A meandering Mr. Robot continues to undercut the show’s central tensions

A meandering Mr. Robot continues to undercut the show’s central tensions
MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.2_init_1.asec" Episode 204 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christian Slater as Mr. Robot, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

MR. ROBOT — “eps2.2_init_1.asec” Episode 204 — Pictured: (l-r) Christian Slater as Mr. Robot, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson — (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

The moment Elliot sits down behind Ray’s computer to “help” him with his site migration issues, it feels like Mr. Robot‘s second season finally begins to breathe, the bottled-up tension relaxing a bit as the show moves away from its newly-developed style of the first four episodes, and back into its true identity as a hacker drama with some philosophic undertones. Unfortunately, it took four lengthy hours to get there: and as “eps2.2_init1.asec” whiplashes back and forth between perspectives, characters, and periods of time, the disjointed nature of the season to this point slowly begins to collapse in on itself, saved just in the nick of time by Elliot finally sitting behind a f*cking computer chair again.

That’s not to say “eps2.2_init1.asec” is a lengthy bore: however, the show’s struggle to find balance between the conflict in Elliot’s head and the realities surrounding that internal clusterf*ck causes a lot of this episode’s conflict to collapse in on itself. Last week’s episode already established the stalemate Elliot and Mr. Robot are locked in; spending an hour wrapping it around a lazy chess metaphor only exacerbates the issue of this story drowning out everything else around it, which are inarguably the more intriguing, dramatic elements of this show. We still don’t know what happened to Tyrell (Det. Dominique finds a bullet casing in the f.society home base, but that doesn’t mean anything), and the larger, societal fallout from Five/Nine really hasn’t had the dramatic impact the show needed it to have, after building up the act so much in the show’s first nine episodes. Those hours, laced with the misanthropy of the Occupy generation and enhanced by the stylistic choices by the episode directors, aimed at building a story with a theatrically large ending – which in turn, was then capsized when the real Big Plot was the ruse of Mr. Robot’s identity, and Elliot’s sanity.

That reveal tipped the dramatic balance of the show in a way it has struggled to recover from, replacing its deeper sociological questions for more short-term, dramatic questions focused on one character’s sanity. There are rough outlines of other stories happening in both “eps2.2_init1.asec” and the episodes before it; but these amount to one or two scenes an episode, in a way highlighting the disjointed nature of the show, as Elliot spirals deeper and deeper into his own hole, and the rest of the world around him moves around Truman Show-style, depicting events and moments, but never in a way that progresses a character (even Angela, who gets put in her place yet again by Master P), or even entertains a deeper story. There are inklings and hints of these things – Darlene losing control of her newfound ‘movement’, Ray being sketchy as hell – but these first four episodes play them with the same coyness as they do with Elliot’s mental capacities, which leaves a lot of the material floating adrift, unable to attach itself to any solid ideology, narrative, or emotion.

There are stories to be told here, but Mr. Robot is so caught up in the Elliot/Mr. Robot dynamic, it’s drowning out the other characters and stories of the show, even as these stories are trying to adopt the same pacing and visual intensity of Elliot’s scenes. The dramatic tambor of Elliot and Mr. Robot screaming at each other is designed to play in direct contrast with the quieter, starkly shadowed scenes around it: unsurprisingly, the volume of the former is drowning out the subtleties of the latter, leaving no room for the show to develop the sense of mystery and nuance it teases in scenes like Whiterose putting her face on for the day, or when Elliot considers the role Gideon ultimately played in his attempt to take back the world.

Perhaps the most underrated, underdeveloped element of this all is our Alexa-friendly FBI agent Dominique DiPierro, who draws the interest of Whiterose as she continues to burrow her way headfirst into the fog surrounding f.society. Grace Gummer is giving an awesome performance in the role, but Mr. Robot won’t engage with the depth she’s bringing to the character: the writing around her character has been pretty standardized “female lone cop” fare, from the unsatisfied sex life to the “unsexy” habits and dress style, to the way she commands a crime scene yet can’t seem to get the respect she deserves from the local cops around her. Her performance is begging to breakout on this show, but the scene-stealing moments so far have been contained to Remi Malek and Craig Robinson (and to a surprising degree, Joey Badass), obfuscating the energy she brings to the bleak world around Elliot by burying her in an undeniably familiar archetype.

Hopefully the closing moments of “eps2.2_init1.asec” end this long-winded experiment down the rabbit hole of Elliot’s brain: his battles with reality work best on the fringes of the show. The closer his unstable nature is to the center of the show’s plot, the more weightless everything gets: if we can’t believe in anything that’s happening in front of our eyes, the meaning of the material is lost amongst the debate of finding bread crumbs to the “truth” being hid by Sam Esmail and company. Oddly enough, the straighter Mr. Robot is in both style and delivery, the more engaging its stark views on reality, society, and humanity become: the more it delves into the shadows and half-truths surrounding everyone, everything is reduced to an ineffective, extremely visually engaging blur of monochromatic sounds and images. Hopefully, a return to hacking will put the pieces of Mr. Robot back in the places they belong.

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