This review contains spoilers.
Successor is the kind of troll-y midseason episode that practically begs you to hate it.
Mr Robot, undoubtedly knowing that viewers are craving a conclusion or at least a continuation of Elliot’s alternate prison reality from last week, gives us precisely none of that. Instead the audience is treated to the not-ready-for-primetime players of fSociety in Darlene, Trenton and Mobley to go along with a seemingly spiralling Angela.
It’s the kind of episode you have to watch with IMDb open to make sure you’re getting all the character names right. It’s a plot-mover, a place-holder, a midseason-inhaler – whatever you want to call it. It’s also good.
Mr Robot is in that sublime territory where even its seemingly filler episodes represent entertaining, sometimes riveting television. Successor is likely the weakest of the season two offerings thus far but it’s also somehow the leanest, simplest and most sure of itself.
Removing Elliot and his alter-ego entirely from an episode of S is a bold move. Removing them both a week after the reveal that Elliot killed Tyrell (supposedly) and has been living in a dream-world of his own making (apparently) is a move of pure dick-swinging directorial hubris. The fact that it works for the most part is a credit to those aforementioned fsociety b-teamers.
Lost in the excitement of last week’s prison reveal was the enormity of the news that our “hero” in Elliot Alderson was a stone-cold murderer (again, supposedly). Then Successor rolls around and gives the audience another chance at grace. Here we have Darlene, our hero’s sister and our de facto second-in-command protagonist. The Successor. Maybe she can be a moral centre to latch on… and she’s a murderer now too.
Mr Robot never runs out of rugs to pull out from under the audience.
It’s apparent from the beginning of the episode that we’ll be spending most of, if not all of our time with Darlene, Trenton and Mobley. We see the beginning of their fSociety collective at a coffee shop during Thanksgiving. Where Mobley and Trenton gather to meet with who they think will be Elliot but is instead his eventual successor, Darlene.
The scene is interesting on several fronts. For one there is the implication that fSociety took down the global economy in less than half a year. But more important to me, however, is Mr Robot’s new-found love of the flashback structure. A few episodes ago, I may have called it annoying. Now it’s endearing. Mr Robot’s insistence on opening so many episodes with flashbacks to me doesn’t represent stalling. It represents a show that’s so supremely confident in its internal mythology that it’s letting the audience explore it like little anthropologists.
Back in the present day, however, things are much less cheery for the fSociety crew. Successor reveals so starkly just how small and insignificant the remnants of fSociety are. Romero is dead. Elliot is in prison and the rest of the hangers-on are busy dropping brass bull balls into Congress. Still, the remaining members are brilliant enough to hack the FBI and then leak a hilariously incriminating conference call. Yet they are small and inexperienced enough to forget to keep an eye on the GPS of the woman whose house they are currently crashing in.
Occupying the home of Susan Jacobs was always a short-sighted move for an internationally-wanted crime syndicate. Successor is able to make it pay off in a satisfying way because it finally acknowledges that yes, it was very stupid and maybe, just maybe Darlene wanted Susan Jacobs to find them.
When Susan returns to her “hacked” home and Trenton’s eyes go wide at the sight of her, it’s clear we’ve arrived at the thing that the episode wants to deal with. This is the dramatic elephant in the room and what we’re going to be spending our time on, class. After you’ve watched enough television, you kind of learn to expect from events like these. Act one: fundamentally good people are forced to take “innocent-ish” hostage. Act two: they try to find a way around killing said hostage. Act three: they either kill hostage or let hostage go with understanding that they will not be tattled on somehow.
Instead what happens is that fSociety is predictably forced to enter into a hostage situation that it seems completely unprepared for. And then by act two it’s over by a cold, ungraceful murder.
Darlene doesn’t say much after she murders Susan Jacobs via TASER into a pool. She tries to half-heartedly reassure her team that it was an accident – that Susan attacked her like she attacked Trenton. She claims to not have recalled Susan’s heart condition in the research they did on her. But it’s fairly clear that Trenton and Mobley don’t believe her – and Darlene realises this. She lets them go to get out of this fSociety disaster once and for all while she and Cisco take care of the body with a little help from our old friend: morally dubious pound employee.*
*The pound guy is upset that the fSociety people released all the dogs last time. It’s okay though because they all ended up back at the pound… like they always do. It reminds you of the questionable success of some of fSociety’s other works.
Later, after the body has been burned, the evidence destroyed and the out-of-office emails sent, Darlene owns up to something that’s become very apparent to us already: it was easy to kill Susan Jacobs.
Killing also seems to come pretty easy for the Dark Army. After Trenton and Mobley are let go, they are rightfully concerned about the FBI tracking them down. They know that the Bureau has a lead on at least 16 people who could have been involved in the 5/9 attacks. Mobley is even brought in for questioning by Dominique before being let go due to the scrutiny of the Operation Berenstain leak*.
*Sorry for all the footnotes, guys, but you must absolutely Google “The Mandela Affect: Berenstain Bears.”
But fSociety should be so lucky to be brought in by the FBI because by the end of the episode, Darlene finds out the alternative. Cisco didn’t insist that she come to his place because she was rattled, she needed to be in his custody under Dark Army orders. And the Dark Army tends to get what it wants.
Successor is a tightly-structured and bleak episode of Mr Robot. It’s moments of levity, if you could call them that only come when Angela flirts with Duck Phillips. “I think she’s just into old dudes,” the young guy the FBI has brought in to seduce Angela later says. Any episode that excludes Elliot Alderson as a character is fundamentally weaker for doing so but what Mr Robot is able of getting done with some b-characters, a TASER and a karaoke night is admirable.