September 22, 2016 by Jason Seligson
Mr. Robot is having a moment. Rami Malek, the show’s insanely talented leading man, just won an Emmy—and less than a week later, the show brought its mind-bending, action-packed second season to a close. Basically, it’s a good time to be a fan—or to jump on board with Elliot and the other hackers of f society, if you haven’t already. Last summer, Mr. Robot was one of the most buzzed about shows, and earlier this year, it took home two Golden Globes for its first season, including Best Drama Series. The show is on an upwards trajectory, and there’s still plenty of room to climb. It’s also fantastic: one of the best, most beautifully-directed dramas to come around in a while.
Season 1 of Mr. Robot is a dark, trippy, adrenaline rush, but it’s compelling, nuanced and incredibly entertaining. As a viewer, you can’t look away. The show plays with reality, and therefore occasionally ventures into dream-logic territory every now and then, but it remains surprisingly grounded—not merely by Rami Malek’s phenomenal performance as Elliot, but the supporting cast as well. The cast has some amazing female performers front and center, which shouldn’t be overlooked, and the story is all the better for it. The thing that really resonated with me in those early episodes was how remarkable the show was at conveying feelings of alienation and profound loneliness that aren’t stilted or simplified; things we don’t see much on TV. After a pitch-perfect pilot (and I can’t emphasize that enough), Mr. Robot raised an immensely high bar, one it held throughout the remaining episodes. But the biggest thing that got people talking was the twist that came at the end of episode 8.
The twist, which I won’t go into too much detail about here, would come to dominate the discussion of Mr. Robot (appropriate, for how game-changing it was for the characters). And then in Season 2, another twist came. A lot’s been written about the polarizing twist that happened this season. Quick spoiler alert for those haven’t seen it: after lying to the audience for several episodes, Elliot reveals he was arrested at the end of Season 1 (which many predicted well in advance) and wasn’t staying at home with his mom and attending church group on the side. Personally, I didn’t mind the twist, but thought it could have come a bit earlier. The reveal happened more than halfway through the season, at the end of episode 7, and that felt somewhat dragged out. Furthermore, the couple of episodes after the premiere—which mostly focused on Mr. Robot and Elliot fighting—started out promising, but ultimately stagnated. Subplots and supporting characters like Craig Robinson’s Ray seem like they vanished the minute Elliot got released.
Conversely, one thing the twist did accomplish was to spare us from spending seven episodes with Elliot stuck in prison—and I can only imagine how much fans would have complained if the story had taken that direction (prison by itself can only stay interesting for so long; why not explore Elliot’s psychosis a bit more?) Instead, Sam Esmail and his writers took advantage of developing its core cast. The female characters on the show have always been great, but they had some amazing stuff happen this season: Angela executing the FBI hack; Darlene killing Susan Jacobs in the fantastic F Society-centric episode. the shootout between Dom and the Dark Army in China; and the bloodbath that occurred at the diner. Elliot’s reduced presence did wonders for fleshing out the people around him.
Season 2 also showed viewers that while this is an ongoing story, Esmail is clearly telling it in chapters. Esmail has said that he originally conceived of Mr. Robot as a film, and it’s interesting to keep that in mind when analyzing the overall narrative of the show. The story is still in its early stages, so we shouldn’t expect to have all the big questions answers at this point. Esmail says he plans on the show having between four and five seasons, so we’re just about, if not even halfway through.
The first hour of the Season 2 finale took us to some pretty strange territory (Did that scene with the little girl and Angela evoked Twin Peaks for anyone else?) The second was an equally odd hour that was primarily focused on Elliot’s mental state with regards to Tyrell and Mr. Robot, but we also got a fantastic sequence with Dom and Darlene, and that amazing post-credits scene with Mobley and Trenton. In a post-Lost world, I get such joy when a show relishes in the smallest, quietest character interaction, and where even minor players in an ensemble can be a part of an explosive moment. “Python,” was a solid, if somewhat quiet installment of Mr. Robot. We didn’t get to spend anytime with Phillip Price or Whiterose in the final hour; we learned what Phase 2 of the hack is, but we didn’t learn everything (personally, I really want to know what Whiterose told Angela!)
Whereas Season 1 was more singularly focused on building toward the Mr. Robot reveal and the 5/9 hack, Season 2 has been less cohesive. At times, it’s been difficult to follow, but honestly, I’ve embraced this aspect of the show. As the story’s scope widens, it can occasionally feel convoluted, but it doesn’t really become incoherent—if you’re ever feeling lost, there’s always space to track follow Elliot, Darlene, or Angela’s emotional state. I felt the same way in Season 1. It’s not as though I understand close to the entirety of the hacking that happens in this show, but that shouldn’t affect my investment in the story, and it hasn’t.
Another impressive feat the show has made: being single-handedly responsible for the creative reinvention of a network. As one minor character cracked last night, “this isn’t Burn Notice. Characters are not welcome here.” It’s a cheeky meta-joke about USA, and it’s also a reminder that while Robot might borrow heavily from other films and shows that came before it, it’s also doing its own thing.
I hate to bring it all back to the Emmys, because as we all know, award shows have never been the sole factor for determining what quality television is, but if this year’s Emmys proved anything, it’s that they’re more in tune with what’s current now more than ever. Let’s forget about the fact that Mr. Robot didn’t win for Best Drama series. Game of Thrones had perhaps its best season ever this year, and it deserved the big win. If anything, I lament that Sam Esmail lost out on a writing win for the show’s pilot (seriously, go re-watch that pilot; it’s perfection). But Mr. Robot will be here for a couple more seasons as least, and there will be time for more accolades.
Now that Season 2 is complete, we can let it wash over us, and look at the whole picture with fresh eyes—as happens with some shows, maybe those earlier episodes will play better in binging. For now, we wait until this weird, wonderful show returns. As Elliot would say, goodbye for now, friend. See you in Season 3.