Mr. Robot Recap: A Game to End All Games

Mr. Robot

Season 2 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Mr. Robot - Season 2
Christian Slater as Mr. Robot. Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Contrary to its signature visual style, Mr. Robot delights in narrative symmetry, and tonight’s episode is no exception. “eps2.2init1.asec” begins in the past and ends pointing toward the future, but the central image on both sides are the same: Elliot’s face lit by the glow of a computer screen. It took a while, but Mr. Robot has finally allowed Elliot to reclaim his superpower, and his new target is thrilling: “I’m hacking the F.B.I.,” he blandly states to the ever-hovering Mr. Robot, whose presence Elliot has, if not quite accepted, at least stopped fighting for the time being.

But before we get into that détente, let’s first step back to that opening scene, which literalizes the emergence of Mr. Robot in Elliot’s life, via a flashback to a fateful Halloween night. After spending most of this season watching Elliot talk to a voice in his head (or voices, depending how you interpret Ray, Leon, and Tyrell), it’s a relief to see him interact with a character we know and somewhat understand: Darlene, who reappears after a long absence to drop in on her big brother. Much of the siblings’ interaction is studiously casual, as they smoke a bowl and watch a torrented copy of an obscure (fake) slasher movie called The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie, which we learn is the source of that FSociety mask. But there’s also an obvious urgency to Darlene’s visit, which she communicates to Elliot with a code from their childhood: “init 1,” the first command he taught her, for “when you’re crashing.” We never get the details of why exactly Darlene is “crashing” — there’s some brief talk of panic attacks — but her presence draws out some trenchant details of the crash that led to Elliot rebooting as Mr. Robot.

I’ll be frank: The opening sequence is very heavy-handed, as is the majority of this episode. (Extended chess metaphor, ahoy!) But Mr. Robot has never been one for subtlety, and for all its extremely pointed dialogue — “This [movie] is definitely the root of all our psychological dysfunction” — the scene between Darlene and Elliot functions beautifully as an origin story for Mr. Robot and FSociety. Combined with last week’s opening of Romero and Mobley at the arcade, Mr. Robot is studiously filling in the backstory that it obscured in season one to maintain the mystery of Mr. Robot’s true nature. Now that we know the score, it’s pretty satisfying to go back and see the pieces fall into place from a more objective viewpoint, outside of Elliot’s skewed perception of things. (Note the lack of Elliot voice-over in this scene.) We get to see the warning signs of his impending break — he tells Darlene about getting fired for destroying a server room after he “fell asleep” — and hear some of Darlene’s motivations for joining FSociety. But most important, we see the moment when Elliot succumbs to Mr. Robot, as he dons the mask Darlene brought him as a joke, and puts on his late father’s jacket at his sister’s behest. Suddenly, he’s hypothesizing how he could bring down Evil Corp as a “Trojan Horse,” staring directly into the camera from behind the mask we know will become the symbol of FSociety. When he takes off the mask, Darlene asks, “You there?” It’s not entirely clear who “you” is in that moment, Elliot or Mr. Robot.

Despite the backward-looking opening, “eps2.2init1.asec” is more concerned with the future, which fits Elliot’s musings to Darlene from behind the mask: “The hard part would be after, during the fallout. That’s the key, the follow-through.” Elliot has borked the follow-through of the Five/Nine attack, leaving Darlene to muddle through the next stage of the plan while he retreats into fear and uncertainty in a prison of his own choosing. (In his present-day discussion with Darlene at their “mom’s house,” it’s reiterated that Elliot made the decision to be there. Combined with the fact that he regularly leaves the place for his appointments with Krista, I don’t think he’s in a hospital or prison, but he may be in some sort of halfway house or other semi-controlled space. We’ll see!) When Darlene tells him they have “something big” planned for the bailout vote in D.C., Elliot balks, telling her it wasn’t him, but rather “him” who lectured about the necessity of a strong follow-through. “Well, then maybe I need ‘him’ right now,” she tells him, “because what I’m seeing in front of me isn’t helping.”

