Mr. Robot Recap: There Is No Normal

Mr. Robot

Season 2 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Mr. Robot - Season 2
Portia Doubleday as Angela. Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Near the end of “eps2.7_init_5.fve,” Dom DiPierro forces her way into Angela’s apartment to tell her about a dream that ended in disaster. One moment, she sees a beautiful woman, and the next, she’s being held under water, gasping for air. Before she leaves, Dom reveals the message of her dream: As soon as she stopped struggling, she found a way to survive.

Almost every character in Mr. Robot is flailing underwater right now. The proverbial shit has hit the fan: Mobley and Trenton are AWOL. The Dark Army is seemingly offing FSociety members one by one. The FBI is hot on their trail. There’s little else to do but freak out and make rash, desperate decisions. Elliot and FSociety hacked E Corp to change the world, and now they’re truly reckoning with that change. But what if the chaos they’re facing isn’t as random as it seems?

After last week’s tense powerhouse of an episode, it would be understandable if “eps2.7_init_5.fve” slowed down the pace or eased up on the tension. Instead, it pretty much maintains a steady boil as Elliot, Darlene, and Cisco contend with growing fallout while Angela tries to blow the whistle on E Corp’s toxic-waste leaks. The episode is largely a success because credited writers Kyle Bradstreet and Lucy Teitler pare down the focus, which allows the narrative to keep moving at an eager clip. It moves so fast, it’d actually be easy to miss key information, especially regarding Phillip Price’s complicated deal with Whiterose. This would be a problem for most shows, but oddly enough, it’s a boon for Mr. Robot. The first half of the season spent too long spinning wheels; now, story lines are progressing at twice the speed, so the show feels more compelling.

Bradstreet and Teitler set aside time to spell out Elliot’s exact situation in prison, but thankfully, it’s relegated to a tightly edited pre-credits sequence. In short: Lenny, Krista’s married boyfriend from whom Elliot stole a dog, had him arrested for felony theft and computer hacking. Though his lawyer promises to get the sentence reduced, Elliot decides to plead guilty to all counts and head to prison for 18 months. Ray is the prison warden and Lone Star his right-hand man. “That’s everything you missed,” Elliot tells us, and he’s right. It’s both a relief and one of the smartest moves showrunner Sam Esmail has made this season: At long last, Mr. Robot nails a sequence by cutting unnecessary fat and communicating in the bare essentials.

Meanwhile, Angela, frustrated that her risk-management position doesn’t grant her access to E Corp’s incriminating information, decides to take a play out of the FSociety handbook and hack the information herself. After concocting an excuse to distract a secretary, she sneaks into her boss’s office and transfers the contents of his computer onto a thumb drive. She promptly finds her smoking gun and takes it to the authorities at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who confirm its worth. After waiting all day, though, Angela gets spooked when deputy director Phelps takes her down a long hallway and begins asking nosy questions. Paranoia has infected everyone, it seems, even the country at large. It’s fitting that the episode is punctuated by brief brownouts, as if the world itself is struggling to maintain power.

But Angela’s fear has nothing on Elliot’s. After believing he’s regained control of his mental faculties, Elliot discovers he’s much worse outside of the hallucination he constructed in prison. He’s starting to completely disassociate from Mr. Robot, often stuck watching him perform actions from the outside. (Or inside, as it were.) When he enjoys a moment of privacy in the bathroom of Cisco’s apartment, he hears Darlene and Cisco fighting, only for them both to be quieted by Mr. Robot’s voice. He opens the door to see Mr. Robot lecturing them about the next stage of the plan. The surreality only increases from there, as Elliot’s whole existence literally flickers before his eyes, like there’s a faulty connection in his head.

Although Elliot/Mr. Robot were tiresome in the first half of the season, mostly due to their repetitive arguments and overwrought exchanges, their relationship takes on a much darker, more frightening tone in “eps2.7_init_5.fve.” Both characters fear the sudden, inexplicable changes to Elliot’s psyche: Why has he gotten even more detached from the world just as he’s reentering it? When Elliot sees Mr. Robot talking to Cisco in a subway car, it’s a devastating moment of self-realization: Perhaps Mr. Robot has been operating unconsciously this whole time, devising hacks and plotting devastation without Elliot’s knowledge. For a while, Elliot was the one who kept us in the dark. Now, he understands that he’s right there with us — and he doesn’t have a flashlight.

Bradstreet and Teitler all but confirm this in the episode’s second-to-last scene. After Elliot hacks Cisco’s Dark Army contact, Xun, he forces Cisco to arrange a meeting so he can figure out their intentions and learn more about the mysterious “Stage 2.” When he’s face-to-face with Xun, Elliot spooks them in order to get Xun talking on his hacked phone. He happens to be right, just not in the way he intended: While Darlene listens in on Xun’s call, she learns that Elliot is the one behind Stage 2. In other words, Mr. Robot has been working with the Dark Army beyond Elliot’s knowledge. He’s the order behind the chaos.

Though Esmail and Co. frequently deploy cliffhanger twists, it’s telling that they don’t tip their hand too far here. This reveal works for two reasons: (1) It happens organically, and (2) it increases the general mood of distrust and fear that permeates the series. We could never trust Elliot, but we believed his unreliability would be limited by certain barriers of self-preservation. But now? He’s a rogue element. He might even be actively working to sabotage FSociety from within. In total, it adds a new layer of intrigue to a season that’s suffered more than its share of missteps.

Just look how far we’ve gone since the premiere episode: FSociety has fallen apart. Mr. Robot is working independently of Elliot. The FBI has been tracking Angela for months. The world of Mr. Robot is getting smaller and smaller, and our narrator’s mind has revealed itself to be a total liability. As Elliot says, there is no normal anymore.

Orphan Code:

  • We end with three unknowns: (1) Who is in Susan Jacobs’s apartment when Cisco returns to retrieve Darlene’s videotape? (2) Who is knocking at Cisco’s apartment door? (3) Why is Joanna waiting for Elliot outside of his apartment?
  • Another great soundtrack choice: Depeche Mode’s “Walking in My Shoes” scores the end of the pre-credit sequence.
  • Turns out the prison had old DVDs available for inmates. Before he got started on Seinfeld, Leon watched all of Mad About You and believes Paul Reiser to be a genius.
  • One last prison detail: It seems like Elliot got early release from prison due to budget concerns in the wake of Five/Nine, though he suspects the Dark Army may have played a role.
  • Whiterose pisses on the grave of the old E Corp CEO, which is delightfully absurd. All else aside, B.D. Wong is having a blast.
  • In a key moment of self-awareness, Cisco criticizes FSociety’s use of videotapes. “Why do you use them? Because they’re cool?”
  • Another episode, another Nancy Grace appearance. Almost seems like an inside joke at this point, doesn’t it?

Mr. Robot Recap: There Is No Normal