The most important thing that “Mr. Robot” faced, going into Season 2, was the idea of addressing what happens next. While the Season 1 finale featured several unanswered questions, there was something relatively completist about the narrative, especially given the show’s biggest reveal — Mr. Robot’s (Christian Slater) real identity.
Fortunately, the Season 2 premiere proves that there’s plenty of story left to be told. The aftermath of fsociety’s big win at the end of Season 1 continues to reverberate across the world, but things are far from resolved. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and her fellow rebels are still trying to fully realize their revolution, while the Evil Corp executives are trying to recover their lost money and power. A battle has been won, but the war is ongoing. The system is damaged, but still technically intact.
“Mr. Robot” has always been fascinated by systems — not just computer systems, but the ways in which people create structure out of chaos. And it’s those big ideas which creator Sam Esmail manages to keep at the center of the drama, with his ensemble cast repositioned at the beginning of this season.
There’s something about this show that has always been a little chilly, a little emotionless, and Season 2 compounds that issue by pushing its characters to even further extremes. Angela (Portia Doubleday) now works for Evil Corp (in public relations, no less), while Darlene keeps the fight going on the streets. Each of them represent different sides to this battle, and how that affects their future relations is just one mystery to be teased out over the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, Elliot’s (Rami Malek) ongoing struggle to understand human behavior in what he sees as logical terms remains a primary source of his alienation from the world. But the real issue for him is whether or not he can regain control over his own psyche, now that Mr. Robot is running loose. [Spoilers for Season 1 follow] The reveal that the mysterious figure played by Slater was actually an extension of Elliot’s own psyche was a major upheaval, but also a plot twist that left us with extreme deja vu, given “Fight Club” and other similar stories.
However, at the very least Esmail finds unique angles on moments that technically amount to Elliot talking to himself, and Malek and Slater’s scenes together are stripped of the artifice that made Season 1 a guessing game. Now, all the cards are on the table and they’re going at each other full blast (literally).
There are a few new characters brought into the picture where the endgame is hard to suss out, including Craig Robinson as a mysterious stranger and Grace Gummer as a federal agent investigating the fsociety hack. While their introductions are intriguing enough, the show requires a leap of faith that these folks will matter — even while we wait to follow up on figures from last year, like White Rose (B.D. Wong) and Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom). The degree of trust requested is not insignificant.
Beyond that, there’s also the discordant contrast between the show’s extreme anti-authority stance and on-screen product placement for Comcast Xfinity cable services and NBC Universal programming. The constant reminders that this is a product owned, ultimately, by a multinational corporation are at times distracting. But maybe that’s the truly revolutionary act — taking a corporation’s money and using it to preach anarchy.
There’s a slow build in progress with this season, since Elliot has deliberately put himself on the bench, but Esmail’s deft touch with the blend of reality and fantasy remains as engrossing as ever. That’s perhaps the key takeaway here: That while the show has undergone seismic narrative shifts, it’s still recognizably consistent. You may never know what’s going to happen next on “Mr. Robot.” But you understand, on a fundamental level, what you’re going to get.
“Mr. Robot” Season 2 premieres Wednesday, July 13 at 10pm.