This Mr. Robot review contains spoilers.
Mr. Robot: Season 2, Episode 9
The days of me rewatching full TV seasons are all but over. Where I could once spend an entire summer watching the same Scrubs and 24 episodes over and over again, there are just too many superb TV shows out there to justify revisiting old favorites on anything other than only the most hungover days.
But man, do I want to binge this entire second season of Mr. Robot once able. Not because it’s necessarily been worthy of a rewatch, though it is quite good. It’s because no other non-bingeable show demands to be binged quite like this one.
Visual entertainment is so fractured across so many mediums and categorized even further within those mediums. Sam Esmail originally viewed Mr. Robot as a movie. Mr. Robot is definitely not a movie. Mr. Robot is a TV show and a damn good one at that. It’s inhabiting the wrong kind of TV show, however. As unlikely as it sounds, we’re almost done with season 2 of Mr. Robot (one more episode will air before the two-part finale in two weeks). Looking now at the season that lies in our wake, it’s never been clearer: this bad boy needed to be binged.
“Init5” ostensibly gives us exactly what we want: a clear, no bullshit look at what Elliot’s life has been like the past year. We finally see who knocked on his door at the end of season two. Surprise! It’s the fuzz. Then we get to see what he was really up to in prison instead of his self-imposed exile at his mom’s house. Ray is the warden, Hot Carla is a transgendered inmate and Elliot’s mother is nothing more than a hallucination.
And this is all fine and good. But it would have been better watched immediately on the heels of “Successor” which had been watched immediately on the heels of “Handshake.” Based on the various cliffhangers this week: Darlene finding out that “Stage Two” of the Dark Army’s plan is Elliot’s idea then answering yet another unknown guest at the door, Cisco returning to the scene of the crime and potentially seeing someone unwelcome, Elliot coming home to his apartment to see Joanna waiting there for him and knowing his name, I would immediately watch next week’s episode if able.
It’s hard to quantify or explain exactly why Mr. Robot would be better suited to a binge-ing all-at-once experience. It’s just kind of undeniable feeling that comes over you as you reach to click “next” on your computer after an episode ends and you realize that’s not an option.
One of the joys of television is that the medium offers three different kinds of storytelling simultaneously: the story of an episode, the story of a season and the story of a series.* After “Init5,” which might be the slightest episode of the season yet (stealing the dubious title from its cousin last week), it’s clear that Mr. Robot is only delivering on two of those three narrative possibilities. The series remains strong and this season might actually end up being superb when t’s all said and done. It’s just the episodes where the quality is slightly lagging.
*One of my favorite examples of this three-tiered successful storytelling is Justified. Justified isn’t necessarily the best show of all time but it is great and is the show I’d be most likely to teach a TV writing class on.
Aside from the stylish and frenetic premiere and last week’s Darlene-focused “Successor” each episode this season feels like a separate piece of a bigger puzzle. At least that puzzle is shaping up to be pretty dope.
Among the threads that “Init5” introduces but doesn’t complete is the next chapter in Elliot and Mr. Robot’s psychologically bizarre relationship. Elliot is out of prison now so everything should hypothetically be brighter, clearer, happier. Instead the world seems just as bleak as always. Almost literally as the the episode is both shot very darkly and a strike at the local energy company keeps the lights across New York flickering.
While Elliot is hopping back into fsociety action to get to the bottom of Whiterose and Dark Army’s stage 2, he and Mr. Robot are going through…something weird. Elliot thinks he’s taking a nice, relaxing pee but is instead inhabiting Mr. Robot while in front of Darlene and Cisco, telling them to calm down. Mr. Robot realizes that something is up and says he feels like they’re overheating. The comparing Elliot and Mr. Robot to a computer almost always is fascinating and this is no exception. It’s just a shame we don’t get to see where it’s going yet.
Meanwhile, Angela is starting to change her allegiances yet again. Via a threatening conversation between Whiterose and Price it seems like their plan is progressing as expected with Angela. Does that really mean they expected her to steal private information on the company’s evil doings and hand it over to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? I don’t know. But I do know that the moment in which a creepy government agent beckons Angela down the hall to a supposed meeting is nearly a shot for shot recreation of Jimmy Conway and Karen Hill at the end of Goodfellas and I love it.
One of the surest ways to see that Mr. Robot season two is more focused on the season-wide story rather than the episodic is to realize that the best character of the season still has not appeared onscreen in the present reality. Let’s pull back the curtain for a moment: Tyrell Wellick is coming back this season. This isn’t based on any inside casting information but rather an understanding of Chekov’s Missing Chief Technology Officer. When Tyrell reappears onscreen, it’s entirely possible it will be disappointing. He’s been teased for so long that it would take a lot for the eventual reveal to pay off.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the phantom Wellick hasn’t already been paying off all season. One of the hardest things for a TV show to pull off is a deliberate character absence not motivated by a salary dispute or a film shooting schedule. And Mr. Robot is pulling it off like crazy here. The longer Tyrell stays offscreen, the larger the boogeyman grows.
This season of Mr. Robot is similar in that aspect. The longer it goes the bigger and better it gets, even while the individual episodes stagnate.