“I’d like it if we could trust each other again“
Last night’s Mr. Robot, “eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme,” dropped the logic bomb we felt coming for a while now, the revelation that Elliot’s “perfectly constructed loop” was only perfectly constructed because it was orchestrated behind the steel bars and hired guards of a jail cell. That prison of paranoia turned out to be just a plain old prison, and the paranoia belonged to anyone who expected Mr. Robot not to drop a mind-fuck into the proceedings, with three episodes still left to go.
So like a loop, perfectly constructed or not, let’s round back to the beginning.
Presumably since the end of season one, Elliot has been jail for the crime of…well, I’m honestly not sure. It’s not the 5/9 hack, as the FBI is still scouring the globe to figure that one out. It’s not the murder of Tyrell Wellick, either, although Elliot seems to be holding the buttery gun in that case, too. So, for now, let’s presume Elliot’s in jail for the time he stole that cheating asshole’s dog.
The attendees at Elliot’s church-group were all orange jumpsuit-clad inmates, as were the passerby’s on the New York sidewalks that dissolved into the sterile hallways of a holding block, the basketball players out in the prison courtyard and yes, unsurprisingly, Hot Carla the pyromaniac. Elliot’s “mother” was a stern guard, his dining room table was a visitor’s section, the diner, where Elliot met Leon daily, a mess hall. (I WILL be assuming the philosophical Seinfeld discussion was 100 percent real until told otherwise)
And Ray was some sort of Dread Pirate Roberts, but it seems his black-market website operated inside the prison system, so deeply embedded that when Elliot opens it up to the FBI (and Ray, so violent last week, just sort of accepts it?), he becomes public enemy number one among the inmates. Which leads us to this week’s climax, when the resident Neo-Nazis (or just some pissed off white dudes with bleached hair) drag Elliot into an alleyway to deliver your typical, disturbing Oz-style comeuppance, until they’re interrupted by the strangely ninja-esque Leon and his unorthodox fighting style of “shoving this prison knife literally into your asshole.” That…was a turn, even before Leon speaks: “When you see white rose, make sure you say I did you good,” proving that in addition to resident expert on all things George Costanza, Leon is connected to everyone’s favorite transgender cyber-terrorist.
Loops inside loops, turns inside turns, which brings us back around to…what exactly? A twist, for sure, but a surprising one? I mean, yeah, finding out we’ve been inside a prison for seven episodes isn’t NOT surprising, but there’s also been some heavy layering of clues throughout that reminded me of mid-season one Mr. Robot, where Christian Slater started showing up at all the convenient times. A satisfying twist? That’s where things get complicated.
And I think Sam Esmail knows that, which is why this episode’s concluding voice-over read a little too much like an actual apology; it’s not the first time Elliot’s spoken to us, but it did feel like the first time he was directly using his creator’s voice:
I’m sorry for not telling you everything. Please don’t be mad too long. This will be the last time I keep things from you. I promise. I know what you’re thinking. And no I didn’t lie to you. All of this really happened, this was just my way of coping with it. But now, I’d like it if we could trust each other again.
That’s…everything that needs to be said right there, isn’t it? I feel it’s almost too cynical a view, brought on by the current wave of failed TV series after failed TV series, to actually believe Esmail, who wrote and directed every second of this season, doesn’t trust the durability of his own plot-twist. The perfectness of his own loop, if you will.
Maybe thats the point. It’s interesting to note that this prison twist, episode-ending apology and all, came in an episode where Elliot and Mr. Robot reached an unseen level of harmony, an episode that began with Mr. Robot cradling Elliot’s head, father-like, and ended with Elliot telling Krista “For the first time, we trust each other.” We see it, in that beautifully done effect during Elliot’s alleyway beatdown in which he switches between his identities with every blow.
So as Elliot learns to trust Mr. Robot, we simultaneously learn we can’t trust Mr. Robot. It’s the familiar dilemma, the bullshit behind a handshake hello. The duality between what you see and what you get. “Sometimes you need illusion to gain control,” Elliot says.
How much control does this show, this illusion, still have over us?
“You laugh, but they respect me“
Elsewhere, giant brass testicles are flying through the House Chamber ceiling and the world has become, quite literally, a dumpster fire.
We’re quickly learning that in a twist of fate no one–definitely not the Dark Army, and definitely not FSociety–is profiting from the 5/9 hack quite like E-Corp. The United State’s economy is in such shambles that the only viable form of currency is E-Coin, and “E-Kits”–sort of like a post-apocalyptic survival kit but corporate and evil–are flying off the shelves.
Angela pulling moves to ensure E-Corp’s largest lawsuit was settled–and without a 3rd party investigating the mysterious Washington Township plant that killed her mother, just as Philip Price wanted–isn’t exactly the sexiest of storylines; there’s zero wig-filled FBI heists, and nary a hallucinated dead father in sight. But still, Portia Doubleday sells Angela as a strong swimmer who is clearly still drowning in water over her head. She’s incredible at showing Angela’s disappointment solely with eyes otherwise set in a stone-still poker face.
In the background, still circling, is Dominique DiPierro, who could probably take down FSociety right now if she wasn’t busy searching for a 4th of July Party. How appropriate, though, that DiPierro’s access point into the secret underground world of hacker terrorists is Angela, the one person not there since the jump. “Whatever this is,” DiPierro says to Angela, “it’s not you.”
It’s not. Not exactly. Since the premiere the Angela we’ve seen has been a self-help mantra-fueled front. A mask. An illusion that she’s used in an attempt to gain control.
- I don’t know if this means anything further than some deep-dive symbolism, but check out these two GIFS–one from this episode, one from Elliot and Darlene’s favorite shitty movie–and note the similarities:
- I’m not buying that Tyrell is dead, per se. Remember, Joanna was bribing an employee at the parking lot Elliot woke up in, and she at least seems like she believes Tyrell is alive. Someone called her on that cell phone. I DO believe, however, that Elliot shot him. When you just pulled off history’s largest cyber-hack, and the Swedish businessman starts babbling on about being “gods,” you take the gun out of the popcorn machine and you shoot him.
- With that said: When Joanna straight up murders that dude for having the balls to invite her to a party, in public, do you think she’ll give him the courtesy of a muscle-paralyzing injection or just get it over with, like a ruthless murderer?
- I know he’s the cold-hearted CEO of a ruthless corporation responsible for numerous death and the collapse of a country’s economy but man, can someone hang out with Philip Price on his birthday?