Mr. Robot_2.0_eps2.2_init1.asec Review

Straight back to the hack. This is what we came for.



“I live for this shit”

– Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot_2.0

… and the word of the week is – characterisation! Something 2.0 has shown us no end of over the past fortnight especially. Whereas other blockbuster shows of recent memory have approached their run-time in a much more episodic manner, Mr. Robot has used it’s second season to take a figurative back step, and one that ultimately may push it into becoming one of the more memorable contemporary shows of the moment. The reason this is important if we’re talking about longevity is that for a show that concerns itself with moral ambiguity (it’s a show about hacking after all), moving away from the protagonist / antagonist narrative of the first season has allowed Sam Esmail to world build, not just climax build season on season.

mrrobot2While the latest season started off slowly, it seems to have found it’s feet moving towards the midway point in the series, importantly giving us back story and origins of Mr. Robot himself. Episode 4, eps2.2_init1.asec begins with a flashback (sorry guys, we still don’t know who appears at the door at the end of season one) of Darlene arriving at Elliot’s door on Halloween wearing an all too familiar mask. Settling down to watch an old favourite film together, ‘The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie’, in which a masked monopoly man figure axe murders members of the ruling elite in true Hammer Horror B-movie fashion, they discuss it’s poignancy; “I mean, clearly what the film is doing is debunking the notion that American society is classless, meritocracy my ass, long live the oligarchy!… this is definitely the root of all of our psychological dysfunction.” A line which could just as easily be applied to the faux film or the ethical world that the show occupies. It’s an on the nose tie-in with V for Vendetta and by proxy the Anon collective, that while skirting the thriller / action territory that James McTeigure’s film adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel fixes upon in order to elucidate the idea of civil unrest, also allows the show to explore it’s psychological horror roots on-screen. When Elliot puts the mask and his fathers old work jacket on, epiphany strikes! He begins meditating aloud on the prospect of using Allsafe to crack and destroy Ecorp. It’s a lovely sequence, eery in it’s own right and while skirting cliché with looking directly at the camera and having his duality of self literally represented by the mask he wears, is dutifully executed and filled with gravitas.

The sequence borrows the haunting Op. 32: VII from Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ suite, say what you will about Mac Quayle, but his compositional skills have at points made the scenes they’re put to use in. Most interestingly though is how this scene bleeds into the end of the episode and for the duration of eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc. It’s been a while now since we’ve seen Elliot step up and take control in the way we came to love in the pilot, ruining the lives of paedophile coffee shop owners and hacking cheating husbands. His duality towards the end of season one seemed like it could become a dead end for the show if not pulled off with enough tact and with a clear enough end motive in sight. Especially as post-hack and for the first 3 episodes of 2.0 we’ve all kind of been left wondering what exactly is going on and where Fsociety are going to progress to from this point. The step back in forward narrative has been well documented, but as slow as the pace has been objectively of late, it’s not been without purpose, which is probably the most important thing a show can do in televisions golden cinematic age.

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init1.asec and logic-b0mb.hc represent a tipping point for the main narrative, from Elliot literally battling for his consciousness in an endlessly stalemate game of chess, from which point on we see him finally get back behind a terminal, the end line of episode 4? “I’m hacking the FBI”. This is the completion of the psychosis narrative we needed, and a collective sigh of relief can be breathed from the very first few minutes of episode 5. Flash to Elliot, still sitting down at Ray’s house, breaking down his hack step-by-step for the layman with the programs use of almost entirely accurate chat and code. We all know that Esmail has done his homework by now, but it’s still executed beautifully.

