Mr. Robot has tested the patience of viewers in its second season, taking the audience on a mind trip for much of the season and dangling the promise of a payoff. Eventually, we’ll be rewarded for sticking with this journey and the endgame showrunner Sam Esmail is working toward will become apparent, right?
Are you as confident about that with one episode remaining in this season? The previous episode, “h1dden-pr0cess.axx,” seemed as if it was finally kicking the story into gear, amping up the drama, charging toward a resolution after keeping the main character off to the side for much of the season and depending on the secondary players to drive the narrative.
Yet episode 11, “pyth0n-pt1.p7z,” felt like a pumping of the brakes, a slowing down of momentum. Last week’s episode ended on a cliffhanger: Was Darlene dead after a Dark Army hitman riddled the Mexican diner where she and Cisco were eating with machine gun fire? We know Agent DiPierro, who confronted the pair in the diner, was alive, since she shot the gunman and tried to catch the getaway motorcycle. But did Darlene and Cisco survive? Is Elliot’s sister, the de facto leader of fsociety in his absence, a casualty of the Dark Army’s attempt to cover its tracks?
At the very least, we should have gotten an answer to our question, right? Sam Esmail apparently doesn’t agree, trading on the goodwill he built up. He’s been playing his own game all season. What a buzzkill. There is no mention of Darlene at all in the episode, only DiPierro mentioning that “several people are dead” while scolding her boss for being such a dumbass by releasing a composite sketch of Cisco to the media and making him a target for the Dark Army. (However, DiPierro also says that she wants to “do the interview,” which is presumably with Darlene. And… the digital guide info on your cable or satellite package may have also tipped off that Darlene appears to be alive. Welp.)
Despite reminding her boss that there’s a far bigger picture to consider here, and that the Chinese government appears to be working with the Dark Army (or maybe the hacker group is a part of that government), DiPierro is basically told to stand down, get some rest and cope with yet another shootout and mass killing that she’s witnessed while investigating this case. Tough shit, Dom. The Chinese just wrote a $2 billion (!) check to Evil Corp that will presumably restore the U.S. economy, so the federal government isn’t likely to want the FBI to launch any further accusations and investigations.
No wonder the poor woman went home, fell into bed, put on her giant glasses and sought solace from her Alexa. Note to Jeff Bezos: the next iteration of Alexa may want to be more sympathetic to people having a bad day. Or a bad life. At least cue up Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day,” R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” or something like that. Show some humanity, electronic device!
But maybe it would have been worse to get the human interaction Angela had to deal with in this episode. After being confronted on the subway, we see that Angela is trapped in the back of a van, being taken to parts unknown by two people who won’t say a word to her (or barely even look at her). The presumption is that she’ll be taken to some dank abandoned factory or warehouse outside the city, where she’ll be tied to a chair and asked to spill how much she knows about Evil Corp’s toxic waste spill at the Washington Township plant. But it doesn’t go like that at all. Angela is instead taken to an HGTV dream home (love that kitchen, though maybe a bit too white) in a shiny, happy suburb.
However, any thought that she’s going to be served cucumber water and a free range turkey sandwich served on artisan bread is quickly dispelled when Angela is led into a darkened room with an aquarium, a desk and two chairs as the only furnishings. On the desk are a red phone and an ancient Commodore computer. A little girl then enters the room and begins asking Angela bizarre questions like “Are you a giraffe or a seagull?” Naturally, Angela wonders what the hell is going on and refuses to answer the questions. The girl then says she’ll be beaten if they don’t finish and shows her bruises and scars on her back to prove the point.
However, if there’s one lesson to be learned from this episode — and maybe this entire season — it’s that asking a stranger “Have you ever cried during sex?” is a terrible icebreaker.
As you likely figured out, the questions were a test. What was surprising is who the test was for: Ladies and gentlemen, straight outta China, it’s Dark Army leader Whiterose! After making her sit in that room for hours, left to stare at the dead fish remaining in the aquarium that lost its water, Whiterose sets aside a generous 28 minutes to grill Angela regarding what she intends to do with her information about the Washington Township plant. Apparently, the Dark Army wanted Angela permanently silenced months ago, but the implication is that Evil Corp CEO Philip Price wanted her kept alive for unknown reasons.
Oh, and lest you think Whiterose is a complete monster, the little girl wasn’t really beaten. Those bruises were make-up. All part of the test.
Whiterose goes on to explain that the accident which resulted in her mother and Elliot’s father dying was part of a much grander scheme, and if she considered that their parents had been sacrified for a greater good (“to take humanity to the next level”), she wouldn’t be going to all this trouble. That’s not exactly a convincing argument. But Whiterose apparently says something far more persuasive to Angela that we don’t see. All we get is the aftermath, during which Angela goes to her lawyer’s house and tells her to forget about the voicemail message she left. Don’t pursue the case anymore, don’t call Angela anymore.
As she’s saying this, Angela is bizarrely serene, almost as if she’s been brainwashed. Is she just putting on a happy face for her lawyer? Did Whiterose tell her something that actually made her something close to happy? Or does she realize that she has to play ball to keep her loved ones safe?
Meanwhile, what about Elliot — you know, the main character of Mr. Robot? For the second time this season, Elliot isn’t much of a factor in a particular episode. However, unlike episode eight, “succ3ss0r.p12,” in which Elliot wasn’t seen at all, he makes a brief appearance at the beginning and has some very important scenes at the end. We find out what Mr. Robot wanted to find in Elliot’s apartment. Having achieved a state of lucid dreaming — “mind awake, body asleep” — Elliot is able to observe Mr. Robot without his other personality noticing. Mr. Robot is after a piece of paper with messages written in code that eventually reveal a phone number. Whoever is on the other line tells Elliot to meet a particular location.
Elliot arrives to find a cab, but much to the driver’s annoyance, he has no idea where they’re supposed to go. Enter the person who does know where the cab is supposed to take him. It’s Tyrell Wellick. Finally, after 11 episodes, we see the former Evil Corp executive whom the government believes is behind the 5/9 Attack, and he’s alive. Elliot didn’t kill him, after all, which is what he’d believed. But is Tyrell really alive or is Elliot having another lucid dream in which he imagines events and settings that aren’t real? Mr. Robot is nowhere to be seen. And when Elliot asks the cab driver to tell him if the other person sitting in back is real, the driver is understandably perplexed. He becomes outright confused and angry as Elliot becomes more agitated, eventually kicking Elliot and Tyrell out of the cab.
Tyrell doesn’t understand why Elliot is so freaked out, which left them abandoned far from their intended location. But he also seems to think this is all part of the plan which is very close to final execution. Stage Two, the next phase of whatever operation Elliot unknowingly planned (presumably as Mr. Robot) with the Dark Army to vanquish Evil Corp once and for all, is ready to roll. But does Price want this plan to go through as well? It might help him make Ecoin — Evil Corp’s new form of electronic currency — the only viable currency left to the population. (Though he needs some help from the Treasury Secretary and the President to make that happen.)
Presumably, we’ll find out what the hell is going on in the season finale (or the second part of what was perhaps planned as a two-hour episode). At this point, a season finale is feeling increasingly merciful, letting us off the hook for having question after question thrown our way with very few answers to reward us for hanging on. Will Esmail provide the payoff we’ve been hoping for over 11 episodes? Or are we going to be left like that dead fish in Whiterose’s aquarium?
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