Masks and the Women of ‘Mr. Robot’

The women in Mr. Robot

The women in Mr. Robot

When Darlene showed up at Elliot’s door on Mr. Robot wearing a very familiar mask in a flashback this season, the horror movie origin of the FSociety ‘mascot’ sheds some light on how deep routed their feelings against big corporation goes. Masks can shield identity and the FSociety plastic bearded look also resembles the Monopoly guy and Colonel Sanders. There is something very corporate and old money about this branding with a hint of Guy Fawkes for a dash of rebellion.

Elliot uses his hoodie to hide himself to the world and what this 99¢ bit of plastic offers is concealment with the added bonus of being part of a disruptive squad while nodding to an old cult horror that is totally Instagram worthy. “People need to know this movie exists” as Darlene says and now because of FSociety they do as I’m sure there would be countless posts about the origins of this mask.

This Halloween night hangout takes place before the events of season 1 and provides a welcome brother/sister hangout, which also revealed that Elliot was in possession of another very important garment; their father’s Mr. Robot jacket.

Getting some context into Elliot’s attachment to these items is important, but it is actually the women of Mr. Robot who I am finding the most fascinating this season because the loop we are stuck in with Elliot as he tries to find some semblance of control has become somewhat repetitive; we are stuck in the same way Elliot is and that isn’t always the most thrilling battle to watch. Meanwhile, Darlene, Angela, Joanna and season 2 newbie Dom are taking control and getting shit done in the messy world they each inhabit.

At the recent Mr. Robot TCA press tour session it was an all-woman panel and taking a step back from the core trio of men (Rami Malek, Christian Slater and creator Sam Esmail) shines a light on how important these four characters are to the show and to this season. Last week’s episode “eps2.3_logic_b0mb.hc” (or “Logic Bomb” for short) did the same and getting a respite from Elliot’s battle with his mind gave this season a much needed energy boost.Darlene and Angela have a relationship that goes way back when, but instead of ballet class hangouts, Darlene is breaking into Angela’s apartment and offering not so veiled threats about the danger she is in. Their warm relationship has turned now Angela is working for the enemy, but she is far more than just a cog in that machine. In fact while she is constrained by certain parts of her job, she now has more agency than she has ever had. Angela is playing a dangerous game and while her clothes and hair give off an aloof and an actual buttoned up image it is going to hard to dispel those emotions that might trip her up. Attachments to Elliot, Darlene and the past are part of Angela’s internal struggle and this transition to corporate stooge or corporate disruptor is going to need more than simply listening to self-help tapes and repeating assertive phrases.

This industry is one that is dominated by men and Angela’s work attire is very much menswear influenced; a lot of pants, buttoned up blouses and her hair is scraped back. In a fancy dinner setting this changes to a plunging black frock, but dinner for two is unexpectedly dinner for four. Working alone can be hard and even though Elliot is adamant that Angela is kept out of it, it is far too late for these concerns and it makes more sense to bring her into the fold. She is already in deep and while there might be a lack of trust between Angela and Darlene in the present day, their shared experiences in the past give them a bond that is hard to replicate or fake.

Meanwhile, Darlene is performing FSociety leadership duties while Elliot is ‘away’ and on the outside she is speechifying like the best of them, but the cracks are showing. Stomping on phones to make a point shows an element of power and yet behind closed doors she is suffering from panic attacks. Panic attacks that are referenced in the aforementioned Halloween flashback that she blows off as nothing out of the ordinary.

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Like her brother, Darlene has clothing she hides behind with sunglasses (often of the heart-shaped variety) being her choice of barrier. They also look pretty cool and her whole aesthetic is pretty grunge; this 90s nostalgia revival is ideal for Darlene and in Angela’s minimalist apartment Darlene’s whole aesthetic with big chunky boots and little shorts looks very out of place. Despite this strong visual reminder of the different paths they are on, when they come together on the couch there is an intimacy in how close they sit next to each other and these boundaries can be broken and friendships reformed. It isn’t all monochrome interior design and the orange of the chairs, table and cushions nod to the Angela that feels.’

Sporting sunglasses of a much heavier kind and a blonde wig in the preview for tonight’s episode suggests that Darlene is either trying to make herself look like Angela or she’s just playing the concealing her identity wig game. The hair down would suggest the latter; regardless it looks like things are kicking up a gear and momentum is one thing season 2 has been lacking.

