BY ALEX MCLEVY
“We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent—people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save.”—Erich Fromm, To Have Or To Be? The Nature Of The Psyche
What is it about falling into a reliable and effective routine that can make people so sad? For most of us, the goals of life involve familiarity as much as daring. We find our favorite restaurants and bars, and then we make them into the ongoing rotation of options for going out. We figure out a productive use of our time at work, and we stick to it. We find a preferred bike path, bus route, even the place we normally sit on the couch. We are creatures of habit, and yet we become depressed when we’ve grown too inert in our behavior. It’s a self-defeating cycle: The longer you stick to the prescribed way of doing things—the method you yourself have carefully assembled, as your chosen way of living—the more you long to upend it.
Elliot is caught up in a rhythm of his own making, and it’s devastating him emotionally. “The loneliness came back, worse than I remember,” he explains, crying alone in his apartment, while some shitty Dancing With The Stars knockoff plays on his TV. That’s the problem with the return of a pain you thought had vanished; the time away makes the reunion feel ten times worse. The question then becomes, why does he feel this way? Elliot always felt out of step with society, so it’s possible that reentering it has simply activated the same sense of isolation that so crippled him in the past. Plus, he hasn’t spoken with Darlene—weeks go by since the events of last episode, when she told him to fuck off, so he could merely be missing his sibling.
But the real fear is that he’s missing someone else. He won’t say it out loud, but he’s worried the absence of Robot has made him somehow incomplete. When he invites his sister to stay the night, it’s not just because he doesn’t want to be alone, knowing she plans to leave. Part of him wants to see if her presence will bring Robot back, as he suspects. (“You’re my trigger,” he informs her, and the tragedy is that they both think he’s right, and they both want to not care.) Elliot doesn’t realize Robot has already been back, quietly working with Angela without revealing himself to his host. By the time Elliot lets Krista speak with Robot, and subsequently comes to, anxiously demanding we tell him what happened, he’s realized his mental companion isn’t gone. He’s just hiding. Perhaps that’s what makes the loneliness worse this time: He’s not just alone, he’s learning the one personality that was there by his side for so long doesn’t want to hang out.
“Undo.gzh” is an episode that reveals a bit of the Mr. Robot formula, something the show has managed to keep artfully concealed for the most part. We’ve done this routine with Elliot before—in fact we’ve done it both previous years, and right around the same time in the season, too. The third episode of season one, “d3bug.mkv,” found Elliot making a conscious decision to embrace this modern life, working his job, even drinking Starbucks, before new information about his life sent it all tumbling down again. In the second installment of season two, “k3rnel-pan1c.ksd,” Elliot embarked on a routine centered around keeping Robot at bay, complete with drugs, meant to pacify his existence and fight back against his mental passenger. There, too, it ended up failing, just as this one inevitably will, because the only thing Elliot hates more than being on the wrong side of a revolution is being there alone. At least now he’s got Flipper back to keep him company.
But all of this somewhat repetitive psychodrama takes a back seat for a change, because Joanna Wellick is dead. The murder was shocking in a number of ways, including how the show confirmed she was really gone. After Mr. Sutherland definitely let Derek know he’d never see Joanna again, the spurned lover unloads his gun into the car, and Joanna goes flying back against the seat, a streak of blood not enough to say whether she was still conscious or not. Cut to: the mortician wielding the bone saw, cutting open her skull.
More importantly, this brings an abrupt end to her schemes. We spent a lot of time with Joanna last season, watching her strive to locate her missing husband, even teaming up with Elliot (well, forcing him to team up with her, really) to try and find Tyrell. At the time, it seemed that she was destined for bigger things, the show continually returning to her suggesting she had some role to play in all this beyond just pushing and pulling at her absent spouse. But now, it appears it was all just in service of taking down a man who always seemed a minor character in these events. Scott Knowles was psychologically torturing her, wanting her to feel the same pain of loss that he went through. But now that she’s successfully framed him for the murder of his wife, Knowles is out of the picture, and Joanna could have taken a freer hand in manipulating people from her place on the sidelines. Instead, Mr. Robot is making a blunt point about the consequences of toying with people without regard to what they’ll do when you no longer have any use for them. Like Flipper’s former owner, exposed and then ignored by Elliot, the past is not done with anyone, not when there are vengeful spirits there.
It’s also making a point about power, one that’s echoed by the two most powerful people in (nearly) any room, Phillip Price and Whiterose. Despite taking that very sizable bailout from the country, Evil Corp’s CEO is now turning on its benefactor, publicly announcing a “currency war” thanks to the Asian nation’s embrace of bitcoin. In private, Price makes the real stakes clear: All exchanges are a trade-off, one type of power for another, finance for geographic control. But every time Price acts to reclaim the upper hand, Whiterose hits back, reminding him that even titans of industry have weak spots stemming from their humanity. For Price, it’s Angela, and the Evil Corp exec presumably has no idea she’s been won over to Whiterose’s cause. “Don’t mistake my generosity for generosity,” she says, and it’s a reminder that Price needs her more than she needs him. Whiterose has options, continually keeping different plans in effect to account for variables. All Price has are threats in the event of loss. True power, as Whiterose demonstrates, can punish without regard for the outcome.
Who made the new Fsociety video? It’s a question that goes beyond potential Dark Army propaganda. There’s a world of people out there, and a lot of them support the revolutionary group. Yet only a few would have the ability to put it up on the same Vimeo account that hosted the previous transmissions. It’s no surprise Dom’s superior suspects Darlene is in on it, or at least knows who is responsible. But Darlene feels defeated, and her cooperation with the FBI only makes that feeling worse. The camera slowly pans in on her, as the FBI agents grill her, and her eyes reveal nothing but a sense of haunted complicity. When they play her the phone call between Elliot and Tyrell, though, a renewed sense of hurt emerges. Like before, the wound of feeling like she’s not an implicitly trusted part of her brother’s life is consuming her.
So she betrays Elliot, giving Dom access to his computer, and then leaves—though not before Robot confronts her. And that confrontation is what shakes Elliot to his core. It’s what sends him to Krista, asking her to deal with Robot. Because Elliot’s alter ego got violent with his own sister, and it scares him more than anything that’s happened. He can’t trust himself around his own sibling, and not in an awkward, forgetting-they’re-related kind of way. No, this is a new kind of danger, and he doesn’t know how to deal with it. Maybe the FBI will.
- Excellent use of INXS’ “New Sensation” during the undo montage at the start.
- The show’s subtle digs at various brands are always fascinating, if for no other reason than to see what Sam Esmail finds symbolic of seductive capitalism. Today’s candidates include Zoloft, Trunk Club, and the Goo Goo Dolls as music for jerks.
- Oh, and Dom’s partner has a new version of the rick roll: The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”
- Here’s hoping that U.N. vote next week is also next week for us—I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for Stage 2.