This review contains spoilers.
2.10 Hidden Process
Mr Robot has broken me.
I was a carefree, vivacious critical stallion, galloping around the internet in search of hot takes and head scratches. Then Mr Robot season two finally broke me – domesticated me into a gentle pony with its non-stop fourth-wall breaking, cliff-hanger fetishising, metatextual nonsense.
Mr Robot season two is filled with so many of the self-indulgent “watch-me-as-I-write-direct-and-edit-every-episode” flourishes that I hate. It has self-seriousness, spoiler-phobic traits that reek of egotism. It doesn’t screen episodes for critics (THE HORROR! THE INJUSTICE!). It doesn’t let one episode end without setting up at least three cliff-hangers for the next one. It packs so many Easter eggs into every episode that it might as well be the world’s darkest Where’s Wally? book.
I hate all of these things. But God help me, I love Mr Robot. And after the penultimate episode Hidden Process, I love this season. You can tell that Mr Robot is absolutely a product of internet culture in the way it steadfastly trolls its viewers week after week. Hidden Process finally reveals once and for all that not only are all the trolling and the cliff-hangers and the Easter Eggs worth it, they’re kind of the whole point.
“Is this the future I was fighting for?” Elliot ponders to us, his imaginary friend partway through Hidden Process. He is being driven by Joanna Wellick’s goon to a Micro Center where he will purchase some hardware to finally get to the bottom of where Tyrell Wellick is for Joanna. And on his way he sees streets filled with garbage and flickering lights and an ATM with a $50 cash limit and a line backed up for blocks.
By any reasonable measure, Elliot’s plan to save the world has failed. He’s only realizing it now because he’s spent the past several months in a prison – both literally and one of his own making. But now his blinders are off and so are ours. The world is fucked and Evil Corp is stronger than ever. Maybe Tyrell Wellick is dead and maybe he isn’t. Maybe Mr Robot is trying to help Elliot and maybe he isn’t.
Elliot’s addressing of us, the audience, as his imaginary friend has always been a gimmick. Hidden Process reveals that it’s a gimmick essential to the fabric of the show. So many shows and movies strive to be a “mindfuck” experience as if confusing and disorienting your audience is the highest form of success something can attain. Mr Robot season two does it because it has to. Mindfucking the audience is really the only way that both Elliot and Mr Robot the show knows how to interact with it. It’s not trickery or creativity. It’s simple communication.
The experience of going along with Elliot on this wild ride has never been more exhilarating, confusing or just flat-out interesting as it was in Hidden Process. During a heartbreaking monologue about how one of the best things that ever happened to her was being abducted by a strange woman as a child, Darlene comes to the realization in this episode that she isn’t a leader. Elliot’s the leader. Elliot’s the one who has made all of this happen.
It’s fascinating to view the difference between the Elliot that everyone else sees and the Elliot that we see. To the characters of Mr Robot, Elliot is a near mythical individual capable of upending the Earth on its axis. To us, he’s a frightened, confused animal, cowering in a Micro Center because he receives a phone call from an unknown number and his imaginary friend momentarily disappears.
Then there are the moments when the Elliot we see and the Elliot everyone else sees intersect – like when we’re treated to a performance of one of his best hacks yet. He improvises a Pringles can into an antennae to steal a neighbor’s Wi-Fi and then sends a fax (a FAX of all things) to a police department to get the identity of the unknown number.
Hidden Process in many ways clarifies the purpose of season two of Mr Robot and the show in general. It’s not using disorientation as a rhetorical device. The show IS disorientation. Because Elliot’s life is disorientation. I still find it unlikely that Elliot’s brand of schizophrenia has a real world analogue but for the world the show occupies, the audience has always been able to experience that craziness alongside him.
Beyond that, however, Hidden Process is simply incredibly exciting. From the moment that Elliot discovers where Tyrell Wellick’s call is coming from (we don’t find out exactly where but Joanna’s man turns white as a ghost and says “Trust me. He wouldn’t be calling from that house”), the episode establishes a sense of ceaseless tension that carries through all the way to the end.
Darlene and Cisco drop a bloodied Vincent off at the hospital, Elliot meets with Angela and a BOLO is put out for Cisco’s arrest – all simultaneously. The editing is pitch perfect that every disparate event feels like it is a different strand on a rope tightening around our necks. The tension that Mr Robot is able to procure out of thin air is, dare I say, Breaking Bad-esque. That’s essentially the highest compliment a TV show can be paid.
The final scene in which Dominique wisely works out where Darlene and Cisco are grabbing a meal only to be interrupted by a Dark Army member with an automatic rifle is just fantastic. Direction and editing are often best when they are subtle and unshowy. This is not one of those times. The decision to position the camera firmly outside of the diner so the audience can watch the Dark Army’s approach is superb. The tension is as unrelenting as the outcome is predictable.
Hidden Process leaves a lot on the table for next week. Who was Angela meeting with on the train? Are Darlene and Cisco okay? Where is Tyrell (if he’s alive) calling from? To the unbroken Mr Robot-viewing Alec Bojalad from week one, this would be a frustrating sign of lazy sensationalistic storytelling. To the current, irrevocably broken-in Alec Bojalad, they will be the most vital questions in the world for one more week.
I thought I was sick of cliff-hangers, I thought they were tired. It turns out I just hadn’t been bashed in the face with them until I could barely breathe enough. Thanks, Mr Robot?
Read Alec’s review of the previous episode, Init5, here.