Warning: This piece contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Mr. Robot as well as the show’s entire second season.
“Angela’s right. We can’t beat them, but we don’t have to lose to them either. Maybe there’s a way to stop them from winning.”
Last week, Mr. Robot’s two-part Season Two (S2) finale began with this monologue from series hero Eliot. At the time, it seemed to be referencing the FBI (hot on fsociety’s trails with agent Dom DiPierro following Angela like a hawk) or E-Corp (about to unleash its digital currency on the US to fill the financial sector void created by the 5/9 hack). But based on how the finale turned out, Elliot appears to be on a quest to stop himself from winning.
It took 11 episodes, but fsociety’s followup to S1’s 5/9 hack has finally come into focus. The mysterious Stage Two proves to be a culmination of prior work. The idea of using temperature to disrupt data storage came out during a Steel Mountain data center attack in S1. Planting a femtocell at the temporary FBI setup stations at E-Corp happened in episode six this season. And blowing crap up was a dark Mr. Robot desire from early in S1 before Elliot fought to include “no killing” as part of the hacking moral code.
Stage Two builds on all of this. With Mr. Robot at the wheel, Elliot devised an attack with Tyrell and the Dark Army where E-Corp’s paper records will disappear via massive explosion. It turns out the femtocell Elliot programmed for Darlene earlier this season didn’t aspire to capture evidence of FBI snooping (though Tyrell called that result a nice distraction), instead it was meant for hacking E-Corp. And now Mr. Robot/Elliot/Tyrell/the Dark Army believe they can fill a skyscraper with hydrogen and cause the transformers inside to light the fuse.
(As an aside: when show tech advisor Ryan Kazanciyan said his favorite hack took a week-plus to sort out with head tech writer Kor Adana, was he referencing this attack on batteries and UPS auto-transformers or the police location spoofing from last week? Update—he was referencing the finale and outlines the whole process at the Tanium blog.)
This new fsociety trap has been set all along—our hackers simply need to wait for all the offsite trucks to bring the paperwork in. Elliot only pieces this together with viewers this week, but it’s far too late for him to again enact the “no killing” mantra. Compared to the Steel Mountain plan executed solely by fsociety, Stage Two involves unpredictable players like Tyrell Wellick and the Dark Army. Not only do those entities want to carry things out at any cost, now they’ve become familiar with Elliot’s tendencies over the course of two seasons. So when Elliot’s do-gooder core rears its head, everyone else knows the plan. Tyrell executes clear instructions that Mr. Robot? Elliot (and likely the Dark Army) have in place: “When you gave me this, you said to stop anyone who gets in the way of our plans.” Chekov’s gun in the arcade popcorn machine finally delivered.
They’re all Elliot
Yes, other stuff happens at the end of Mr. Robot S2. Darlene survived the cliffhanging shootout of episode 10 and has been penned in an FBI facility with Dom ever since. Joanna Wellick discovered Scott Knowles had been planting the gifts and phantom phone calls (“I wanted you to feel what I felt,” he says. “I wanted to give you hope that I could step on”), and she now has the pieces in place to frame him for his wife’s murder after a brilliant long-con (Joanna Wellick doesn’t date DJ solely for the possibility of an Ibiza trip, after all). Whiterose and Phillip Price don’t appear once, but they had an omnipresent effect on things this season and ultimately ended up on opposite sides heading into S3.
But this finale and season at-large really revealed one thing: on Mr. Robot, everyone and no one is Elliot. Tyrell shares in the daddy issues. Darlene wants to be the same type of vital leader. Whiterose appears equally enigmatic (and technically skilled). Dom can’t relate to other humans in any aspect of life beyond one (work for her, computers for Elliot). Phillip Price lusts for control, too. And Angela has mirrored him the entire time—going from grieving child to E-Corp employee (or contractor through AllSafe, at least) working to take down the behemoth from the inside to wildcard partner of the Dark Army.
