Review: ‘Mr. Robot’ 2.1 k3rnel_pan1c.ksd — How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mr. Robot?

Elliot’s Adderall-powered attempt to keep Mr. Robot away goes spectacularly awry.
MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)
Peter Kramer/USA Network

In Elliot’s Head, Two’s A Crowd

Last season, Elliot tried to keep his tenuous grip on sanity with morphine. But since the downers don’t work anymore, he tries ingesting egregious amounts of Adderall. This leads to a brilliant sequence dramatizing Elliot’s six-day speed binge of amped-up faux-happiness and clarity, complete with computer alert sounds echoing his footsteps, compression artifacts blurring his reality, and culminating in the human equivalent of the kernel panic that gives the episode its title.

The Adderall finally wears off while Elliot sits in his church group and, as he goes off on a rant against the idea of God, it becomes clear that the voice we are hearing is Mr. Robot’s. Rami Malek changes his entire vocal pattern and cadence to mimic Christian Slater’s bombastic style. Elliot’s days of hiding out and staying offline seem to be numbered.

Positive Reinforcement Guy

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, Christian Slater as Mr. Robot -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

It looks like Ray will be the mechanism to get Elliot back into the world of online crime. In spite of his zen affect, we learn that Ray is running some kind of criminal bitcoin scheme and he’s in need of a skilled hacker who understands advanced networking techniques. Ray has clearly sussed Elliot out for that role, but he’s a patient player. As he lays the subtle groundwork to drawing Elliot in, we learn more about him — a chess player, a long-suffering Mets fan, and a man who gives himself dialysis treatments while conversing with his dead wife. He may seem gentle and honest, but as we can see from the former network engineer and his cowering family, Ray is capable of doing harm. It’s significant that when Mr. Robot finally makes his reappearance near the end of the episode, he’s standing behind Ray.

Hack The Planet

After missing the season premiere, Romero gets to open the episode with a flashback to his original recruitment into fsociety by Mobley, and we learn the history of the Fun Society Arcade, which just might be the “nexus of evil in the universe,” and whose damaged signage is revealed to be the source of fsociety’s name. But Romero’s return is short-lived when Mobley finds him dead in the basement of his mother’s house. Darlene tries to placate Mobley and Trenton’s panic, but Mobley recalls a time when Elliot pulled a gun on Romero and suggests that maybe Elliot killed him. That scene was in Episode 7 of last season, but we saw Mr. Robot pull the gun on Romero.

It Gets So Lonely Being Evil

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

Angela continues to exist in her own little corporate hell. When she’s summoned to Price’s office, the usual, “Do I have the nerve to stand up to the boss?”-dynamic feels buried under several layers of gauze, almost as if Angela is now the one taking morphine. (Her dead-eyed affect continues to evoke Elliot at his most detached.) Price’s office is decorated with World War One memorabilia, and he professes his fascination with “how a man can change the world with one bullet in the right place,” before surprising Angela with an invitation to dinner. The dinner is an exercise in Price continually upending Angela’s expectations. Is it a date? Or when she arrives to find him with two other E-Corp executives, is it a networking meeting? After they leave and Price reveals that they were part of the group responsible for the death of Angela’s father, he gives her the ammunition to destroy them. Will Angela take the opportunity for revenge? Or can she let them go now that she knows they are real people with families and not faceless bureaucrats? You get the sense that Price is a Hannibal Lecter-level manipulator, who would be just as intrigued by whichever outcome Angela chooses.

Alert The Authorities

We get a lot more time this week with FBI Agent Dom, who appears to have nothing else in her life but her job. Her only non-work related conversation is with Alexa, her Amazon Echo device, and she spends sleepless nights watching tv, following pop-up ads to online counseling sites and masturbating to anonymous sex chats — which can’t be safe, given the technical prowess of our main characters.

When the police discover Romero’s body, they also find a list of FBI agents with Dom’s name on it. They call all the agents to inform them, but Dom was the only one to respond. Is that indicative of her pre-existing involvement with shady business, or just a marker that she’s got nothing else to occupy her time? Either way, when she returns to ask Romero’s mother more questions, she finds a flyer that points her towards the arcade. Trekking out to Coney Island, Dom sees the Fun Society sign missing its “u” and “n” and realizes that she’s hit pay dirt.

Reality Bites

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

A word of warning: Twice, Dom asks a question to Alexa, and her Amazon Echo answers. And if you also happen to have and Echo within earshot of your TV, your Alexa will also answer the questions. This feels less like product placement and more like the writers taking advantage of another flaw in our haphazardly connected world.

The “Lilliputia” carnival described in Romero’s story was real, and the production seems to have used this same link as their source, given the followup mentions of the Lion-Faced Man and the Limbless Woman. But there’s no evidence the owners died in a horrible murder-suicide.

Angela notices two specific pieces of art in Price’s office. The map behind his desk is titled, “A Humorous Map of Europe 1914.” The newspaper announcing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand seems to be an art department creation, fusing together a real newspaper front page of the time with a painting of the event.

Dom follows a pop-up ad to Joyable, a real online coaching site to help people overcome social anxiety.

Standout Lines and Moments:

MR. ROBOT -- "eps2.1_k3rnel%u2010pan1c.ksd" Episode 203 -- Pictured: (l-r) Christian Slater as Mr. Robot, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson, Joey Bada$$ as Leon -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

The entire Adderall sequence was stunning, perfectly capturing the feeling of taking too many stimulants. If you want to recreate the sequence for yourself, try drinking a whole bunch of coffee and watching this episode again.

When Elliot is arguing with Mr. Robot about the phone call to Wellick, in his head he asks us if we really believe him. Mr. Robot snaps “Why the fuck are you asking them?” — meaning us, the audience. A neat little touch, I wonder if at some point Mr. Robot will talk to us directly.

“…his head opened up like one of those Gallagher watermelons.” It’s sad to see Romero killed off, as Ron Cephas Jones brought a great skeptical grounding to the proceedings. And here’s a random pop culture note: His daughter Jasmine Cephas Jones is currently starring in “Hamilton” on Broadway. What would a Mr. Robot/Hamilton crossover look like?

When Ray is conversing with his dead wife, he makes the offhand comment that “…now that the allowance is down to just $50 a day,” implying some very severe economic chaos in the world.

When Mobley is sweating on the subway, the car is covered in ads reading, “E-Corp: Still On Your Side.” Nice touch.

Elliot’s/Mr. Robot’s anti-religion rant featured a lot of great lines, but the best was probably, “All we are to them are paying fanboys of their poorly written sci-fi franchise.”

The season’s tag line is “Control Is An Illusion,” but Ray makes it much more colorful: “Control is about as real as a one-legged unicorn taking a leak at the end of a double rainbow.”

Grade: A-

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