Mr. Robot: “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc” & “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc” Review

by Stephen

robot_s2ep1_elliotbasketballPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

The sky is falling. The end is nigh. The day of reckoning is here. Take a look around at the state of our modern world and we find ourselves wrapped in an ever-growing presence of bleakness, despair and bloodshed. Uncertainty over our futures. Chaos becoming normalized. Violence settling into our day-to-day routines. It seems to me that with the two-part premiere of Mr. Robot’s second season, showrunner Sam Esmail and his writers have taken a good hard look at this current landscape and have chosen to slop that sentiment thick and heavy onto their own show. Like Mr. Esmail promised last fall, Season 2 is supposedly going to get “really fucking dark“. And after viewing Episode 1, it seems like the show is well on his way towards getting there.

But it’s the method by which Mr. Esmail and his writers fold in that darkness that allows the show not to devolve into a vignette of shock value scenes but rather steer towards a nuanced social critique. And they do that by adding in thought, concepts and beliefs into the show in a way that’s not too on the nose. The church group that Elliot attends. Therapy sessions with Krista. The solipsizing monologues by our main protagonist. The book of Revelations recited at the episode’s end. Nietzsche once famously wrote, “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back.” Here, Mr. Robot encourages its viewers to gaze into its pit of despair and brokenness. In return, the show channels back a furious and biting commentary on the state of our broken existence. The imagery and themes are thick and heavy. The visuals of a flaming pile of money just barely lapping away at a pristine One World Trade Center in the background. A quick economic rehash of the 2008 Financial Crisis led by E Corp CEO Phillip Price. A flash of a Nancy Grace segment as a character flips through morning TV programming. These are less-than-subtle hints. Flickers of an American pastime marred by crisis and fear. And it breaks down any happy thoughts for our character’s futures.

robot_s2ep1_elliotrobotroomPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

We find Elliot at the beginning of the Season Two in a state of self-regression. He has gone radio-silent. Quit cold turkey. Disconnected if you will (mind the pun). Enrolling himself into a rigid existence that involves meal-based meetings with his new friend Leon (portrayed by Joey Bada$$), shacking up with his über-austere mother and most importantly, no interaction with any electronics or the internet whatsoever. And we get it at this point. He’s trying to extract the tumor that is Mr. Robot from his consciousness. But it won’t be as easy as a bullet to the cheek. No, this goes much deeper. There is something truly, deeply and frighteningly wrong with Elliot’s mind. From the visceral hallucinations of self-inflicted wounds and the chronic sleepwalking bouts. Elliot is far more fragile and volatile than the last time we’ve seen him. And most importantly, with him being the unreliable narrator of the show, this only heightens our distrust of what appears on the screen.

Meanwhile, Gideon, Darlene and Angela are all still contending with the fallout or direct consequences of their actions from season one. Gideon finds himself under the crushing scrutiny of the F.B.I. in relation to the E Corp hacks. Darlene still is mentally distraught by the little progress her hacks have achieved in the grand scheme of things. And Angela faces a existential crisis, trying to find meaning in work or sex or self-affirmation but ultimately failing to do so. So, the chessboard is in place with our main players for this season. Their arcs are visible. That is, until the most innocent of those three gets their brains blown out. With Gideon’s murder, a critical moral core for this season is lost. Earlier on, when he pleaded for Elliot to tell the F.B.I. the truth about the hacks, it felt like the show’s certain desperation for ethics and order before it’s final plunge. Elliot refused Gideon’s pleas but felt bothered enough by the Gideon’s hopelessness. Now, the show is free to spiral downward into a complete tailspin with the remaining three. Elliot, Darlene and Angela. I suspect that this season will see how far it can push these three characters into the darkness without any appropriate guardians or blowback victims to remind them of their moral straying, responsibility or guilt.

robot_s2ep1_elliotrobotPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

“Unmasked” is the key word in the title of the first episode for Season 2. Elliot muses throughout the episode, saying pertinent things such as, “How do I take off the mask when it stops being the mask” and “What mask do you wear?”. He fights with his alter-ego Mr. Robot, a malcontent specter of his father intent on getting him back in “the game”. Throughout the first episode, they struggle back and forth. In conversations with strangers. In the bedroom alone with an imaginary gun, fake threats and hallucinatory bullet wounds. Elliot thinks he’s in control. The strict regiment is working for him. Until, he realizes it isn’t. Mr. Robot has found a loophole. Sleep. And during times of Elliot’s supposed slumbering, Mr. Robot awakes and begins to sow technologic chaos a la Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem. The mask is being placed back on. And this time its seems to be permanently affixed as Mr. Robot slyly declares to Elliot, “I’m gonna make you realize…that they see me”.

Losing battles. All of the characters in Mr. Robot are facing them in one way or another. Their futures seem personally apocalyptic in a sense. The readings from Revelations 21 at the episode’s end only further accentuates those feelings of Armageddon. There is no exit from this “infinite loop of insanity” as Elliot notes. That sense of bleakness for the future can also be seen in a seemingly out-of-joint scene in Part 1 of the first episode. The smart home of Madam Executioner that Darlene hacks is reminiscent of a short story by Ray Bradbury called “There Will Come Soft Rains”. In the story, all characters have died via nuclear war. All that remains is a smart home in California that slowly erodes into nothingness. That decay is relatable to the chaos that unfolds in Madam Executioner’s hacked smart home. Alarms blare. Sound system roar. Lights flash. It’s a reminder that our faith in technology is a fake promise, a lie, a con in “con-fidence” as the CEO of E Corp notes.

robot_s2ep1_ramiPhoto: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Therefore, moving forward, there is no shred of trust and goodwill we can give Mr. Robot in the upcoming episodes. As Elliot further descends into madness, the reality of the show becomes more complex and deceptive as his alter-ego. And while we cannot trust the storyline, there is a profound sense of fun and intrigue for us viewers due to that type of narrative uncertainty. Moreover, the moral culpability of Elliot’s actions are incredibly damning. Gideon’s blood is on Elliot’s hands. And with Gideon being a forced player in Elliot’s hacking scheme, he is simply collateral damage. His end was to muse about his failed existence over a neat cocktail and then bleed out on the floor of some random Manhattan bar. For every action, there is a reaction. And Gideon’s death shows that this show is more than willing to exhibit the consequences of its main character’s madness. But the question remains, just how far down does Elliot’s rabbit hole of insanity go?

Watch Mr. Robot Season 2 on USA Network at 10/9C on Wednesdays.