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Review: ‘Mr. Robot’ Throws All Decorum Out The Window

Season 2, Episode 9, "eps2.7_init_5.fve," gets Elliot back in the game for Stage Two.

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.7_init_5.fve" Episode 209 -- Pictured: Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

Peter Kramer/USA Network

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Mr. Robot’ Anoints A New Madam Executioner

In Elliot’s Head, Two’s A Crowd

We finally get to see an objective view of Elliot’s time in prison — not for any of his world-shaking exploits, but for hacking Krista’s ex and stealing his dog. Ray was the warden, Leon played Freddy to Elliot’s Nas and we get answers to a lot of questions that we’ve already moved past. By keeping Elliot out of last week’s episode completely, it blunts the impact of these revisionist details. It also raises a larger question about the function of this kind of narrative approach. Rather than surprise or delight, the reveal of these details feels mostly like a rote checklist of things to explain before we can move on to the next bit of the story.

As Elliot is released back into the world, something begins to go very wrong with him and his alter-ego; Mr. Robot describes it as “overheating.” Unlike before, when the relationship was a struggle between the two parts of Elliot’s psyche, this seems to be something external that is happening to both of them. At one point, Elliot imagines himself locked in a train car, unable to escape while watching Mr. Robot and Cisco talk in the next car. Is Elliot slowly getting locked into his own head? And could he be experiencing something similar to his mother, who we finally meet for real — ensconced in a hospital and apparently catatonic. Does it run in the Alderson family?

Hack The Planet

It’s been three weeks since the end of the last episode. Mobley and Trenton have gone missing. In spite of Darlene clubbing him, Cisco maintains that he was protecting her from the Dark Army. And Darlene suddenly remembers that there’s a discarded VHS tape that shows her face behind the fsociety mask that they left at Susan Jacobs’s smart home/murder scene — an uncharacteristic mistake which feels a bit forced as a justification to get Cisco back to the smart house to find… something we don’t see yet. Is Susan Jacobs still alive? Are Mobley and Trenton bleeding out? The show is starting to lean on this device a bit too heavily; it even repeats the “someone pounds on the door and a person opens it with a shocked look but we don’t see what they see” trope, this time with Darlene.

The bulk of the episode is spent on finding out the secret of the Dark Army’s “Stage 2” plan. Elliot forces a meeting with Dark Army contact Xun, who we last saw breaking a needle off in Cisco’s finger. But the hack of Xun’s phone leads to a shocking reveal from Whiterose — Stage 2 is Elliot’s plan. But Elliot doesn’t know what is is, nor does it seem Mr. Robot does either. What are the odds that there’s a third persona somewhere inside his mind? MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.7_init_5.fve" Episode 209 -- Pictured: Michael Drayer as Cisco -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

It Gets So Lonely Being Evil

Angela gets to what she thinks is her endgame, stealing documents about the Washington Township cleanup and delivering them to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in D.C., who she thinks will swoop in and punish E-Corp for killing her mother. Of course it’s not so easy; she has an unsettling interaction with a government official who knows more about her that she should. If Angela had gone into that meeting room like she was asked, would she have ever come out?

Later, Dom shows up on Angela’s doorstep with sandwiches and questions, revealing that she’s had Angela followed and knows all about her trip to DC. Dom is positioning herself as the only safe way out, but she’s low on the FBI totem pole and could easily find herself just as in over her head as Angela.

READ MORE: ‘Mr. Robot’ Launches Text-Based Hacking Game to Accompany Season 1

There Are Always Ticking Clocks

Whiterose relieves zirself on the grave of the former CEO of E-Corp, whom it appears ze had killed. Ze takes longer that the allotted time indicated by the beeping watch, a marker of how important this interaction is to zir. Later, in Minister Zhang drag, ze meets with Price in an crackerjack scene that makes the length and depth of their plot begin to take shape. This scene is why you hire Michael Cristofer, who can make almost every sentence into a catch phrase.

Much has been made of the origin of “Mr. Robot” as a feature film, which creator Sam Esmail reconfigured into serialized form by turning the movie’s first act into the tv show’s first season. This Whiterose/Price scene shines more light on that origin — the events in Washington Township are not just backstory and motivation for Elliot and Angela, but they are also the object of Whiterose’s plans and vital to the survival of E-Corp, and by extension the root of Five/Nine, the global financial panic and a potential Third World War.

The idea that everything leads back to this one source feels much more like a focused, contained movie story than a sprawling, world-building television serial. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, but just that it’s a surprise how important the past of Washington Township is to the future, and one that much more interesting than checking off each of the elements from Elliot’s prison fantasy at the top of the hour.

Swedish Psycho

No Tyrell this week, but Joanna surprises Elliot by waiting for him in front of his apartment — in the same SUV that Elliot woke up in after the Five/Nine hack. Joanna still thinks his name is Ollie, so it’s not likely she’s not arriving with answers, just more questions.

Reality Bites

  • Earlier this season, we had an episode named after the linux command init1, denoting single user mode. This week’s installment is named after init5, for full multi-user mode with a graphical interface, a reference to the newfound cooperation between Elliot and Mr. Robot and their re-entry into the real world.
  • When Leon says he can get Elliot anything he needs, Elliot asks for a notebook. This doesn’t seem to have any kind of payoff in the show, but it is a jumping off point for another transmedia tie-in.
  • Unfortunately, the site realtimetranslation.net is not real. At least not yet.
  • Now that Nancy Grace’s show is cancelled, can she make a full-time living doing a version of herself in fictional stories? She’s become a simple shorthand for “shallow media outrage.”

Standout Lines and Moments

  • Leon, watching “Mad About You”: “My man Paul Reiser doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
  • Almost everything that comes out of Price’s mouth is a gem, but let’s pick this one: “I’m a mercenary. I don’t play fair. I play what I want. When you deal with a mercenary, all decorum gets thrown out the window.”
  • There’s a really nice rack-focus jump cut between Elliot and Mr. Robot while they struggle to figure out what’s happening to them.
  • Whiterose: “Stage 2 is HIS plan.”
  • Elliot, talking to us: “I’d ask if you’re normal but you never talk back.” Check the internet, Elliot. We’re talking back at you constantly.

Grade:  B+

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