Carly Chaikin as Darlene.
On last week’s episode of Mr. Robot, Elliot’s protective fantasy came crumbling down and reality opened in its wake. As predicted, Elliot is not living at his mother’s house, but rather stuck in prison, living such a painful lifestyle that his mind designed an alternative world for him. Many were frustrated by Esmail’s twist (including Vulture’s Matt Zoller Seitz, who used the opportunity to break apart “twisty” screenwriting), and argued that it signaled a reliance on storytelling gimmickry. Personally, I was mixed on the development, finding it somewhat irritating but still emotionally consistent with Elliot’s character. Still, I hoped that the series would move away from mind chess and back into the cyberthriller elements, which worked like gangbusters back in the first season.
“eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12” delivers on this idea in spades, depicting a separate fantasy as it crumbles to the ground, while externalizing the paranoia and fear into a tense, thrilling episode. It follows FSociety as they hack a damaging FBI conference call, confirming that the Feds have been spying on millions of Americans — only for E Corp general counsel Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt) to bust Darlene, Mobley, Trenton, and Cisco using her home as home base. As the group scrambles to figure out what to do now that she’s blown their cover, they turn to infighting as the reality of their actions crashes down upon them. It’s clear that the FBI is hunting them, a high-ranking corporate official is tied up in the basement, and the city is in shambles. Naturally, the key members of FSociety start to think as individuals and less as a unified brain trust.
To put it bluntly, it’s satisfying to hear series creator Sam Esmail even pay lip service to internal doubt regarding the Five/Nine attack, let alone inject it into the narrative. While FSociety are dyed-in-the-wool revolutionaries, and that undoubtedly comes with a certain share of arrogant self-superiority, their smug attitudes often grated, especially since Esmail frequently depicts the world that they have created: a chaotic, terrified place where people are willing and eager to turn on each other. So when Mobley finally comes out and says the obvious — “What we did was colossally fucking stupid and we can’t afford not to realize that anymore” — it lands like a much-needed verdict, especially after so many lines have been skirted and so many shoes dropped. It’s rare for insurgent groups to remain ideologically connected for this long; it’s even rarer when their actual safety is at risk.
However, their uncertainty doesn’t change the physical reality of Susan Jacobs returning home without any warning. While tied up in the basement, she tries to mealy-mouth her way to freedom and eventually gives herself a severe head wound when she tries to attack Trenton. The rest of the team searches for information to blackmail her, but Darlene has a different idea. She wants to look Susan in the eye and explain why this is happening, why FSociety infiltrated their secret, shadowy world: It’s a personal vendetta. When Evil Corp was cleared of any wrongdoing for the toxic-waste leak that killed Edward Alderson, Darlene saw Susan laughing in the courtroom. She may have been four years old, but she remembers it very well, so well that she doesn’t hesitate to kill Susan by capitalizing on her heart condition and zapping a stun gun at her heart. She lies to the rest of the group, claiming self-defense, but Mobley and Trenton know immediately that they are in the presence of a murderer.
Susan’s murder becomes the schism within FSociety. Darlene sends Trenton and Mobley away while she and Cisco wipe down the apartment and dispose of the body, but it’s effectively an act of disintegration. Darlene has forgone all trust within the group by placing them in this situation, Mobley and Trenton are already looking for a way out, and Cisco has plans of his own despite his relationship with Darlene. With the writing on the wall, paranoia sets in among the group. Mobley has a pizza guy deliver his food into the apartment to see if anyone is waiting for them. Trenton nervously watches a car speed off outside of her parents’ place. Darlene and Cisco nervously watch as cops patrol the train while they carry Susan’s body in a duffel bag. Mac Quayle’s score has always been a series highlight, but it becomes a dominating force in this episode, instilling every quick crosscut or tightly focused, dimly lit shot with palpable dread. Everyone’s looking over their shoulders now.
One of the most purely exciting episodes of the series to date, credit goes evenly to Esmail (who directed the episode), credited writer Courtney Looney, and editor Franklin Peterson, all of whom had a hand in devising an hour fueled by controlled anxiety. Part of the episode’s success is its narrow focus — it mostly stays with FSociety, except for cuts to minor story lines with Angela and DiPierro — but also because it’s paced within an inch of its life, not wasting a moment and trusting the audience’s history with the characters to do the heavy lifting. The tension derives equally from external factors and internal machinations, a cross section of bad luck and idealism gone wrong. Esmail relies on the claustrophobia of open space in Susan’s apartment as well as New York itself, capturing how lonely and terrified his subjects feel even though they’re surrounded by so much and so many. It’s an ugly feeling in a series filled with them.
The episode only ratchets up the fear by the end, as things obviously get worse. Mobley is questioned by DiPierro, not for his high-level involvement in FSociety, but because of the End of the World Party poster found in Romero’s apartment that tipped off his hacker name. DiPierro eventually lets Mobley go since the FBI can’t justify holding a suspect for 12 hours without a warrant, but he takes this as a sign to jump ship, contacting Trenton to meet up so they can escape for good. Meanwhile, Darlene spends the night at Cisco’s place and discovers he sold her out to the Dark Army, who are hot on her trail. We end on parallel shots of Trenton nervously looking at a coffee-shop door, waiting for Mobley to arrive, and Darlene bashing Cisco’s face in with a bat. The world FSociety created in its own image has betrayed them, and it’s only the beginning.
- The best scene in the episode, if not the season, is the cross-cut montage between FSociety hacking Susan’s emails and Angela singing a cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s a genuinely beautiful moment that conveys a dirty cocktail of emotions.
- Angela’s B-story is a bit of a retread, but it demonstrates her conflicted feelings regarding her own job. When her father’s friend berates her for being a corporate shill, she accepts the blow … but then turns around and insults his working-class job. She’s playing both sides of the coin and doesn’t know how to proceed, and she ends up with Duck Phillips from Mad Men.
- The guy Angela picks up a few episodes ago turns out to be an FBI plant, but he admits to DiPierro that she’s a fortress. He can’t see retrieving any incriminating evidence from her.
- Remember Ron’s Coffee? The place Elliot infiltrated in the first scene of the pilot? It finally makes another appearance in this episode. It’s where everyone meets up!
- Grace Gummer again gives a great performance as DiPierro, and even makes a reference to being a fan of Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion!