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‘Mr. Robot’ Recap: Getting Those ‘Breaking Bad’ Vibes

Do not read on unless you’ve seen “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx,” the tenth episode of the second season of “Mr. Robot.”

I wasn’t going to write about “Mr. Robot” this week — there’s too much going on! We’re in the thick of the fall premiere season and my brain is already melting, but I just had to note how amazing the last few sequences of this episode were. The final scene was just fantastic.

One sign of a good drama is when you have an extreme response to something that you know is going to happen. There’s no doubt about what’s coming and yet the storytelling can still push your buttons in a big way. Once I saw that motorcycle come down the side street near the diner, I knew there would be blood. This is how the Dark Army rolls — well, one of the ways — so there was no way it would end well for anyone. Before the helmeted passenger even got off the motorcycle, I knew a gun would come out. I knew it would be fired. I knew that lonely corner would be enveloped in chaos.

And yet, despite knowing what was coming — or because of it — my heart was pounding in my ears in those final seconds, as Agent Dom realized her quarry was just a few feet away. What happened was inevitable, but the inexorable nature of the scene in no way diminished its power. The still, fixed eye of the camera meant that there was no way to avoid it. We couldn’t look away, and we didn’t want to know — I didn’t want to, because I had to know how it turned out. Like the characters, we were trapped inside a nightmare and we couldn’t get away. We knew what was coming, and yet they didn’t, not until the machine gun came out, and then — for them — it all happened too fast.

The episode had built up so much suspense by that point that in a way, we needed the release of what occurred. And yet we have to wait until next week to see if Darlene and Cisco survived. Agent Dom appeared to duck just before the shooter began firing, and obviously she emerged from the diner unharmed, but it’s unlikely everyone who was in that restaurant at that moment emerged unscathed.

“Breaking Bad” excelled at creating this kind of tension: That feeling that something bad was coming, and it’s impossible to look away, and the tension is almost delicious in its unbearableness. Truth be told, it was a bit convenient that Cisco and Darlene actually stayed with their hapless injured friend at the hospital: Given how much potential trouble they’re in, it’s odd that they didn’t simply dump him and go. But once they were in the diner, mulling their options, and once we knew that the wheels were spinning in Dom’s mind, we knew it was simply a matter of time before those three people collided.

And once the alert went out to the media with Cisco’s picture, another dangerous element — the Dark Army — was added to this combustible mix. Spare a thought for “Mr. Robot’s” editor, John Petaja, and director/creator Sam Esmail, who directed the whole season, including this episode. This episode very skillfully cut between Dom and the fsociety duo, meticulously ramping up the tension until — bam. Explosion. I do love an episode of television that changes my heart rate even before the explosion arrives, and this one did that.

That’s partly due to the other threads of tension and dread that ran through this hour. Mac Quayle’s music reinforced the melancholy and anxiety that coursed between Angela and Elliot as they stared at each other on the train. When Angela began speaking — asking Elliot why he started fsociety — he was startled, and so was I: Was she wearing a wire? Had she already gone to the feds and worked out a deal to turn him in? Or were the two people who confronted her at the end of that scene cops or federal agents who wanted to question her again?

Either way, it was a powerful, poignant scene, one with very few words. Unspoken emotions between the two characters were so strong and insistent that the scene almost pulsed with pain and love. Quayle’s score reflected that unsettling, sad mixture; it vibrated with insistent stress and desire. In that scene, I got the sense that Elliot hoped Angela would not turn him in, but he also knew he didn’t have the moral authority or standing with her to make that request.

And yet, no matter what she had to do, he seemed to be okay with it. He had, as he said in his narration, left everyone else holding the bag while he was in prison. The kiss could be interpreted in a hundred different ways: As a farewell, as an admission of love, as forgiveness ahead of time for whatever Angela did, as a declaration of loyalty, as a simple act of connection in an impossible situation. Another exceptional moment, one that used a host of cinematic techniques — and the simplicity of silence — to convey so much. Oh Angela and Elliot, your lives are so very sad. I want more for both of them, but the only thing that appears to be in the offing is far more trouble with the authorities. 

It was Elliot’s second difficult confrontation with a woman in this hour: There’s still no sign of Tyrell Wellick, whom Mr. Robot keeps insisting is dead (but he is the most unreliable narrator of all). Joanna Wellick, in her own perfectly controlled way, is starting to show signs of major-league panic, and just to distract us all from how intense everything is getting, “Mr. Robot” also gave us a fun MacGyver mini-episode, in which Elliot jumped on to someone else’s wifi and got Wellick’s location (and could it be Joanna’s townhouse? Hmmm….). We even got a choose-your-own-adventure moment, as the show invited us to find the mysterious object Mr. Robot may have hidden in Elliot’s apartment. 

As for Phillip Price, who appeared at the start of the episode, when it comes to him and Whiterose, I think both are suffering to some degree from Boba Fett syndrome: Both seemed kind of cooler when I knew less about them. I didn’t really understand how Congo fit into anything we’d seen before on this show, and of course Michael Cristofer can do no wrong, but his meeting with Terry Colby just seemed a little expositional and grandiose to me. 

That said, this was, in the main, a very taut and highly effective hour of TV, one that pulled me deeply into its atmosphere of stress, poignant pain and mystery, and I look forward to seeing what Agent Dom uncovers next week. If nothing else, she should have a chance to read her boss the riot act, given that his craven decision led to the diner shoot-out. She knew exactly what was going to happen, and yet, thanks to him, she couldn’t prevent it.  

For my take on last week’s “Mr. Robot,” go to the recap for “eps2.7_init_5.fve,” the ninth episode of the second season of “Mr. Robot.”

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