Mr. Robot Season 2 Review

 
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Mr. Robot Season 2 Review

Highlights

  • Mr. Robot was an unexpected hit last year
  • Second season will be even darker, according to creator
  • It begins with a two-hour premiere

Editor's note: This is a spoiler-free read for the upcoming season of the show, but if you haven't seen the first season, then you had best turn away now.

Right from its pilot episode last year, Mr. Robot has not been one to conform to the norm, with its love for non-standard shot compositions, and a general avoidance of trying to make the narrator-protagonist relatable. That it fit the metaphor of the show's characters and their actions standing outside societal norms seemed more than a coincidence, as supported by creator and showrunner Sam Esmail's best efforts to drip feed audiences, on plot-lines and motivations.

So when the two-hour première of Mr. Robot's second season begins to lay the pieces in a debt-free world courtesy hacktivist collective fsociety, its multitudinal and disjointed approach continues to raise more questions than answers, despite the pickle we were left in after the events of the first season.

Amid those puzzling moments were the three days just before and after the hack, when Elliot (Rami Malek) found himself in Tyrell Wellick's (Martin Wallström) car without any recollection of said time gap. The new season picks up right in that blind spot, with Wellick and Elliot at the Coney Island arcade where fsociety operated from, as the latter reconsiders his plan - blowing up Evil Corp in a cyber-whoop - in the wake of realising Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) was just his alter-ego in the figure of his father.

But Esmail isn't ready to reveal any more than we already know. Instead, the show jumps ahead to a month after the cyber hack with Elliot staying off the grid. The disillusioned morphine-addict who suffers from dissociative identity disorder is living an analogue life, he tells us, devoid of any or all digital interaction while pursuing a tried and tested self-help manner of psychotherapy: journaling.

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To aid in his recovery, he follows a fixed schedule that involves eating and sleeping at specific times, and going to the church and the neighbourhood basketball court at others. He is executing a perfect loop, every day the same as the last. All this is in an attempt at regaining some sense of control over his life after the devastating actions that he, and his crew - through Mr. Robot - carried out over the course of the first season. But even an unconnected Elliot talks about his recovery in the vein of a computer program - his daily loop of eat-sleep-repeat being a script executed to run forever.

But bugs are already cropping up in the first two episodes, which are either caused by the forces within, or the ones outside. On one front, there's FBI agent Dominique "Dom" DiPierro - played by Grace Gummer - while a man named Ray (Craig Robinson) crops up in Elliot's backyard. And then there's Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt), general counsel for Evil Corp who comes with a fascinating nickname even if her capabilities aren't clear in the opening hour or so.

Meanwhile, not all of the season one cast is seen in the two-hour special. With Elliot staying away from temptation, it's down to his sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) to take over the reins of their group's activities. His former colleague - Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) - having sold her soul to join Evil Corp, is starting to find her feet again in a new world. And while Tyrell might be missing for now, his wife Joanna Wellick (Stephanie Corneliussen) has been upgraded to main cast status.

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The theme of control - its illusion, want and shifting nature - invades the season opener, as characters try to wrestle with automated homes, trust and revolution, BDSM, or personal upheaval. But for the show to continue, we know Elliot's attempts at control can't last. The show is called Mr. Robot for a reason.

Speaking of what makes the show, it still carries the cultural markers, Internet Age jibes, and background score peculiarities that made it a breakout hit last summer. A new friend of Elliot's is raging about the sitcom Seinfeld, while the date of fsociety's hack - Five/Nine for May 9 - is a flip on Guy Fawkes Night, celebrated yearly on November 5. The Guy Fawkes masks, popularised through the 2005 film V for Vendetta, have been used by real-life hacktivist group Anonymous and are a worldwide symbol for protest today. Add to that the use of decades-old pop/ rock intermixed with sombre synth that gravitates from the celebration of a dull-life montage, to dealing with the realisation of a new financial beginning.

Set in a world where fsociety pressed the financial reset button, there are call-backs to the failed Weimar Republic that led to the creation of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and the Great Depression of America, alongside improvised speeches delivered by President Obama and former CIA director Leon Panetta, with the latter dubbing fsociety's debt hack the "Cyber Pearl Harbour", lifted straight off a speech Panetta gave back in 2012.

If there's another aspect that continues into Mr. Robot's second year, it is the portrayal of the 99.9 percent vs the uber-rich 0.1, drawn from the anger resulting in the fallout of the 2008-09 global financial crisis. "They are barbarians in ten thousand dollar suits," a character utters at one point, which is followed by a violent incident later in the episode.

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The delicate thread work that serves as the framework is possible owing to the extent of control Esmail now has over his work. In season 1, he wrote half the season and directed 3 episodes. In season 2, he's escalating - not only will he be serving as showrunner as before, but he's directing and writing the entire season of 12 episodes (though they are labelled as nine parts, with both the première and finale being two-hour showings).

It's a deliberate decision on Esmail's part, and it shows the control he needs to properly execute his vision. An unstable Elliot doesn't have that same luxury, which is a good thing for a creator promising a "darker" show and for us as viewers. After all, the show is at its best not when it's commenting on the state of the world, exploring the future of fsociety, or how the various characters are coping with their new surroundings, but rather in the exchanges between Malek's Elliot and his inseparable alter image Mr. Robot, played by Christian Slater.

Elliot is still in the dark trying to figure out what happened to Tyrell and where he goes from here - and so is the audience heading into the rest of season two of Mr. Robot. Esmail is the only one in control, and he wants it exactly like that.

Mr. Robot season two premières in the US on USA Network July 13, while Colors Infinity is airing it in India from July 14.

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Akhil Arora

Akhil identifies himself as a stickler for detail and accuracy, and strongly believes that robots will one day take over most human jobs. In his free time, you will ... More

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