With regards to the technical side of the show, until logic-b0mb.hc (also the name of the malware used in the zero day android exploit Elliot uses to exploit the feds) again we’ve been left kind of in stasis, but with Ray and his hilariously named henchman ‘Lonestar’ (easily on par with Cisco), coming more to light as a different sort of villain, Mr. Robot has now given us a much more comprehensive look at the real internet and the capabilities therein. After being told “not to look”, obviously a redundant sentiment for any hacker, Elliot is then faced with his biggest moral dilemma since tackling Vera (Elliot Villar). He’s stumbled into working for a TOR based deepweb site selling child porn, under-aged trafficked slaves, drugs and hitmen for hire. He even logs in under the alias ‘Dread_Pirate_Roberts’, the infamous admin of the late Silk Road website (where users were able to buy chemical drugs with digital currency). This is the dark side of the internet, the antithesis of Hacktivism, the things that David Cameron and Theresa May would have you believe is rife on most clearweb search engines, putting children at risk across the globe. Of course this isn’t even close to the case, which is why it’s nice to not be pandered to by a show scared of alienating it’s audience. If anything, 2.0 is hell bent on alienation. You either know what you’re seeing, or you’re walking in blind to something that’s going to shock you, and that’s the way it should be. Obviously we as an audience are as shocked as Elliot is by this, and the ramifications that follow when Ray finds out will almost definitely be the catalyst for further deep moralist hacking on the part of our protagonist. From now on we predict that the second half of the season will pick up a pace with a renewed body of context that if it maintains course, could succeed where the likes of True Detective failed in living up to expectations.

mrrobotSpeaking of characterisation and tech savvy language and delivery, probably the best thing about the last two episodes has been Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer). She’s a superbly strong leading character who has been given more and more depth with each scene she has. She understand the culture of the thing that she’s fighting “they’re hackers, brazen, they believe in hiding in plain sight”, and has been written so as to avoid any of the archetypal FBI agent roles that she could have so easily fallen into. During her dialogue with White Rose the show plays with our expectations, we expect something tired, “A love story?”, instead she tells a story that is as perfectly anticlimactic as any real dialogue between two people is, which is nothing short of refreshing. She walked away from a comfortable life because she just didn’t want it, then she found herself working for the FBI a number of years later. The character has a real passion for her role and for computing it seems, but one that doesn’t seem to translate well wit the rest of her division. When they find the bullet that implicates Fsociety in making the arcade their base of operations, she’s met with the disbelief of her colleagues “this is just, too stupid” “well what does that say about us then that we’re just now finding it? We’re bringing in everyone from these photos, check social media, Facebook, Twitter.” It’s a fun thing for the show to do, rather than just fall into the TV trap of assuming that the government are infallible agents working around the clock that can’t be stopped. In fact DiPierro is unique in that she is competent enough to realise what’s going on and not allow things to slip through the net. At one point during a data surfing job to try and track down the hackers, a staff member lingers of Mobley’s photo from the arcade party, before simply moving on to another image. Again we hark back to the season 2 tag line “Control is an Illusion.” Simple but effective.

The White Rose (loosely based on Wicked Rose from China’s NCPH collective) narrative is also an interesting one, being another example of a hacker being brazen beyond belief, he smacks more than a little of Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal in this season, baiting the authorities and DiPierro by showing her his ‘sisters’ dresses (when she already knows he has no sister), hypothesising with her about the details of the five/nine hack and talking at length with her about the idea of time, he’s a calculating character with some fantastic lines, especially considering the Chinese machine gun shoot-out that sends DiPierro and the rest of her associates reeling. This may have been a warning, nothing more. With White Rose pulling strings on both sides, one doesn’t imagine that he’d have a hard time ordering a hit on loose ends. Cisco? Darlene? Elliot. Although we still don’t know who’s responsible for the murder of Romero, it seems less and less likely that the Dark Army are behind it. What we do know is that White Rose is nothing if not as anarchistic as Mr. Robot and Fsociety, but with a lot more reach and power, enough to commit murder. Our prediction so far is that again the motif of control will be employed to the point of government agents working against the system they’re supposed to be helping rebuild while at the same time covering they’re tracks with the likes of Darlene and Elliot. Remember the finale quote from last season in which Rose talks about the 64AD burning of Rome, supposedly by the emperor Nero himself who then stood and watched? We’re beyond Guy Fawkes (/Mr. Monopoly) masks here, this has become about a true and permanent tipping of power, from the top down. All empires fall eventually.

