Wednesday, August 24, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - With Elliot Gone, Darlene Has to Lead Fsociety in 'eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 2.08 "eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12"

Fsociety releases a video. Darlene acts on a desire from long ago.

An episode like "eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12" would have seemed impossible for Mr. Robot to produce in its first season. It's an entire episode without Elliot or Mr. Robot. That means no voiceover narration breaking things down in hacking terminology. Basically, this hour provides no unreliable storytelling from a protagonist the audience can't trust. This episode comes directly after Elliot revealed to the audience that his entire reality was a lie. His routine was simply how he coped with being in prison. The reveal was significant because it showed just how limited as a character he is right now. He physically cannot be with Fsociety leading them through this difficult time. And now, that isolation has taken its toil on the Fsociety members still out there fighting the righteous fight. Hacking Evil Corp and changing the world was Elliot's mission. And now, he's gone. The world is worse off because of the Five/Nine hack. Darlene is in charge. She's the one making decisions. The pressure is intensifying all around her. Her reactions are determining the course of the entire world. So, it's a strong idea to see how she's handling all of this while Elliot is incapable of helping her.

This episode is possible of happening because the show and Carly Chaikin have done such a phenomenal job in fleshing out Darlene. She was a bit of a mystery in the first season. She was opened up as a character after she was revealed to be Elliot's sister. She has the exact same backstory as he does. And yet, he's the one with the mental health issues. Mr. Robot represents all of his wildest impulses. It was his idea to do the Five/Nine hack in the first place to get back at Evil Corp for killing Elliot and Darlene's father. Elliot has been able to rein in those ideas. It's a yin-yang situation. Elliot and Mr. Robot are the same person. They compliment each other. They come together to make a whole. They aren't always completely truthful with each other. But it's a relationship that has allowed him to be a leader in the past. Elliot's influence is so crucial because he brings a sense of naivety and moral inquisitiveness to the situation. Darlene has no such personality breaks. She is her own whole person. She lived through the same experience as Elliot did. But all she has is herself to blame for the actions she decides to take in this life. A reveal that is twisted throughout this hour.

Susan Jacobs decides to come home early and walks in on Fsociety as they celebrate their latest victory. Darlene got to put on the suit, mask and top hat to proclaim to the world that the FBI has been surveilling over three million people under suspicion of the Five/Nine hack. It's a reveal that has huge consequences for the justice system. It starts a whole new debate about privacy in this country and how we may be giving it all away in order to be connected with each other. Fsociety found its way onto this conference call about the investigation and released it for the entire world to listen in on. That was a huge victory. That's something that Darlene is able to do. She has had strong leadership over Fsociety. They've been much more consistent as a group under her rein. Elliot was always erratic because he likes being melodramatic and hyperbolic. And yet, this victory is short lived because of Susan. Fsociety hacked into her home. They figured they had more time until she returned. They did not. So now, they all have to figure out what to do with her. It represents a dark chapter for the group. Who are they and what are they willing to do to protect their revolution?

Trenton and Mobley are the only other original Fsociety members still around. They've been here since the beginning. They didn't just join in once the Five/Nine hack occurred. They are small time hackers who got an opportunity to truly change the world. Cisco is along for the ride as well. He represents a connection to the Dark Army. That's an organization whose ultimate goal is still shrouded in so much secrecy. They can't be trusted. And yet, Fsociety needed their help in order to succeed with the hack. It's been a very tenuous relationship. One made even more complicated by Darlene's romantic connection with Cisco. But all three of them are taken aback and surprised when Susan returns home. They aren't sure how to handle the situation. They've felt the pressure of the world following the hack. They know that things haven't gotten any better. They are still here fighting alongside Darlene. But they are starting to realize they've gotten in way over their heads. These characters weren't all that significant in the first season. They are now memorable to the extent that I know their names without needing to look them up. However, this episode does suffer a little bit by spending so much time on Trenton and Mobley. Their lives showcase just how dangerous this whole venture actually is. The whole hack is basically a personal revenge plan from the Alderson family. It wasn't about changing the world for the better. And now, Trenton and Mobley are dealing with those consequences.

