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‘Mr. Robot’ Finally Shows Its Hand

As the season winds down, the show reveals its true interests

USA
USA

This is a post about an episode of Mr. Robot (“eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”). If you don’t want to know what happened in that episode, don’t read this post.

The scene that everyone is going to talk about from Wednesday night’s Mr. Robot is the scene Mr. Robot clearly wants us to talk about. Angela is abducted to an eerie suburban home, walking past family portraits with the faces blocked out. She’s locked in a room with a setup that begs to be screenshot: fish tank; rotary phone; paperback Lolita; Commodore desktop. She’s guided through a choose-your-own-adventure game by a creepy schoolgirl. And finally, she has a 28-minute conversation with Whiterose, who dangles a tantalizing prospect over Angela’s head and ours: What if the Washington Township plant poisoned her father for a reason? What if there’s a higher purpose to her and Elliot’s suffering?

This question is, in theory, the one at the heart of the show. Creator and writer-director Sam Esmail has long insisted that Mr. Robot is ultimately a personal story of a character, his family, and their pain; fsociety, the Five/Nine Hack, and its geopolitical fallout were simply outgrowths of that pain. This scene connects these two halves of Mr. Robot — or at least, hints at a connection — and the way it’s shot certainly reflects that priority. It’s loaded with Lynchian weirdness and is therefore bound to be polarizing. Some will pore over Whiterose’s mind game in search of a deeper meaning. Others will insist there isn’t one — that the show is just doing a more attention-getting form of the all-questions, no-answers obfuscation it’s been pulling all season, last week’s standout aside.

I’m more interested in the balance Mr. Robot’s trying to strike here. Because even though a surprise Angela-Whiterose showdown is practically a flare signal that says “ANALYZE ME,” I keep wandering back to another pair of scenes in the episode, both from the less-personal side of this show. Dom’s postshooting debrief and Philip Price’s Washington victory lap around his would-be regulators are essentially information dumps, spelling out all the high-level economics and diplomacy that’s been floating around the season’s margins. We learn a lot here: China has bailed out E Corp to the tune of $2 trillion; Price is using the money to start his own currency, much to the displeasure of the U.S. government; this was probably the Dark Army’s endgame in helping with the Five/Nine hack. The problem is we haven’t been primed to care about any of it, and it throws off the equilibrium required to make Angela’s reckoning, and the season it’s ostensibly the climax of, work.

Consider the gap between this week’s exposition vehicles and last week’s voiceover, when Elliot finally wondered, out loud, whether he’d actually made the world worse with the hack out of a selfish desire to do something. The former is pure data; the latter puts that data in service of emotion, giving it stakes by tying it to a character we’ve invested in. And yet this week’s data dumps are what a series as plot- and reveal-driven as Mr. Robot is about; the latter is just what Esmail tells us is at its center.

Which brings us back to the Angela-Whiterose scene. All season long, Mr. Robot’s been shortchanging Angela’s character, giving her plenty of screen time but little in the way of coherent motivation. And all season long, Mr. Robot’s been playing up abstracts: China’s sudden interest in the Congo, Price’s murky E-Coin plan. Only in the penultimate episode of the season — technically, the first half of the the season finale — did the show connect the two, or indicate why it was playing up one and devaluing the other. No wonder that delicate balance felt off.

It’s a broader disconnect in Mr. Robot as well. By revealing Mr. Robot’s identity, and Darlene’s as well, last season’s big reveal seemed to open the door to exploring Elliot’s relationships: with his father, with his sister, even with Angela. There’s been some of that, but mostly we’ve gotten more setup to yet more reveals — reveals less anchored to human beings we recognize and care for than to a global system we don’t really understand. Going into the season’s final hour, you could fill a phone book with what we don’t know. But the stuff we care enough to want to know? That’s dwindling.