Note: This piece contains spoilers for last night’s episode of Mr. Robot. Like, right after this sentence.
Congratulations to Darlene for killing a lady on last night’s Mr. Robot, which amounts to way more decisive and unambiguous and actionlike action than this show generally prefers. Which is cool. Everybody be cool. Season 2 started out as quite the slog, an unpleasant combination of brutal and static, but the situation has improved — or, more accurately, the situation has dramatically worsened in a somewhat coherent and momentum-generating way. Normal TV-show-like things are happening now. It’s nice. It’s unusual.
Also, Angela sang Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” at karaoke.
That was also unusual. We should talk about Angela. She’s baffling, which, given the show she’s in, is saying something.
Mr. Robot lives to confuse. Last night’s episode was blessedly Elliot-free: With his latest dorky Big Twist, we’ve established that every six to 10 episodes, a super-wacky reveal will nullify between 70 and 90 percent of the things he has said, done, witnessed, or experienced. He’s evolved from Unreliable Narrator to Reliably Unreliable Narrator, and the distinction matters: It’s the difference between you can’t trust anything he says and nothing he says really means anything. The chessboard resets itself; the overarching message is “LOL, Never Mind.” This is unorthodox, and bold, and admirable, and worth cautiously celebrating, but turning your main character into a memory-wiping black hole awash in long-con card tricks and ’90s-sitcom fever dreams forces all the other characters to push things forward and give the show a valid center and make extra sense.
Darlene, last night’s star player, has adapted to this state of affairs. She’s running fsociety now, getting increasingly overwhelmed and angry and desperate, and doing rash and unwise things. (Like killing a lady.) Grace Gummer, as salty and sweet-toothed FBI agent Dominique DiPerro, is even more helpful: She’s sauntering around with incongruous purpose, talking to different important people, making various connections, and weaving all this ambitious bullshit into some semblance of a plot. Meanwhile!
Meanwhile, Angela is guzzling tequila, owning plumbers, smashing New Wave classics, and throwing game at Duck Phillips from Mad Men. She’s a mess. That’s a common-enough TV trope — “She’s a Mess” has its own set of pros, cons, and hot-take talking points. But even for a show that thrives on cognitive dissonance — on forcing you to question everyone’s motivations and even, y’know, actual surroundings — this has become unwieldy. Nobody can make any sense of her, and her bizarre, tremulous neutrality is a disorienting contagion that has now spread to the rest of the show.
Late last season, Angela joined Evil Corp. and seemed on the verge of turning heel, aligning with the vicious super-capitalists who (basically) killed her mom and (allegedly) destroyed the world. Will she turn into a heartless supervillain, or is it all just a ruse to take the bastards down from the inside? Is she super-confident and just projecting paralyzed anxiety to throw everyone off, or the opposite? That’s a fine slow-burn arc, but it’s burning so slowly that there’s no real heat or light left. She’s vacillated all season, and as with Elliot, whose shock twists have lately been met with shrugs and eye rolls, the ruse has grown tiresome. Get on with it; pick a lane. No one is remotely fooled by this.
This scene from last week’s episode typifies the Angela Problem. She gets herself transferred to Evil Corp’s risk-management division, forces her way into a big meeting, and immediately says, in essence, “Please give me all the files of all the devious shit you’ve previously done, including the shit that killed my mother, so I can do … a really helpful thing with it.” And every single person in the room shoots her a look that amounts, in essence, to “FOH.”
There is not a single person working at Evil Corp. who is unaware of Angela’s deal, or her likely ultimate goal. Even if you buy that Mr. Super-Villainous CEO is banking on this, and maneuvering her to do some ostensibly vengeful and destructive thing that secretly redounds to his benefit, that doesn’t explain why literally every other person in the building hasn’t laughed her out of it. She hacked the FBI on a restricted floor in plain sight two weeks ago, and only Meryl Streep’s daughter seemed to care. This sort of thing presumes the existence of an invisible group of people — not the onscreen characters, and certainly not the audience — perpetually ready to be shaken to their very core by very obvious revelations. It’s an unspoken Mr. Robot mantra: There is always someone left to surprise.
This issue opens a trapdoor to another, even more troubling issue. Serious, nonrhetorical question: What is the difference between pre- and post-hack Evil Corp.? What can’t they do this season that they could do last season? The effects of the hack are largely cosmetic — trash in the streets, ATM limits, general unease and misery. But the bad guys themselves seem unaffected, lighting giant piles of money on fire (metaphorically and literally) at regular intervals, but in a casual, unconcerned, consequence-free way. What is left to destroy? What actually got destroyed in the first place? What is Angela’s concrete goal now? What is anyone’s?
Loving Mr. Robot means accepting these bugs as features, which has grown easier as Season 2 has progressed. And last night’s Angela karaoke dirge was weird, great TV. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is certainly poignant, given her fraught circumstances. (It’s also a top-five all-genre ’80s classic, but that’s an argument for another time.) But it would hit a lot harder if we had any clarity as to whether or not Angela actually wants to rule the world. “Who the hell do you think you are?” the soon-to-be-owned plumber demanded of her last night. The fact that we have no idea is not troubling. The fact that we have no idea if she has any idea is another matter entirely.