Masks come in many forms from the FSociety mustache number, the horned variety that Dom sees in the airport (that seems like it wouldn’t be allowed in this location), the numerous gas and surgical masks worn by subway passengers to the makeup used to hide those sleepless nights. In a scene from episode 3 that is maybe a little too on the nose we see FBI Agent Dominique ‘Dom’ DiPierro getting ready in the morning; drinking lots of coffee while putting on her makeup to conceal those dark circles.

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Like many women and men in the ‘fantastic at their job, but a mess/lacking in their personal life’ character trope, Dom has a non-existent social life and she spends her time talking to Alexa – her Amazon Echo – and watching Million Dollar Listing New York at 4 a.m. (a reality show I love). She has her shit together at work and like many before her – Carrie Mathison from Homeland and Beth Childs of Orphan Black are the most recent example that spring to mind – she can draw a line between two seemingly unconnected pieces of evidence and blow the whole case open.

Dom is the one who finds out about the arcade location and its connection to FSociety and this discovery and the FBI investigation is why Darlene reaches out to Angela. So far the dots remain just dots, but Dom seems like the kind of investigator whose tenacity will get her there. Plus she is quick thinking in an ambush scenario and might be the only survivor of this violent attack. And all of that with a hangover. After seeing the closet full of exquisite women’s clothes and finding out that China’s Minister of State Security, Mr. Jung – who we know as Whiterose – doesn’t have a sister, it turns out Dom could be the most dangerous person to this whole nefarious operation.

Like Carrie Mathison and Beth Childs her wardrobe consists of clothes that don’t make her stand out; practical blue/black pantsuits that are smart, comfy and non-restrictive. She also has a killer pair of aviators for those hangovers abroad and any messy at home/excellent in the workplace character needs a pair. Dom also has a thing for lollipops, which feels like a cigarette substitution and the amount of caffeine and sugar she has might go some way to explaining her difficulty sleeping.

It is all well and good protecting yourself on every level, but at the end of the day you’ve got to let that mask drop because otherwise you might end up on a diet of watching Million Dollar Listing New York at 4 a.m. and no matter how much I enjoy the antics of realtors selling stupidly expensive apartments this sounds like a bleak arrangement.

One character who is always the picture of perfection is Joanna even as everything starts to crumble around her. Since having the baby her clothes have become even softer in color and material nodding to her new motherhood role, but she is still incredibly cold despite what these pastel and cream tones suggest. Joanna’s costuming is the most classically feminine of the four main women characters and this is all part of an outward projection that hides her very troubling, okay super fucked up side that includes breast feeding while asking for a play-by-play of the death she ordered.

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Joanna is also the star of tabloid magazines covering In Touch Weekly (displacing the Duggars) and this is sidenote but I thought the Mr. Robot art department had done Caitlyn Jenner wrong until I saw the original version. Joanna is only referred to as “Tyrell Wellick’s Wife” and as we have seen from recent Olympics coverage this reduction is sadly not surprising. Joanna’s wardrobe is what is in question and she loves the simple look with plenty of neutrals, draped cardigans and skinny jeans to show off that post-baby body (I’m surprised this made up tabloid cover didn’t go with that angle, but I guess Kim has that covered). If only they knew what was really in Joanna’s closet. These garments also look incredibly expensive giving the impression that she is still dripping in wealth, an illusion that might be hard to keep up.

So while Elliot is the one who kick started it all when he put on that mask, at the moment it is the storylines of these four women that has stopped this season from feeling bogged down in the Elliot cycle of trying to find some semblance of control. He didn’t want to see Angela until his dead dad was finally gone and as I don’t think Christian Slater is going anywhere fast it is good to see the women in Elliot’s life have stopped listening to his requests. Part of the problem is these characters are isolated and that not only makes the plot seem fragmented, but it also makes it harder to care about the general outcome.

Now the pieces are coming together and guards are being dropped. It can be hard to trust a person not presenting their real face and the same can be said as a viewer. Twists are all well and good – plus Elliot is an unreliable narrator – but it is a dangerous narrative game to continue to dangle threads of doubt over what is real and what isn’t. This is why it helps to have a strong supporting cast of characters and these four women are incredibly compelling: by focusing on their position in all of this and how they fit into Elliot’s world it pulls the mask off and invites us in.