Wednesday, July 20, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - Elliot Experiments with Drugs to Get Mr. Robot Out of His Head in 'eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 2.03 "eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd"

Elliot vows to beat Mr. Robot but it ain't easy. Angela sees behind the scenes at Evil Corp. Sh*t hits the fan with fsociety.

After a critically acclaimed first season, USA has given series creator Sam Esmail a ton of creative control over this season. He directed every episode this year and the network even increased the episode order to 12 episodes because of how much material he delivered. Moreover, this episode is over an hour long minus the commercials. The network executives recognize that Esmail has a specific vision for the show and are standing out of his way. Of course, he had a ton of creative freedom and control in the first season as well. He was allowed to be the showrunner despite never having done TV before. That's almost unheard of in this industry. But it's a move that worked too. The show was adored by critics and fans alike. Last Thursday, it was nominated for 6 Emmy Awards - including for drama series, lead actor and writing. And yet, complete control and the ability to go as long as possible can either go good or bad. This episode has a ton of fun and memorable moments. But it also features some scenes that could have used some tightening as well.

Elliot, Darlene and Mr. Robot are the key players for fsociety. The secondary characters in that movement have had importance in the past. But nothing has really made them stand out as people who should be remembered. In fact, it's difficult to know their names without looking them up online. Romero will likely be remembered more in death ever than he was when he was alive. The discovery of his body is a brutal sight. It suggests that Elliot really did something to him when Mr. Robot was in control. That was one of the big scenes last season where Mr. Robot appeared completely separate from Elliot. And now, the audience knows that to be the more unhinged part of Elliot's psyche. But Romero's death is enough to give the FBI a new lead on the investigation into fsociety as well as freaking out the original members still left standing. Again, it's hard to care about Mobley and Trenton freaking out over the Dark Army possibly taking them all out. It's much more significant when Darlene says she'll go talk to Elliot to see if he's heard anything. But that's something that doesn't happen in this episode. So it mostly comes across as plot setup for the future while possibly indicating more importance for Mobley.

Additionally, Angela's new dynamic with Price is a significant part of the season. She was a symbol of humanity and normalcy in the first year. And now, she's being corrupted by the very company that destroyed her family. She's reaching for power and enjoying the benefits of this new lifestyle. She's captivated by Price. And yet, he largely remains a mystery to her. He is also keenly manipulating her. He is shaping her into his own image. She is aware of that but the fear of the unknown is keeping her from changing the status quo at all. It's a wonderful dynamic between the two characters. It just feels like their two major scenes here drag on for a little too long. When they are at the office together, it's meaningful that she is able to change his mind about the upcoming interview. But is that just a stealthy trick on his part to see if Angela is capable of standing up for herself and the best interests of the company? It might be. He's clearly moving her to power. And with that power comes the opportunity to be really destructive. Angela is given a chance to destroy two Evil Corp businessman because they have been involved in insider trading. She is left with quite the dilemma at the end of the hour. Price is pushing her into this situation. He is wielding his power over her. But it could have been just as effective if the scenes were condensed a little bit.

However, all of these issues are just minor and don't take away from how powerful and effective the main story is with Elliot. He's desperately trying to maintain control over his life. He needs to believe that he's the one in charge of his own body. He knows that hasn't always been the case. He's sticking to a routine to keep Mr. Robot away. But that hasn't been working. Mr. Robot is still haunting his every move and is still capable of taking over every once in awhile. It's gotten to the point where Elliot no longer feels safe in accepting anything as real. That's a dangerous slope for the show. It forces the audience to question everything about the world. What is real and what's not? After the premiere, many fans have started speculating about numerous things in Elliot's new life. He is an unreliable narrator after all. The show can pull the rug out of the audience at any moment in time. But it doesn't do that to surprise the audience. Esmail prides himself in planting the seeds for the audience to figure out the big twists before they happen. But if Elliot and the audience question everything, it does pull us out of the scenes that are genuinely happening when the characters are far removed from Elliot.

Of course, it's just so much fun watching Elliot spiral out of control in this episode trying to get Mr. Robot out of his head. He takes adderall in the hopes of blocking him from his reality. It's brutal watching as Elliot is taken off of the street and concrete is forced down his throat. It shows just how much power Mr. Robot has. He can create that reality for Elliot to experience. Most of the time when Mr. Robot is in control, Elliot simply blacks out and can't remember. He has no recollection of anything that happens with Mr. Robot. But here, it's purposefully done to get Elliot to vomit up the pills. And yet, it's an equally chilling image to see Elliot crunched down in the corner of his room and then picking the pills up to take again. It shows just how committed he is to this endeavor. It works for a little while too. He is able to enjoy an existence of taking a few pills and having a happy day free from Mr. Robot. It's just a fun and exciting sequence to watch. It's essentially a drug induced sequence shot unlike anything that has ever been done before. But this reality is no more real than what he has been living for the past month. In fact, it may be even more chaotic because he's actually engaging with the various activities in his routine. It's setting up for a crash. And boy, does it happen.

It happens during Elliot's faith group. He bursts out in this terrific monologue about how horrifying the whole concept of religion is. He likens it to an addict needing a drug in order to cope with his depressing world. It's a fantastic moment for Rami Malek. This really is such a terrific showcase episode for him as well. But at the end of this moment, Elliot takes a step back and doesn't know if he actually just said that out loud. He doesn't know. That's chilling. Was he in control? Or was this an instance of Mr. Robot being in charge but the audience still seeing Elliot? That would be a fun addition to Malek's performance. The uncertainty is what's driving Elliot's paranoia. He doesn't feel safe anywhere. The drugs brought him no comfort because he couldn't sleep. Nor could religion. And now, he has ruined that part of this routine. Elliot is able to find some solace from Ray who tells him "control is about as real as a one-legged unicorn taking a leak at the end of a double rainbow." People just have to accept that life is one continuous fall of tragedy and paranoia. That's not all that comforting to Elliot. Afterwards, he sees Mr. Robot again. But it also marks a key transition for him. He has tried to eliminate Mr. Robot from his life through conventional methods. Those failed. So now, he has to accept that he can't continue on this path and will need to find some way to confront it head on.

Some more thoughts:
  • "eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd" was written by Sam Esmail and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • Both Dom and Ray are being introduced as lonely people who also talk to people who aren't there. Those comparisons to Elliot are striking. Ray starts every day by eating breakfast and talking to his wife who died several years prior in a car accident. Dom struggles to sleep at night as well and only really talks to Amazon's Alexa.
  • And yet, Dom is doing some solid detective work as well. Sure, she's trying to connect with everyone she comes into contact with in the hopes of making a meaningful connection. But she also discovers the fsociety hangout from last season. Of course, she won't find anything there following the massive party that was thrown.
  • It was pretty great to see Romero talking Mobley through the history of the arcade on Coney Island. It's a dark history filled with unexplainable death and chaos. But it's completely fitting with the narrative that has happened since that moment occurred. Just now, Romero is the one dead.
  • Elliot gets to talk briefly with Tyrell. But it's still a big mystery of where he is and what they are planning to do together. Mr. Robot gave Elliot his proof. And yet, Elliot doesn't know if he can trust what has been given to him.
  • I'm guessing Elliot's conversation with Tyrell was real. Mr. Robot was giving in to Elliot's demands. Meanwhile, after it happens, Elliot learns about Gideon being killed. That's something the audience knows concretely has happened.
  • The running Seinfeld joke between Elliot and Leon is still great - especially when Elliot becomes an active part of that conversation. Though it seems he may have ruined that relationship because of the chaotic nature of the high.