This post is, like, 97.6666 percent spoiler, so if you haven’t watched Wednesday night’s episode of Mr. Robot, you definitely shouldn’t read it.
With a little over 10 minutes left, the low, glitchy music seeps in, filling you with this knowing dread. Like the other shoe is about to drop in some cataclysmic, gory way. And even though you know something awful is about to happen, when it eventually does, you jolt upright in your seat all the same.
I’m talking about the end of “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx” — or “Hidden Process” if you speak English and not Ruby on Rails — which was by far the most taut and concise episode of Mr. Robot so far this season. And, in due course, it has the most drive: Sam Esmail and Co. kept the red herrings to a minimum, provided almost all answers, raised a few new questions, and kept a viscous plot powering ahead — all in an outing clocking in at just over 42 minutes, minus commercials. Bonus points, too, for having some of the central characters actually announce their motivations aloud, instead of burying them in terse conversations or gesturing at them with, like, the gratuitous close-ups of their twitching faces this show is customarily prone to. All of this is to say: Wednesday night’s episode was maybe the strongest of Season 2 — and that’s because it was acutely recognizable as an episode of television.
After the series premiere last summer, Esmail told Forbes that Mr. Robot was originally written as a movie, and that he didn’t change much to adapt the series for TV. That approach made for an excellent first season, but it also seems to blame for the off-kilter, made-for-Netflix pace the show has typically moved at this year, and why its characters seem to have a religious objection to occasionally just saying what the fuck they mean. It’s enjoyable — preferable, even — to a point. But eventually you have to tip the hand you threw the stone with. And that’s exactly what we get with “Hidden Process.”
We now know why Elliot “hid in a cage” for 18 months (choked with insecurity over essentially ruining the world). We also learn why Darlene has been slowly unraveling since the premiere (also choked with insecurity, but because she is living in Elliot’s shadow), what the Dark Army is ultimately playing at (sort of), and why Price is such a Gruberian, megalomaniacal prick (god complex, shocker). Oh, and Angela, who’s been splashing around out of her depth since she joined E Corp late last season, has, in fact, been trying to take it down from the inside. Tyrell is alive (or dead, one of those) and Elliot’s split personality may actually have three parts, but what would Mr. Robot be without leaving some nagging questions — both plot-centric and existential — to agonize over until next week?
Also, whatever because THE ENDING.
It’s so good that writing about it seems like cheating you out of experiencing it for yourself.
For all its quirks, Mr. Robot builds suspense as well as or better than any other show out there — that’s what you get when you don’t have to hit the same procedural notes each week. But the end of Wednesday night’s episode feels set apart: the cumulative payoff of 10 episodes of an agonizingly slow burn, the judicious use of a season’s worth of narrative slack.
The final 10 minutes leapt back and forth between three subplots: Angela telling Elliot that she’s turning feds (but won’t roll over on anyone else, uh huh), Darlene admitting that she’s barely even holding onto the tail of this whole fsociety thing, and perma-salty FBI agent Dom DiPierro collapsing the net on Cisco, who might be the key to blowing the Five/Nine case open. The show winds itself around the three, spending less and less time on each one, allowing just enough time for each character to get a question or a truism or a pained expression in. The music grew more expectant and the cuts grew ever faster, building momentum toward some probably gruesome climax.
When Dom finally confronts Darlene and Cisco at a late-night diner, Esmail leaves the camera resting on the opposite street corner to give a full view of everything, all but confirming that shit is about to go irreparably south. Mr. Robot dips into the “wide shot” well almost too often for it to feel special, but here, the still landscape brings gravity and nuance to an otherwise rote “Spray Up The Restaurant In A Botched Hit” plot device. Even though I knew — knew — what was coming, I couldn’t help but freak out over it. And isn’t that a unique quality designating a good drama? Evoking a powerful emotional response while doing little more than dotting I’s and crossing T’s? It’s something Robot has been straining after all year — but it only worked when tacked onto a neat, clarified, normal-length episode.
When the two Dark Army assassins pull up on a road bike and one hops off with a submachine gun to tie off another loose end, I found myself wanting to reach through the screen and save at least one of Dom, Darlene, and Cisco, if not all three. Why didn’t they duck or something? Couldn’t they hear the music?
And then, credits. These herbs have been confused, slow, ambiguously motivated, or otherwise fucking around for nine episodes now. Mr. Robot finally caught up with them.
[Extremely Mike Lowery from Bad Boys voice:] Now THAT’S how you s’posed to execute a conclusion. From now on, THAT’S HOW YOU EXECUTE A CONCLUSION.