Mr. Robot is up to its same old tricks, with a much less effective result, in a landscape-shifting episode.
Mr. RobotAirtime: Wednesdays, 10pm
Cast: Remi Malek, Portia Doubleday, Christian Slater
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 7 - "h4ndshake.sme"
Air Date: 2016-08-17
There you have it, they've done it again. Creator/director/showrunner Sam Esmail has once again pulled the rug out from under his hacker drama, fooled us all, and made Mr. Robot the most talked about show on television. Or so I suppose they imagined some six or so months ago when the idea first floated around the writer's room.
Before putting the show’s creators down too harshly, let’s first delve headfirst into this week’s twist. Elliot (Rami Malek) isn’t, as we have been led to believe, living with his mother but is in fact, as countless Redditers have guessed, in jail. The reveal, which comes in the final moments of this week’s episode, entitled "h4ndshake.sme", is done with the usual visual mastery that Mr. Robot has established as perhaps its most essential calling card. Even though we know the moment that Elliot's therapist questions whether he knows where he is that the reveal is coming, Esmail and team play it well, showing us how each set-piece of Elliot's season two storyline fits into this idea. All this being said, this sequence is undoubtedly the most maddening of the show's run, and the first time that fans everywhere, including myself, will be begin to doubt the show's grand plan.
Putting aside the fact that nearly everyone predicted this twist, it simply doesn't work effectively on a narrative level. We've now spent seven episodes in Elliot's little secluded world, making diversions into a plotline involving sex trafficking and online black markets, and are now essentially told to rethink everything we've seen. It was exciting, back just a few episodes, when it looked like Elliot was finally getting out of his own head and entering the world of FSociety, E Corp, and the rest of the show, but now it looks like he's somehow further away than we could have imagined. What was a moment meant to illicit shock and awe was met with mostly a collective groan; this actually has more to do with set up than the reveal.
Last year's big twist, the Tyler-Durden-esque reveal about the nature of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), wasn't all that original -- it wasn't even that difficult to predict -- but what it did do was fit in and accelerate the story to that point. You could argue that last season would have still been one of the best on television even if, say, Mr. Robot was just some crazy, subway-riding revolutionary, and that's important. Season one earned that twist, not matter how hackneyed, in a way that this year simply hasn't. To a season that has been meandering at best, adding such a reveal feels more like the creators grasping at straws than contributing to some meaningful end game, and that's frustrating.
While Elliot continues to traverse the distorted world of his own making, the rest of the FSociety team continue to slowly and surely hack the FBI in an attempt to find out just how in trouble they are. When we last saw Angela (Portia Doubleday), she was in the midst of said hack just as Agent Dom (Grace Gummer) approached and questioned her about her trip to the restricted floor. Dom, quickly becoming the best character on Mr. Robot, seems to know Angela is up to something, an inkling that's confirmed when she soon discovers the hack, only to saunter off confidently, leaving the sloppy FBI to deal with the latest blunder.
Even this side of the narrative coin, which seems to have much more significance than anything going on with Elliot, is moving painfully slow. Angela continues to fight E Corp from the inside, aligning herself closer and closer to the dastardly Philip Price (Michael Cristofer), but little actually changes from this week to the next, and her overall goal is still muddled in mystery, perhaps even to herself.
Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and the others are merely in survival mode, fighting to learn all they can while continuously worried about what they find out. Although not specifically revealed, it seems that at episode end they've finally discovered what the FBI knows, and it doesn't appear to be good news for the mask-donning gang of revolutionaries. How they'll will respond will likely be the feature of the next couple of episodes, as this line of narrative will seemingly need to be the heavy lifter with Elliot now firmly out of the game.
That brings me back to our favorite schizophrenic. The answers about what the last seven weeks have actually meant will likely come more and more into focus as we learn what exactly Ray (Craig Robinson) was in the world of the prison, how he ended up in the prison, and what his Seinfeld-quoting friend has to do with Whiterose (BD Wong). All we can hope in the wake of this overstuffed reveal is that these answers come fast and hot, and we finally get Elliot out of prison and back into the big game. Or, at the very least, have some grasp of reality so we can all stop waiting for the next twist.