It’s easy to understand Darlene’s frustration with her brother’s reticence to channel the persona that started down this path in the first place. Keeping a sinking ship afloat is pretty much impossible without all hands on deck, and Darlene’s term as interim FSociety leader has been plagued with difficulties (and death). She learns that Dom and the FBI have been snooping around the arcade, information that’s brought to her by Cisco via the Dark Army. It’s safe to say that “F,” “B,” and “I” are among the Dark Army’s least-favorite letters, so this revelation — not to mention Cisco’s post-coital bomb that Romero had been researching the FBI’s “Operation Berenstein” — puts a serious kink in the tenuous relationship between FSociety and the Dark Army, who suspect foul play.

Of course, what constitutes “foul play” with the Dark Army is an open question, particularly with season one’s closing revelation that Dark Army leader White Rose is in cahoots with Philip Price, who himself knows more about the Five/Nine attack than it seems he should. Tonight’s episode brings that relationship back to the fore, though it’s difficult to navigate exactly what White Rose and Price are up to. Whatever’s going on between them has something to do Price, Angela, and the Washington Township Scandal: White Rose asks Price why he’s putting his faith in “her,” and reminds Price that “closing the plant is not an option.” Assuming “the plant” they’re talking about is the Washington Township chemical plant, this seems to square with Angela’s idea that Price is trying to get “leverage” on her for something, though Price waves off her deal to get the lawsuit class to take out a third-party-inspection contingency that E Corp doesn’t want. Emboldened by her daily affirmations, Angela tells Price that she knows she’s not wrong. She’s probably not, but Price clearly has a longer con in mind, and it apparently involves White Rose.

How — or if — this all ties back to Elliot, the Five/Nine attacks, and FSociety is a mystery, but Price’s omnipotent demeanor gives the sense that he’s the one pulling the strings, and White Rose clearly has eyes on the FBI. (The report her assistant hands her is presumably the source of Cisco’s information for Darlene.) These powerful forces are conspiring to undo, or at least undermine, the work Elliot and FSociety did, which means it’s time for Elliot to get back in the game — or, to put it in the parlance of this episode, to “fight for the future.” And as Mr. Robot reminds him, that fight is “out there,” in the world, at a console, not in Elliot’s mind in front of a metaphorical chess game with no possible definitive outcome. When we finally get to see Elliot in front of that computer, it’s with Mr. Robot next to him — not banished, not in the driver’s seat, but looking over Elliot’s shoulder as he continues the work they started, together, as one.

Orphan Code:

  • Tonight in extremely pointed Mr. Robot music cues: Gustav Holst’s The Planets, specifically the “Mars: Bringer of War” suite, which plays over the title card as Elliot stares at the Rich Uncle Guy Fawkes mask that will come to symbolize FSociety.
  • Joanna Wellick is back this week, scrambling to hold things together in Tyrell’s absence. We learn she’s been paying off the parking attendant who guarded Tyrell’s SUV (and Elliot) in the days after the attack, something she may not be able to keep doing if her missing husband’s severance package isn’t released. But on the plus side, her dim-bartender sidepiece is giving her the low-stakes romance she needs to muddle through.
  • Some interesting framing in the shot where Darlene asks Elliot to put on their dad’s old jacket: She’s positioned a level below him, so that she looks dramatically shorter and smaller than her older brother, whom she’s literally looking up to in that moment.
  • Three cheers for the return of B.D. Wong, who gets a nice, meaty scene to chew on tonight. It includes a nice callback to the scene with Price last season, where White Rose referenced Rome burning: “While Rome may have burned in a day, it wasn’t built in one.”
  • Aww, Elliot saved a seat for us at his dream dinner in the middle of the street. What a guy.

Mr. Robot Recap: A Game to End All Games