Wednesday, August 31, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - Elliot & Mr. Robot May Be Malfunctioning as Darlene Learns Surprising Information in 'eps2.7_init_5.fve'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 2.09 "eps2.7_init_5.fve"

Angela wants more from Evil Corp than they want to give her. Unsure if Dark Army is working with or against them, Elliot and Darlene seek answers. The truth is out there.

After taking a week off, Elliot is back and so is the unreliable stakes of his stories. Nothing is ever as it appears when it comes to Elliot. He can bend reality in order to better cope with his surroundings. He can withhold information from the audience. He can tell stories out of sequence to further alienate the viewer. The opening of "eps2.7_init_5.fve" fills in that missing time from the end of Season 1. The knock at the door was actually the police coming to arrest him for his small-time personal hacks that brought him comfort and stability last year. He ultimately chose to be in prison than deal with the ambiguity and chaotic nature of real life. Of course, it's a strategy that didn't work at all. His routine in prison didn't help get rid of Mr. Robot. And now, it's fun to get the proper context to everything that has happened in that corner of the world this season. Leon was a plant from the Dark Army tasked with keeping Elliot safe while Ray was actually the warden! Those were great reveals that show just how dark and tragic that whole arc really was.

But now, Elliot has been released. He only served 86 days of his 18-month sentence. He seemingly got out because the government is releasing hundreds of non-violent criminals due to the economic collapse of the Five/Nine hack. And yet, Elliot believes the Dark Army played a role in his early release as well. It's good that he's getting out now. He's ready to walk back into the real world united with Mr. Robot. He doesn't know if he can lead but he believes he has the clarity necessary to be a normal part of society again. Of course, normalcy is never going to be a part of Elliot's life. He has way too many issues and things out of his control for that to be true. It's something he holds onto. But the state of his world is literally malfunctioning throughout this hour. It makes the narrative stakes of his plot a bit more oblique and abstract than normal. It could just be a plot contrivance to delay providing information to the audience for as long as possible. But the mystery and tension remain high even though there are a couple of structural things that are bothersome about this episode.

Elliot realizes he can't be normal because he overhears Mr. Robot talking to Darlene and Cisco while he's washing his hands in the bathroom. He was just enjoying the peace and quiet when chaos and mystery came into his existence once more. But this psychological twist has a new creative energy to it as well. Mr. Robot seems at a loss just as much as Elliot is. That's new and exciting. Whenever Mr. Robot takes control, it's with purpose. He knows far more about a lot of things than Elliot. He's still withholding a lot of crucial details. But here, he takes over because he feels Elliot slipping away. He stopped responding. Elliot didn't even realize it happening. One moment, he's perfectly fine chatting with people. The next, he's on the outside looking in having no idea what's being discussed. This confusion on Mr. Robot's part could just be an act. Something to give him control again while still seeming to be on Elliot's side. They've been on good terms for a few episodes now. Mr. Robot hasn't told Elliot everything. He's still being shifty and secretive. There's no telling what he and Cisco were talking about on the train before the meeting with the Dark Army members. It's a perplexing and confusing detail. But one that also highlights just how little control and order any person really has.

It all builds to the reveal that Stage 2 of the Dark Army's plan was actually Elliot's idea. He went searching for answers. He got distracted by his shifting sense of reality. It's Darlene who actually learns this shocking piece of information. But it only opens new mysteries. It shows that Elliot has much bigger plans than he or the audience ever realized. He's been in contact with the Dark Army longer than anyone believed. And yet, he's just trying to live a normal life. He wants to go back to his apartment because he believes it's what the police will be expecting him to do. However, that final act features one too many mysterious cliffhanger moments to be all that effective. Cisco returns to the smart home to find a missing VHS tape Darlene left there. He finds something shocking there as well. The camera doesn't show us what though. The hour opens with an answer to who knocked on Elliot's door at the end of last season. At the end, Darlene gets a knock on her door as well. But it too is kept as a mystery to build tension and intrigue for next week's episode. And lastly, Elliot returns home only to discover Tyrell's SUV parked in front of his apartment with Joanna inside. It's clear more happened during that missing time on the night of the hack. But why Joanna is there meeting with him now is a mystery left until next week. This hour shows just how chaotic our lives can really be. How normalcy is an illusion that no one actually achieves. There are perhaps too many shocking twists in the end for all of it to work though.

