BY KEVIN P. SULLIVAN
If it wasn’t for Mr. Robot’s unique episode title format, the final hour of its impressive first season could have been called “Welcome to Mr. Robot Season 2.” As Game of Thrones fans know all too well, a season’s penultimate episode is where you get the pay-offs, the big emotional revelations, and answers to questions. So with the truth about Mr. Robot and Elliot’s mental state out in the open, “eps1.9_zer0-day.avi” was able to look forward to what’s next, and as a preview of season 2, the hour suggests that the hack on Evil Corp was only the beginning.
We start with the hack… Or not really. By the time we catch up with the action—and after a brilliant use of ADR to reference the very recent Ashley Madison hack in the cold open—the world is already falling apart. Credit cards aren’t working. Everyone is scrambling to get cash out of the ATM. And no one has seen Elliot for three days. “Who am I?” Elliot asks, stumbling out of Tyrell Wellick’s SUV, before correcting himself. “Where am I?”
Immediately, the show has reestablished a central mystery after making so much clear last week. Now there are so many questions. What transpired between Elliot and the recently fired Wellick that allowed the hack to go off as planned? And did it actually go as planned? The effects are immediately clear and match with what fsociety had expected. Allsafe, like many other companies, is in peril, but there is the possibility that the hack washed away all debt, maybe giving Gideon a fresh start. However, with none of the team actually present when Elliot—his actions taken over by the Mr. Robot portion of his psyche—throws the kill switch, it’s impossible to say what exactly happened.
The first step is to find Tyrell Wellick, who by all accounts has gone missing. A trip to Evil Corp itself turns up nothing other than the fact that at some point in his missing three days, Elliot recorded a new fsociety video all by himself, like a big boy. “We are finally free,” he says. “We are finally awake.” Well, I guess he was recording them all along, but this is the first one where he recognizes his enormous eyes as the ones behind the mask, further merging the two personalities in his mind.
The second stop on the “Where is Tyrell Wellick” Tour takes Elliot to the hobo-beating hobbyist’s home, where he runs into the delightful Joanna Wellick and they have a lovely chat about the weather. Oh, it’s so much fun! Actually, she begins to spin her mental spider’s web around Elliot—who fears that she can hear inside his head—to the sound of music that sounds a helluva lot like Mica Levi’s genius score from the equally genius film Under the Skin. Having talked with creator Sam Esmail about the finale and specifically that musical cue, I can tell you that it is no coincidence. Esmail has already indicated that Joanna will play a larger role in season 2, and contextualizing her very feminine menace here with the sounds of a film about a man-eating alien has me very excited about what’s next for Mrs. Wellick.
As Elliot runs around the city attempting to piece together the time he lost thanks to Mr. Robot, fsociety is busy cleaning up after their crazy, fearless leader. This means ditching all of the hardware in a dog crematory, freeing those dogs, and throwing a party. It literally couldn’t have been more more light-hearted for the rest of fsociety, and that’s a good thing, especially as our main emotional window into this world loses his mind. We still have people who we can connect with.
After a sobering talk with Terry Colby about the real story behind the toxic waste dump that killed her mom and Elliot’s dad, Angela’s taken a PR job with Evil Corp. I understand being strapped for cash, but there are other jobs. Was Cinnabon not hiring? It’s a huge leap for her character, having gone from a crusader against the corporation to the person responsible for an exec’s talking points, and for that career change, she’s rewarded with having to witness her boss’ suicide during a live TV interview.
(About that scene: It’s plain horrifying, even without the parallels to what happened last week in Virginia. With realistic and lingering gore—no doubt inspired by the televised suicide of Pennsylvania state treasurer R. Budd Dwyer—it’s clear to see why the one-week delay was necessary, but with its own basis in history, I’m glad it’s still a part of the episode. This is something that has happened in the past and something that has an eerie reflection on our present, making its shock factor more than just that.)
My concerns aside, I see what the show is doing with Angela, and while I don’t totally buy the drastic shift, it’s good for the show. Up until now, Evil Corp has worked as a concept, where our limited view into its inner workings was enough to propel the story forward and frame the actions of our heroes. But now that Angela works for them, the perspective has pivoted, and the lens through which we see the corporate beast has become much clearer. Because of this, Mr. Robot can no longer attack overpowered corporations with the impotent generalities of a pot-smoking poli-sci major condemning “the Man.” This show is smarter than that, angrier than that, and has a lot more to say, as we began to see with Colby in the last episode, the CEO Phillip Price in the finale, and Angela’s ugly turn while shopping for a new pair of shoes.
Now that the cat is out of the bag about Mr. Robot, Elliot’s connection to that part of his personality has completely changed. At the start of the episode, he’s no longer externalizing the memory of his father and the part of him that created fsociety with Darlene. The personality split is still there, but now it manifests itself as missing memories, the hack being an example of one. Elliot needs to know what happened between him and Wellick, so he goes hunting and finds a flash drive containing a video of his tumble off of the pier from episode 2. As you might have guessed after last week, that push was more of a jump, a detail I didn’t think we needed spelled out so clearly for the audience’s sake but whatever. It was, however, interesting to see the realization play out for Elliot.
The truth of the pier forces Elliot to take drastic action. He needs to coax Mr. Robot out of him—somehow—to get some answers about his three-day fugue state. His strategy is to purposefully put himself in harm’s way and let Mr. Robot’s self-preservation instincts kick in. I think this struggle for control of his other half is the seeds of Elliot’s main conflict in season 2, as our hero becomes desperate to regain control of himself full time. There’s an aspect of his personality that acts autonomously and that is something he desperately wants to get under control. But as the finale comes to a close, we see the more powerful parts of Elliot’s psyche—the broken parts, the parts that know exactly what happened to Wellick—taking over. He listens to Mr. Robot, who instructs him to go home and watch the news talk about their work. Heading into season 2, Elliot is completely at the mercy of Mr. Robot, and I think we’re going to see that start to change next year.
You watched the scene after the credits, right? If not, go do so and come back after.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you’ve witness the triumphant return of BD Wong—whose name was in the surprise-killing opening credits—as White Rose, but the leader of the Dark Army looked very different during her meeting with Price at the Evil Corp palace of excess. The two clearly have past dealings, but the superficial gender flip on White Rose’s part suggests a false front and infiltrations that we have yet to hear about. In just a couple of scenes, Mr. Robot has completely established White Rose as someone to be reckoned with, whether she’s a deep-cover ally to Elliot or a potential enemy whose power to deceive makes her even more dangerous than Evil Corp. It sounds like we can expect to see more from Wong in the future, and let’s just hope so. More BD Wong is always a good thing.