Mr. Robot takes a closer look at the toll on Darlene's soul

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BY ALEX MCLEVY

“Danger and habit: Both create environments in which the climate of betrayal is so pervasive that individual acts of betrayal, however simple and pure, acquire an uncertain meaning and make judgment doubtful...Who hasn’t been betrayed?”—Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices

In every act of betrayal, no matter how small, it’s an open question who suffers the hurt more: The person who gets betrayed, or the one who commits the act. We tend to think of betrayal—as we do so many things—as something with a victim and a villain, good and bad, black and white. By committing a wrong (and yes, betrayal is a wrong), someone is considered “guilty,” and we then elide the pain of the responsible party, even if it may be eating them up inside. It doesn’t feel good when someone goes behind your back, or violates your trust, but you can sleep at night—you didn’t do anything wrong. The person who wronged you, on the other hand? Depending on their moral compass, they may not get much rest for a long time.

Darlene Alderson is being slowly pulled apart. It’s an untenable situation in the best of circumstances: Either she refuses to cooperate with the FBI and spends the rest of her days behind bars, thereby ending her life, or she sells out the one person who unconditionally loves her, thereby emotionally ending her life. She even thinks she’s doing “the right thing” morally, insofar as she believes taking down Tyrell Wellick and putting a stop to the chaos caused by Fsociety is the correct choice. But to do so—to help the FBI get their man and win the day—she pays a steep price. “I’m gonna lose my brother,” she tells Dom, and while the FBI agent certainly knows the pain of loneliness, she can’t know the intensity of the bond between brother and sister, how they sustain each other, and how the loss of Elliot will cost Darlene everything. She struggles with the pain of murdering a woman she viewed as evil; betraying someone good will leave her empty. Also, she was the only one remaining bluntly honest with Elliot. He doesn’t know it yet, but she’s taken away the one person he could still trust completely.

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There’s a lot of table setting in “m3tadata.par2,” but the dominant emotional tone that runs through it is one of pain. Tyrell Wellick again proves that his temper is likely to be his undoing one of these days. Rather than strategizing with Angela and Robot upon discovering Elliot has manipulated the ECorp documents, he throws a fit, smashing shelves and keyboards, raging against his so-called partner and the lack of reliability that comes with having a co-conspirator whose other identity is actively working against them. “You as a person make no sense,” he fumes to Robot, as though Wellick himself were not deeply familiar with the idea of saying one thing and doing another. He can compartmentalize his own actions, but when someone else seems to be split between opposing perspectives, it scrambles his viewpoint. Tyrell wants things to make sense. He doesn’t want to look up, but once he’s told that’s what he’s missing, he immediately refuses to look down. “We were supposed to be gods,” he tells Irving, and that word exposes the raw nerve of Wellick’s true preoccupation. He needs knowledge and control, and he doesn’t have either.

Angela, on the other hand, is living with her betrayal, because she now possesses what she was searching for all those years: purpose. She used to be deeply unhappy, believing that taking revenge on the company that destroyed her family and killed her mother would finally bring her peace. But Whiterose has shown her something more profound. When she asks Irving if he believes “it” is really possible (whatever “it” is), she’s not looking for reassurance so much as confirmation of the faith of her collaborator. She’s been reduced to injecting Elliot with a sedative to keep him from interfering, and convincing Phillip Price to fire her (former?) best friend. She can make excuses all she wants by telling Robot she’s not betraying anyone, that she’s merely fulfilling what Elliot wanted to do all along; but for Angela, finding something to believe in renders all other fealties negotiable.

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Interestingly, the one person whose pain has been the most constant reveals the least amount of it here. Elliot’s depression has been crippling him as of late, his attempt to re-enter the world on the side of the counterrevolutionary project against Fsociety returning him to the sad state of mind he was in before this all began. And when he’s in the midst of the fight, co-existing with Mr. Robot, he’s continually manipulating friends and family in ways of which he’s not even aware. But in this episode, there’s one moment that lands with sickening force: During his attempted interrogation of Darlene, she tells him to get out, that he’s not going to hurt her again...and he freezes. It’s the first time he’s been explicitly told that his alter ego has attacked someone he loves, and the realization of that harm bruises him.

No matter his inability to let go, to not want the struggle against Fsociety’s conspirators to end, he can’t stomach Darlene bearing the brunt of Robot’s outbursts. It’s what leads him to insist, “Whatever he does...it’s not me,” to his sister. “I know,” she replies gently. But even that’s not enough: He finally apologizes for pushing her away, for not treating her like he should, the two even making a vengeance pact to ensure they’ll kill whoever offs the other sibling. The hug they share is meaningful, but that thread of heartbreak underlines it, because we, like Darlene, know this may be the last hug she ever gets from him. Giving him the Polaroid isn’t just a fond memento. It’s her own apology. She’s taken his trust—she at least wants to return a piece of his past in exchange.

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Who is the mysterious man who shot the most recent Fsociety video? The only clue is a flicker of his eyes when Dom mentions Whiterose during their interrogation. She’s right: The Dark Army would never make it so easy to find one of them (and definitely not alive), unless that was the plan all along. Which means he’s either a potential escapee from the conspiracy or he’s a plant, there to sucker the FBI into a false sense of progress. Conversely, he could have nothing to do with them; maybe he’s something either Whiterose or Mr.Robot came up with on their own, one piece of a larger puzzle to which we can’t yet see the bigger picture. He’s the only new element introduced, as the other plot strands proceed apace: Darlene discovered Angela is working with Robot. Irving convinces Wellick to adopt a plan that presumably resembles Angela’s, moving all the paperwork over the weekend in order to be ready for stage two on Monday. And Robot himself is fuming, worried the “glitching” that returned Elliot to his body may happen again.

But betrayal bookends this installment of Mr. Robot, and Darlene’s soul is the real theme running throughout everything that happens. What she’ll do next is anyone’s guess. Elliot’s last words to us are familiar ones: “Please tell me you know what’s happening.” We do, Elliot, but what little we know, you’re really not going to want to hear.

Stray observations:

  • Darlene finally calls out the fact that Dom plays the pronoun game.
  • Irving saying of the week: “No can do, Kathmandu.”
  • Returning to Shayla’s apartment was a surprisingly poignant moment after all this time.
  • Mr. “Fsociety is my leader” was eating Fruity Pebbles and watching Love, Actually when the FBI picked him up.
  • Noteworthy music cues of the week: Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way It Is” during Irving and Angela’s meeting at Redwheelbarrow BBQ; Chvrches’ “Under The Tide” during Darlene and Dom’s bar meetup; and Elliot Smith’s super-depressing “Everything Means Nothing To Me” during Darlene’s closing scene.
  • I’m enjoying Bobby Cannavale’s presence, but he does still feel a bit out of place in this universe. I’m inclined to agree with the commenter who mentioned it’s like someone wandered in from the set of Fargo.
  • Elliot’s stammering excuse to Angela at work was a welcome moment of levity. “That was a terrible lie.”
  • Also, if this was an elegy for Darlene, at least she got to go out with a good line that wasn’t even based on cutting down someone else: “I just did an 8-ball, so I’m golden.”

https://www.avclub.com/mr-robot-takes-a-closer-look-at-the-toll-on-darlenes-s-1820058749