There are theories floating around the internet suggesting he has some kind of ability to control time… but with Mr. Robot there are so many theories at this point that it’s hard to keep track, and we’ve heard most of them by now. Is White Rose superhuman? Is Elliot Tyrell? Is Elliot White Rose? Is any of this really real or is it all simply a dream, the St Elsewhere theory? All of these admittedly do seem a little far fetched, not out of the realms of possibility but out of the realms of possibility for good screen writing, which so far Mr. Robot has in abundance. And I think it’s safe to say that now we’ve seen Elliot being beaten by the illegal site hosting Ray and co that if he is in some kind of enclosed unit, Ray probably isn’t there to help him. It’s all a little tinfoil, although some of the theories do sound a little more plausible than the Alice / Wizard of Oz “and it was all a dream” cop out (please god no). One such theory is that secretly Joanna and Tyrell Wellick are secret agents who act with impunity. Again this could be nothing more than speculation, but look at the facts, Joanna has “told the FBI not to freeze any funds”, and has a private security on staff even though her husband is no longer employed by Ecorp and is currently wanted for murder, she’s no stranger to murder and she certainly seems to know how to handle risk and threats, as do her hired help.

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Joanna is another one of the star actresses in the show, and to it’s credit she’s been a central role for two episodes now. Easily one of the most terrifying additions to the roster, seemingly out of the way but with her own entirely enclosed narrative, nobody looks more terrifying holding a baby and smiling. We heard here mumble “If you have done something to him, I will kill you” in Danish when she first encounters Elliot, but until now we’ve not seen her cross that Frank Underwood line of social engineering and actual harm. Karem gets killed unceremoniously, paralyzed and then shot. Her reasoning for making him watch, helpless to stop his own death? “Killing a man instantly robs him of explanation, he has no time to process his final moments. Now even though he was paralyzed his mind was still able to understand why his life was ending. You let him die with answers, otherwise… we’re nothing but ruthless murderers. Thank you.” It’s her darkest moment yet in a long line of pretty terrifying moments, and Stephanie Corneliussen pulls it off perfectly with her catlike predatory stare and withheld emotions. While other actors on the bill have for now been somewhat left behind (Fsociety predominantly), Corneliusson has gone from strength to strength from a relative unknown to one of the leading ladies on the biggest show on USA.

This episode though has more largely than Joanna focused on Angela. For a character that seemed a little two dimensional in terms of being a pseudo-love interest earlier on in the first season, she’s essentially been responsible for, as Darlene puts it “the crime of the millennium”. Now with the FBI investigating everyone involved in the five/nine attacks, including her ex boyfriend, she is forced off the bench finally. She occupies a strange part of the Mr. Robot universe, while being one of only two people alive able to truly speak to Elliot (real people, that is) she’s so far been half in / half out of firstly the lawsuit, then her job with EvilCorp, her chasing of Colby, every major decision. It’s made her story line one of the more slow moving points of the show, until logic-b0mb.hc. Portia Doubleday has been one of the more subtle performances, generally, or maybe that’s just her character. But after working out how much the FBI potentially know and who could be after her, it’s her rather than Christian Slater that push Elliot back to his terminal and back to doing what he does best. Given how much she knows we can fully expect her not to entertain being too forthcoming with the Ecorp execs, or maybe that’s what they’ve already predicted. Her position seems more shaky now than previously following her failed attempt at blackmailing Price, could she act as the Fsociety source on the inside, or will money win out as an incentive again? She and Elliot sharing a heartfelt moment could well be the thing that after all of the insanity and chaos surrounding both of them, unites them finally. It’s a kind of will-they-won’t-they end game, that while definitely not a fixture of the show, would be a nice little reprieve from all of the misery of the rest of the show (and as we saw from Elliot’s perfect world scenario flashback a couple of weeks back, it’s definitely what he wants).

mrrobot1It’s good to see a return of pace with regards to action, even if the lull was understandable, but Mr. Robot has picked up pace again finally and backtracked enough with reasonable purpose that’s it’s built up even it’s more minor characters to embody a world view that Sam Esmail has worked hard to forge. The accompanying score is still as solid as ever, it’s one of the most cinematic shows out at the moment and we’re finally getting down to, erm… brass hacks? …forget that, he’s hacking again, and it’s what we like. Good things from the last fortnight’s worth of watching. Catch up with us for episode 6, m4ster-s1ave.aes.

Hack the Planet.

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