A host of flaws are baked into Mr. Robot — pretentious dialogue, cheap visual homage, half-baked nihilism — but the series usually overcomes them all with sheer confidence in its storytelling and characterization. That's why, in the show's second season, it's been such a surprise to see Sam Esmail and Co. stranding their characters in isolated subplots with meandering narratives.
Mr. Robot doesn't need to constantly move its plot forward to be successful, but when its pacing is largely beholden to new characters and the chaos of the post-Five/Nine world, the cracks in the system appear more readily. So, here's the good news: After four episodes of swaggery table-setting and wheel-spinning, Mr. Robot finally starts to bring some of the pieces together in "eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc," an episode that brings Elliot back into action, features a shoot-out in China, and introduces Angela to the core of FSociety.
With Agent DiPierro closing in on FSociety, Elliot furtively hacks the FBI's phones while he's supposed to be working on Ray's website, but full control of their system requires a physical drop at the FBI office stationed in Evil Corp's headquarters. This means Angela has to get involved, especially because the federal investigation can lead back to her CD in Allsafe. (Remember Angela's dumb-bro boyfriend and that "mixtape" he took way back in the beginning of the first season?) Obviously Elliot doesn't want her to get mixed up in FSociety, but after Angela meets with Ollie and discovers he's already given up info to the Feds (albeit nothing that can tie it back to her), she decides to help.
From a macro perspective, this is a lot of effort to get the gang back together, but writer Kyle Bradstreet has a good handle on masking that problem on a micro level. (And in doing so, he pens the first episode of the season not credited to Esmail.) The scenes with Angela succinctly convey her reluctance to join the cause, as well as her eventual acceptance. Much of this can be attributed to Portia Doubleday, who has captured the shaky confidence and divided interests of her character wonderfully this season, and it also demonstrates the conviction and nerve that propelled Mr. Robot to great heights in its freshman year. It's a good thing when a TV show can tell a compelling story by simply getting one character from Point A to Point B.
Meanwhile, DiPierro and her team head to China to meet with the country's Minister of State Security, who turns out to be Whiterose, the head of the Dark Army. Disguised in menswear, Whiterose becomes suspicious when DiPierro pointedly asks for intelligence on Dark Army members, and gives her a long tour of her home in a sequence that stops the episode dead in its tracks. (Nice clocks, though.) It mostly serves to heighten Whiterose's mystery and provide some bulky exposition for DiPierro's character, until it leads to a dynamite shoot-out between masked gunmen and the FBI. Though Esmail can sometimes privilege showy style over anything else in the visual department, this scene illustrates how simple choices behind the camera can create effective tension all on their own. Filmed in a tracking shot that (surprisingly) doesn't call attention to itself, Esmail stays with DiPierro's perspective during the shoot-out, capturing the violence from behind a counter where she's hiding. It's a genuinely thrilling moment that brings a jolt of energy to the episode just as it starts to slack, and gives Grace Gummer a chance to effortlessly communicate her character's professionalism and sheer terror all in one go.
In other unrelated subplots, Joanna orders her security detail to kill the parking-garage attendant who saw Tyrell in the aftermath of the Five/Nine hack. At this point, both characters feel too disconnected from the rest of the show: While Esmail likely has a plan for them in the future, every time he cuts back to Joanna's exploits, it feels like wasted time. Tyrell was a weak link in the first season, and it took Esmail the entire year to bring him into Elliot's circle. Perhaps Tyrell works best as an absent figure, someone who hangs over the series's action like a ticking time bomb, but Joanna's story line with Evil Corp and their newborn child feels like a way to justify his relevancy long past his use-by date.
Finally, there's Elliot, who returns to his terminal where Mr. Robot believes he belongs. The pre-credits sequence features Elliot in classic hacker mode, using tech jargon to explain how he's hacking the Feds while also comparing it to the time he broke into the Washington Township Public Library's computer system as a kid. "I live for this shit," he says in that detached, monotone voice, and it feels victorious even though it's a detriment to his mental health. Of course, that feeling doesn't last. Just after he jumps back in to bail Darlene and FSociety out of a jam, he discovers that Ray, the seemingly sweet guy who walks his dog by the basketball court, runs an online black market that sells weapons, high-grade narcotics, and enslaved children. Despite Mr. Robot's insistence that they're fighting other battles, Elliot wants to do some good for the world. He wants to be the superhero and take down the bad guys. Well, here's a bad guy right under his nose. Can he deny this chance like Mr. Robot demands? Or has his logic bomb finally detonated, leaving him with no option but to go after Ray?
For the past three episodes, Rami Malek has proven time and time again that he's the emotional center of Mr. Robot, often keeping the entire ship afloat with his stellar internal performance. Malek has imbued Elliot with such powerfully conflicted humanity since the beginning of the series, and since Esmail has basically isolated him from every character but the one in his head, he often dominates each episode simply by showing up. He doesn't get a ton to do in "eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc," but his scenes are still standouts, especially Elliot's conversation with Mr. Robot about the utilitarian nature of his hacker talents. Mr. Robot wants Elliot to leave his analog world and fight — but only the targets he deems appropriate and in a way that satisfies him. Elliot recognizes that Ray's black market is a target he stumbled upon, not one that was fed to him by his dead father, and he has to take a stand. But just when Elliot decides for himself, Ray and his goons kidnap him from his bed and beat the hell out of him for snooping where he wasn't supposed to. There's no two ways about it: It's tough work being a modern-day vigilante.
- This week in eye-rolling dialogue: the phrase "programmatic expression of my will."
- Yep, Ollie is still a clueless bro. In his brief appearance, he proudly drinks Bud Light, reminisces about Josh Groban, and describes Gideon's murder as "crazy sad." Esmail may be whaling on an easy target, but it's satisfying nonetheless.
- E. Corp's backup facility, Steel Mountain, the one that Elliot infiltrated in the first season, has changed its name to Steel Valley. DiPierro is right — it's a terrible name.
- DiPierro's colleague is upset that there is no General Tso's chicken to be found in China. He also describes the Chinese as "savages."
- Joanna wanted Kareem to be paralyzed before his murder, so he would have some awareness of his final minutes and "die with answers." Otherwise, she says, she'd be a ruthless murderer. If there's one thing that Mr. Robot constantly emphasizes, it's that delusion is a powerful drug.