Last season’s twist, that Christian Slater’s titular Mr. Robot was actually Elliot’s subconscious, opened up the floodgates for Mr. Robot to do anything it wants. Thankfully, Sam Esmail, the show’s creator and jack-of-all-trades, is smart enough to not do anything without reason, but after this week’s episode “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme”, you can’t trust anything through Elliot’s eyes. Not anymore.
Thought to be in a self-imposed exile in his mother’s upstate neighborhood, “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme” reveals Elliot has been in prison. His physical world — his “mom’s house” — has really been a coping mechanism and a psychological detox. It’s another stunning revelation impressively performed and choreographed (there is some astounding camera work and set design on display) by a series that is now expected to pull something off of this caliber every year.
Yeah, there are a lot of questions that demand answers, but at the moment they’re more fun to speculate upon. Why is Elliot in jail in the first place? Was Ray real? Was Ray’s dog real? (Please let the dog be real.) Revisiting key scenes of Elliot in his “mom’s house” now blares that Elliot is in confinement — vertical lines, sliding doors, a shitty cot, a detached mom, long monologues about illusions and truth — and unlike last year’s twist with Mr. Robot, Elliot’s space is a fun one to realize. Last year, I had my suspicions about Christian Slater’s bespectacled nerd punk. This year I had no idea, and I’ll admit that (though some on the internet called it).
But there’s a pattern developing that has me worried about the show. I can’t help but think of another awesome peak TV series (albeit one for different reasons): Marvel’s Daredevil. In Season 1, that show threw down the gauntlet with a jaw-dropping one-take fight scene in a hallway, as a means to show that this Daredevil ain’t fucking around. The problem was that Season 2 the show tried it again, and had to make it even more extreme. When shows constantly try to outdo themselves, they lose their nuance, and are at risk of becoming parodies.
Not that I’m complaining about such twists. Though Mr. Robot’s episodes continue to be far too long, the reveal makes up for the generally uninspiring B- and C-plots (Angela deserves better) and the basket of questions the show will take an unbearably long time to answer. The most pressing: Why is Elliot in jail? It can’t be for the 5/9 hack; the government is still trying to figure that one out, and it wouldn’t put the mastermind of the crime of the century in a general correctional facility with three meals and a cot. Nor could Elliot be in jail for the murder (?) of Tyrell; his wife is still looking for him. (Elliot put himself in danger when it came to Ray.)
Season 2 of USA’s Emmy-winning hacker drama has amped up its themes about illusions, perceptions, reality, all in a fun encryption plot with the FBI that would otherwise be at home on a Sunday afternoon action movie (which would also air on USA). It’s also suffering from trappings of twisty thrillers that dominated the ‘90s, like Fincher’s Se7en and Fight Club. As seen last week, Mr. Robot is obsessed with illusions wrapped in grainy, over-saturated nostalgia. But if the show isn’t careful, it’ll fall victim to its methods than being the one to hack them.