‘Mr. Robot’ Recap: Tensions Rise in an Unusual Hour

Carly Chaikin as Darlene, Azar Khan as Mobley in Mr. Robot
Courtesy USA

Do not read on unless you have seen “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12,” the eighth episode of the second season of “Mr. Robot.”

I wrote a piece earlier today on “Mr. Robot” (and “UnReal”) and the bumpy second seasons both have had. But I also wanted to offer a few thoughts on tonight’s episode, which, like last week’s installment, was generally very strong. Last week, we essentially got two episodes in one, a completely bonkers (yet wonderfully disturbing) sitcom, and a sleek heist thriller.

This week, it was “All About the Scooby Gang,” or a depiction of the worsening situation members of fsociety are enduring in the wake of the E Corp hack, plus we got updates on Angela and the indomitable Agent Dom DiPierro. There was no Elliot at all; no voiceovers and no delusions. As a change of pace and a chance to fill out some of the show’s most frequent recurring characters, it went swimmingly.

If it wasn’t clear from what I wrote earlier today, I do appreciate that “Mr. Robot” is trying to mix it up this season; it’s taking chances, and I do respect that unwillingness to simply hit the reset button on season one. You could say the big “reveal” that Elliot is in prison is something of a rerun of last season, which also contained a big twist at about this point in the season.

The shocker last year, of course, was that Elliot’s father was actually dead and the incarnation of the man played by Christian Slater is a projection of Elliot’s mind. And as was the case last year, there were a lot of fan theories floating around in season one that indicated that viewers were on to this deception pretty early in the show’s run, even though that didn’t lessen many people’s enjoyment of the story or the performances (in fact, I re-watched all of season one, and found that it was an even richer experience the second time through).

Though that graveyard scene between Mr. Robot and Elliot last year was very powerful, indicating just how tortured poor Elliot’s mind was, I often think about the fact that a different scene in which a heartbroken Darlene reminded Elliot that she’s his sister was, if anything, more affecting. It was the twist beyond the big twist, and as such, it was even more surprising and ultimately more emotionally powerful. Darlene had actually lived through one of Elliot’s breakdowns before, and in that season one confrontation, you could see her dread and sadness well up as she realized how far gone he was.

Last week’s big revelation — that Elliot has been in prison all season, not hunkered down at his mom’s — was also followed by another twisty moment, not necessarily plot-wise, but the story veered off in a new direction in tonight’s installment. We spent an entire hour with the supporting characters, all of whom are increasingly consumed by the kind of deep-seated paranoia that has long had a grip on Elliot.

I’ve grumbled about how long it took for this season to kick into a higher gear, but a reasonable amount of groundwork has been laid with these characters by this point, so spending an entire hour on the travails of Darlene, Mobley and Trenton actually turned out to be quite engaging. Next week, if we spend an hour with Whiterose, Phillip Price, or Joanna and Tyrell Wellick (whom I have greatly missed as both a character and an unpredictable counterweight to Elliot), I doubt you’ll find me complaining much.

In this episode, we got a few more elements of the fsociety origin story: The hour kicked off with a meet-cute of sorts between Mobley and Trenton, in which the latter owned the former, from a hacker standpoint, within a few seconds of striking up a conversation in a coffee shop. Shortly thereafter, Darlene arrived with orders from Elliot, who had most likely written the grandiose manifesto she shared when he was in his most apocalyptic Mr. Robot mode. Back then, these new associates thought they were planning the greatest prank or piece of social engineering or hack anyone had ever seen; as it turns out, melting E Corp’s data was all those things and more. Things have certainly turned far more dangerous and frightening for them; Romero’s death, as it turns out, was the least of their problems.

The first season of “Mr. Robot” had a lot to get done, and as a consequence, the show didn’t get to spend much time developing Darlene or many of the other supporting players. But this hour did a fine job of filling out their lives and stories. Even so, the hour belonged to Carly Chaikin, who did an incredible job of taking Darlene through an array of modes and moods in this hour. She was assured and commanding at the fsociety meeting, stunned when E Corp lawyer Susan Jacobs returned home, cool and calculating as other members of the group began to spin out with panic and anxiety, and displayed chilling clarity and will as she made the decision to take Jacobs’ life.

Clearly there has been a lot of carnage as the E Corp hack played out; people lost their savings, their jobs and their houses, among other things. Individuals who know about the group behind the hack and those who are ignorant of its true organizers have one thing in common: They’ve all been pushed beyond the brink by how the whole situation has developed. Just two weeks ago, Dom’s colleagues were mowed down as they grabbed breakfast, and this week, the FBI was implicated in a massive illegal spying operation. And I get the distinct sense that it will get much worse for everyone before (or if) it gets better. 

It’s gotten dangerous and ugly, but the situation in Susan’s pool room was quite different from most of what we’ve seen this season. She straight-up murdered Jacobs, and it was an act that shocked even Darlene. Her face changed as the lawyer fell into the pool. There was a look of desperate surprise as the act played out, but Darlene made it clear later that she had no regrets. Her base code has been altered. 

And now the game has changed yet again. Everyone in Jacobs’ house was already a wanted criminal, but now they’re all accessories to murder as well. Is this the last we’ve seen of either Mobley or Trenton? Could they be gone for good just as I began to care about them? I hope not. In any event, it certainly it looks like a bad idea for any members of fsociety to stay in New York or to hang out with each other.

After everything she’s been through, for Darlene to find out that Cisco had been spying on her and had lured her to his place under false pretenses was the last thing that Darlene needed. It goes without saying that things don’t look good for Cisco. He’s probably got a very bad headache at this point — if he’s lucky. 

A few other thoughts:

  • Rami Malek must have appreciated the break, if he got one during the shooting of this episode. Given how many season two scenes he’s been, and given how many of them have been intense or gut-churning, having a day or two off was, I would guess, a welcome respite for the actor.
  • It turns out the guy Angela had been seeing was actually an undercover operative as well; he was playing her, but he’d gotten nothing out of her. Angela’s karaoke scene made me wish “Mr. Robot” was able to cross over with “The Leftovers,” which also had a memorable karaoke scene in its second season. And it made me fear for Angela, given that nothing good ever comes from associating with Duck Phillips (a.k.a. Mark Moses, a character actor who’s been on tons of shows, including “Mad Men. He played Angela’s new friend at the bar, and if he’s anything like Duck, get out now, Angela!).
  • If only Dom knew how involved Mobley is in the entire fsociety op. She appears to just think he’s a DJ with loose ties to the group, but she’d be freaking out if she knew how intimately involved he has been in the whole thing.
  • We still don’t know who killed Romero; my money is on Wellick, but anything’s possible.
  • I was on the edge of my seat more than once as Trenton jumped at every single noise in or near her house; the same goes for when Mobley’s apartment was surrounded by the authorities. I am also nervous when anybody on this show rides the subway. 
  • This is a wild guess, not based on any inside intel, but I am going to throw out a theory: I bet we get one episode this season that mostly revolves around Tyrell Wellick and what he’s been up to since during the time frame of season two. At least I hope so.
  • I remain a fan of “Mr. Robot” but the episode titles give me a migraine. I know they fit with the show’s computer-oriented themes, but “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p1” as the name of an episode? It’s not exactly easy to bring up in conversation.
  • If you enjoy all things relating to online life and computing and you also like good dramas, get on board with “Halt and Catch Fire,” which just returned for its third season (the first two seasons are on Netflix). I would so love to discover that “Mr. Robot” and “HACF” existed in a shared universe (what if Gordon and Cameron were hacker legends admired by someone on the USA show? It could happen!)