Whiterose gets that message as well. She's been playing this game for much longer than anyone else. She reflects on the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of a former CEO of Evil Corp. He died in a plane crash. But it was Whiterose who orchestrated the entire thing. Now, she's literally peeing on his grave. That was a random but still pretty awesome scene. Meanwhile, it's beautiful watching Philip Price meet with Whiterose as Minister Zhang with their identical umbrellas. That's a wonderfully directed sequence. But it's more significant because of the threats that they both deliver to one another. Whiterose warns that Price will meet the same fate as his predecessor if he doesn't find a way to keep the government from taking over the Washington Township facility. She even mentions his new little pet project which must be Angela. But Price counters that threat with an even bigger one. It could come across as very silly and melodramatic. In the hands of Michael Cristofer though, it's poetic and tense. He warns that he will reign chaos down on China if they don't provide Evil Corp with the money they need to stay afloat right now. He just casually declares it being World War III if they don't help. Again, it's grand proclamations that really work. It also shows that this friendship is starting to fray away which could be very important to the next stage of Elliot's plans.

And lastly, Angela is realizing just how in over her head she is with absolutely everything she is doing right now. She's tried to walk with more confidence and self-esteem this season. She's used her connection with Price to get close to the information she really craves. She makes a huge attempt to get the Washington Township files and expose Evil Corp for all of their wrongdoings with the plant. She even gets a celebratory moment at the Nuclear Regulatory Office. But then, that smile and excitement break down once she realizes the government may not be as motivated to investigate these crimes as she is. Paranoia sweeps into her mindset. She sits in an office for hours it seems like. And then, the woman in charge appears out of nowhere and makes it seem like this process isn't as easy or as anonymous as Angela was led to believe. None of this inspires hope or confidence that this information will do anything to punish anyone for their actions. She takes the files and flies to her Evil Corp apartment. But even that place isn't safe for her anymore. After she arrives, Dom is at her door. She reveals that Ollie told the FBI about the CD months ago and agents have been following Angela ever since. All of her moves have been monitored. She actually has reason to be paranoid. Dom positions herself as the only friend Angela has left who could possibly get her out of this mess. She's falling deeper and deeper into the chaos with no way out. Dom represents hope. But siding with her could come at great expense to Elliot and Darlene.  

Some more thoughts:
  • "eps2.7_init_5.fve" was written by Kyle Bradstreet & Lucy Teitler and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • That shot of Elliot being released from prison and Darlene greeting him on the outside was beautiful. Her hug is very heartwarming but it's even more moving when he decides to hug back. It shows that the two of them really can and do rely on each other.
  • One of the first places Elliot goes after being released from prison is to see his mother in an assisted living facility. He believed he was living with her for months. So, it's nice to see what's actually going on with her. And yet, she just sat there not responding to anything that Elliot had to say.
  • Things seemed tense between Darlene and Cisco at the end of last week's episode. She knocked him out after learning about Stage 2. And yet, he's being completely cooperative here. Yes, he notes just how crazy both Elliot and Darlene are. But he still helps them meet his contacts at the Dark Army.
  • This was apparently the first time Elliot has met Cisco too. So whatever he did with the Dark Army to set up the big plan for the world, it was with someone further up the food chain.
  • Seeing Tyrell's SUV in front of Elliot's apartment wasn't a startling image to the audience like it was to Elliot. We've known that Joanna has been driving around in that vehicle all season long. But I'm hoping that little tease at the end is the first step to revealing what is actually going on with Tyrell.
  • Seriously though, who's going to become the go-to news anchor commenting on fictional events in shows once Nancy Grace retires later this year?
  • Before his current Seinfeld obsession, Leon was watching Mad About You. And he is absolutely right about Paul Reiser not being appreciated as much as he should.