Darlene doesn't decide to blackmail Susan to ensure her silence. That's the solution that is easily palatable to the rest of Fsociety. It's how they need to handle this situation because they aren't depraved criminals. And yet, this mission is so personal to Darlene. She was there the moment Mr. Robot and Fsociety were created. She's helped Elliot make this into a reality. She feels every bit as passionate about the state of the world as Elliot does. She lost a father as well because of Evil Corp. His death has largely shaped Elliot's character arc over the course of the series so far. But it's an important moment for Darlene as well. It brought about this darkness that has consumed her. It makes her willing to kill Susan just to protect Fsociety. It's such a dark and sudden shift for the character. And yet, it's easy to understand why it occurs. The Alderson family is severely twisted and messed up. They are taking out all of their emotions on Evil Corp. The fate of the world hangs in the balance but at least they are dealing with their feelings through action. Darlene feels no remorse for killing Susan. She does it in a calm and cool manner. It's a hassle to get rid of the body and wipe down every surface in the house. But it's still something that needs to be done to ensure the future of the cause. That's what makes it so heartbreaking in the end when Darlene discovers that the Dark Army has essentially been using her this whole time. Hacking into the FBI was just a way for them to get their own back door into the system for the next stage of their plan. Knocking Cisco out may feel good in the moment but it'll hardly be enough to understand and expose what's coming next.

All of this is great and immensely powerful for Darlene. And yet, so much of it functions as a much more generic episode of television. This show has been so distinctive in so many ways across its series run. Much of that can be attributed to Rami Malek's performance and the feeling of paranoia that permeates throughout every frame of the show. That quality doesn't just go away because Elliot and Mr. Robot are nowhere to be seen in this hour. But there are story details present in this episode that do feel a bit more commonplace. And thus overall, it is a little less special than previous hours. It's still a dark cable drama where main characters kill and have to clean up the body. But that has become a pretty consistent plot point on a number of truly great cable shows over the years. It's refreshing and surprising whenever one of them finds a new way to dispose of the body. Here, Darlene and Cisco stuff Susan into the incinerator at the pound. It's a horrifying and uncomfortable sight. But it's not completely indistinguishable from how similar situations have played out on shows like Breaking Bad, Fargo, The Americans, etc. Mr. Robot is still great in a number of ways. This was just the most traditional episode the show has ever produced. With that, it understandably loses a little bit of its luster. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12" was written by Courtney Looney and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • Angela goes out to a karaoke bar and performs Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." A song which might be too on-the-nose with its message but really works incredibly well in the moment.
  • Plus, that karaoke bar shows that Angela is going out on a date with an undercover FBI agent but she hits it off more with Mark Moses at the bar. Dom is keeping her eye on her. She knows something is up with her. I feel the same about Moses' casting. He's too familiar of a face just to be a random guy Angela talks to for a brief moment at the bar.
  • Given her estranged relationship with her father and her complicated dynamic with Price, it really is not surprising at all that Angela may have a thing for older guys. That would be the way to get to her if the FBI is really interested in that angle.
  • Of course, Dom already has quite the lead in bringing Mobley in for question. She knows his connection to Romero and believes he can lead the FBI to Tyrell. But Mobley doesn't break. He stays loyal even though his biggest fears about being burnt have now come true.
  • In their first interaction, Trenton proves to be a very capable hacker who can easily manipulate Mobley. And yet, she is incredibly naive in the present. She got involved with Fsociety to better her family. But now, she may have to leave them all behind.
  • Does Darlene know how to speak or read Chinese? Is that something the show has previously established? Or is it another instance of the audience knowing more than the characters? Plus, it seems like a huge plot contrivance that Cisco just leaves that message open for Darlene to find immediately. Or maybe he wants to get caught so that he can escape the hold the Dark Army has on him?