No television show has a perfect first season, but USA’s breakout drama Mr. Robot came pretty damned close. It was a unique and topical, beautifully acted, and masterfully directed inaugural season that caught an unexpected television landscape by storm. Two things are certain about the follow up; it’ll not catch anyone by surprise, and it has one hell of an act to follow.
Not only did the characters within the series succeed to immense heights when they enacted their plan to bring down the global economy, but the show itself became the only freshman drama to get an Emmy nomination; actually, six in total. They even got their very own post-episode talk show with television’s most popular non-Hardwick host, Andy Greenwald. So where do they have to go from here?
I won’t say that “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc” and “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc” were letdowns, but it was always going to be difficult for the show to seamlessly move into a second season. I’ve discussed before the cinematic roots of the series, and when looking back at the first season you begin to see how much of a rounded arc the story actually took. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond excited for this second season to play out, but there’s a definite need for a bit of a narrative rebuild after all that went down at the end of season one.
That being said, the one aspect of Mr. Robot that need not be tampered with is Elliot (Rami Malek). There were times when Mr. Robot meandered in season one, but none of those moments concerned our favorite unreliable narrator and his increasingly fractured mind. Wisely, creator Sam Esmail starts the season with what we all want to know” what is Elliot, and in turn Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), up to now?
As it turns out the answer is routine, regiment, strict journaling, and in-depth discussions on the philosophical nature of Seinfeld. In an opening sequence that immediately thrusts viewers headlong back into the bizarre world of Mr. Robot, we get a glimpse at just what Elliot has been up to since he “saved the world”. Accompanied by a beautifully trippy version of I Monster’s “Daydream in Blue”, Elliot sets forth his “perfect loop”: a constructed existence meant to both keep him sane and drive away the ever-present demon that is the vision of his dead father. He wakes, eats at the diner with his new friend Leon (Joey Bada$$), watches playground basketball, writes in his journal, and analog sleeps.
So far, so ineffectual.
Routine, regiment, and even a computer-free existence, and Mr. Robot is still constantly lurking in the back, and sometimes the front, of Elliot’s mind, urging him to pick up where he left off and finish the revolution. Recognizing the fact that Elliot’s trying his best exorcise his grip, Mr. Robot becomes all the more controlling, asserting that he’s not a cancer to be eradicated, but Elliot’s most vital of organs.
It’s during these sequences, and another later on when Gideon (Michel Gill) comes by to plead with Elliot to talk to the FBI on his behalf, that we must take stock and recognize that there is perhaps no more electric a combination on television than the manic Christian Slater, the wild-eyed Rami Malek, the pulsing score from Mac Quayle, and the keen eye of series’ auteur Sam Esmail. Combined, they can create such a palpable and unsettling tension as to make ordinary scenes seem on the brink of calamity, and the more extraordinary scenes doubly so.
As I said, though, this season was going to take some rebuilding and most of both parts of the first episode are spent on some exposition for the rest of our Mr. Robot crew. Angela (Portia Doubleday) is working for E Corp as a public relations wiz, demanding questions about some of their more embarrassing failures be left off the table for interviews with CNN or Bloomberg or MSNBC. Angela’s the de facto leader of fsociety in Elliot’s stead, but is becoming increasingly wary of the members who are their more for the good times than the cultural revolution. Gideon is facing increased pressure from the FBI, and looks poised to become the fall guy — that’s before he’s gunned down by what appears to be a fanatic at the end of the episode.
These storylines are by no means bad or boring or forced, but it was hard not find myself yearning to return to Queens and the loop that is Elliot’s new life. Like Elliot, I wanted to know what happened to Tyrell (Martin Wallstrom), and like Mr. Robot, I kind of want Elliot to abandon his newfound life of comfort and return to chaos. Which is why the arrival of none other than Craig Robinson — yes, that Craig Robinson — is so exciting.
Robinson plays Ray, an affable, loquacious dog-owner who blows up Elliot’s perfect loop with a simple request to help with “computer stuff”. Elliot initially coldly refuses him, but Mr. Robot is far too industrious to turn down an opportunity and, although we don’t witness it, it appears Mr. Robot has once again begun to speak for Elliot. Elliot knows that this is a slippery slope, he knows that letting his mask takeover is what got him in this predicament, but all the while he seems destined to enter another, much more unstable, loop. One where it’s unclear who, if anyone, is really in control, but also one that is one hell of a joy to witness from the safety of our own safe, ordinary loops. Bring on the chaos.