a surprise, exactly – there were only a limited number of reasons and, frankly, Mr. Robot’s second season has struggled in the surprise stakes ever since we guessed he was in prison all along – but because it’s a relief to finally have answers: Episodes 8 and 9 of Sam Esmail’s sophomore run draw a line under the mysterious introspection that has felt more like padding here than the twisting narrative of Season 1. With Elliot’s admission to being in prison and why out of the way, Mr. Robot has rediscovered its momentum – and sends us careening towards a finale.
Answers, in fact, are everywhere in this crucial double-bill, but Esmail manages the difficult task of balancing exposition and entertainment expertly – a balance that was often uneven for much of this season’s first half. Episode 8 promptly gives an answer to what Operation Berenstain is: it’s the FBI’s highly dodgy surveillance of millions of people, just to track down the 16 suspects of the E-Corp hacking. One’s dead, Darlene discovers, which only triggers her fears: is that Mobley? Are the Feds onto them?
The show, which has always been adept at capturing the mental trauma of Elliot’s personality, is just as good at immersing itself in everyone else’s emotional state: here, we plunge head-first into Darlene and Fsociety’s paranoia, with Esmail’s dialogue and the soundtrack all driving the narrative forward with growing neurosis. One of the best scenes sees Mobley grilled by Dom in an FBI room, as she tries to work out where Tyrell is – Grace Gummer’s delivery is superb, her casual chewing of a lollipop adding real menace to her flippant authority. Being ordered to let Mobley go, because she has no justification to detain him, only makes her more intimidatingly reckless.
Darlene, meanwhile, is doing some investigating of her own, after Susan Jacobs turns up back at her house – but she accidentally kills her with a taser (as you do). After a mildly underwritten role in Season 1, Carly Chaikin is given more to do in this second run, and she gets better and better, from her determined recording of an Fsociety video (on VHS tape, no less) to her unpredictable eruptions of violence – after burning the body, she also attacks Cisco with a baseball bat when she realises he’s reporting on them to the Dark Army. It’s a brutal way to close out the episode, one that reinforces the similarities between Elliot and his sister.
With answers on the way and events quickly unfolding, it’s telling that the flashbacks now no longer provide us with superfluous flourishes, but with rewarding character insights – we get a brief glimpse of Mobley and Trenton meeting in a coffee shop, which fleshes them out into brilliantly rounded people, which the show also uses to generate suspense, as it juxtaposes it with them trying to rendezvous and escape.
As all this goes on, Angela is investigating too, as she hacks E-Corp and moves to leak that information to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission – but even then, there’s another puzzle that opens up, as the authorities act shady and we get a brief glimpse of Price and Whiterose’s plans, which seem to involve Angela doing exactly that. Sadly, though, there’s a downside to all this, as each new scene we have with Whiterose and Price only sees Michael Cristofer becoming hammier and hammier as the E-Corp CEO. His stylised delivery of Esmail’s speeches has a suitably Shakespearean vibe that matches the epic drama, but it also borders on self-parody the more we see it. By the time he’s demanding a bailout from China and threatening to rain down chaos, he’s gone from enjoyably over-the-top to a little forced.
It doesn’t help that where Price and Whiterose were once the more interesting half of the show, they now pale in comparison to the tension brewing between Elliot and Mr. Robot, who have started to disconnect in a bizarre way; Elliot thinks he’s doing one thing, but finds Mr. Robot doing another, a disconnect that puzzles them both, and cleverly leaves him (and us) missing key chunks of the plot. Elliot’s attempts to meet with the Dark Army are therefore unsuccessful, while Darlene is the one to discover that the Dark Army’s much-hyped Stage Two is actually Elliot’s idea. But what is it? And why is Joanna Wellick on Elliot’s door in her missing husband’s SUV? And who is knocking at Darlene’s door, in a manner similar to Elliot’s flat in Season 1’s finale? Who is the unexpected person encountered by Cisco? And will Dom find the VHS tape Darlene left at Susan’s house?
At the start of the season, these kind of teases were frustrating, but now, with the promise of actual answers to each new question, the loose ends are genuinely tantalising. Roll on Mr. Robot’s final three chapters.
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