Yet none of those characters matter as much to this show as Elliot. He remains the singular center of Mr. Robot. His internal struggle with mental illness and social anxiety—the “standard bearer” for such depictions on TV—continues to put the overall plot and the individual journeys of other main characters into motion. The whole reason we care about any of the people listed above is because the show spent more time with them as Elliot sat in prison battling for control of his psyche. And the whole reason we’re left wondering if Stage Two will go on—or whether Elliot himself can—is because Elliot the persona isn’t always in charge of Elliot the person. Even seemingly unrelated sagas, like Joanna’s revenge tour and search for Tyrell or Phillip Price’s quest to become the most powerful person in every room, stem from something Elliot-related (the 5/9 hack sent both Tyrell into hiding and Price scrambling).
So although plenty of S2’s top moments didn’t involve Elliot—the Darlene and Angela hacking heist at E-Corp (or Darlene and Whiterose playing adventure games on a Commodore), the plot payoff to Leon’s adoration of Jason Alexander and Paul Reiser, the penultimate episode’s final sequence leading to the diner shootout, the increased theorizing and Easter egging—things always had to end this way. Luckily, even Elliot’s lowest moments (fumbling for Adderall pills among vomit, cursing out a religious support group, hallucinating about Full House during a beatdown) tend to be spectacular.
HTTP iframe is unsupported on HTTPS site. Click here to view iframe in another window
Season 3’s clear goal
Elliot-centrism aside, the success of S2 will likely be a heated debate. Looking forward, Tyrell, Elliot, Whiterose, and Angela have all aligned against Phillip Price and E-Corp. Darlene may join them if Dom’s hail Mary interrogation technique—revealing the entire investigation whiteboard in an attempt to shock Darlene or paint her as vital—doesn’t sway her to comply with authorities. And Trenton and Mobley may join too if Leon hasn’t shown up outside of a Fry’s to eliminate them (remember, Romero died because of a stray bullet and not a Cisco-like Dark Army hit. Leon could merely be shepherding).
More importantly, S3 has a clear goal. This alliance will either carry out Stage Two, or it will fail and deal with the repercussions. This essentially mirrors S1, where Elliot and his rag-tag fsociety mates would either take down E-Corp with their massive encryption scheme or die trying. If it can capture that same kinetic sense of action, the show undoubtedly landed in a better place. (Another aside: S1 mirrored Breaking Bad in its pacing, S2 did so with its themed flashback pre-title sequences. Fingers crossed Mr. Robot gets its Gus next year.)
Alternatively, complaints about S2 will focus on its sometimes glacial pacing (with Elliot separated from the overall story for the first eight episodes) or its tendency to draw out questions rather than offer up answers. But with 12 episodes behind us, fans may have more information than we could have ever anticipated. We know what Stage Two is, we know whether or not Tyrell is alive, we know what happened to Romero, Trenton, and Mobley, we know who knocked at the door in S1 and who was calling Joanna Wellick, etc. Beyond discovering just how Tyrell managed to disappear and lay low, the unknowns hanging over S3 are new and propulsive rather than lingering and annoying.
Creator Sam Esmail never hid from the fact that Mr. Robot started as a screenplay, meaning ultimately it’ll likely play better as a bingewatch instead of a story spread out weekly over multiple seasons. S2 may be the best evidence of that. As a standalone entity? Individual flashes of brilliance aside, frustration mounted as plot threads from S1 sat unaddressed. (Could anyone have predicted we’d spend more time with Whiterose this year than Tyrell, arguably S1’s biggest co-star?) But as a second act, the story addressed the mysteries of its introductory section and set up some tantalizing ticking timebombs for what’s to come. So like Angela, who tells Tyrell this before the screen turns to black, we’ll certainly be there to see what happens when Elliot wakes up.
Look for more discussion of S2 this week on Decrypted, Ars Technica’s Mr. Robot podcast. Listen or subscribe however you please below, and let us know what you think—thoughts, questions, criticisms, or your S3 dreams—through the comments section, on iTunes, or via e-mail.
More Info: arstechnica.com