Thursday, September 15, 2016

REVIEW: 'Mr. Robot' - Elliot, Dom and Angela Search for Purpose and Answers in 'eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z'

USA's Mr. Robot - Episode 2.11 "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z"

Angela makes an unexpected acquaintance. Elliot does the same. Dom engages in an interesting AMA.

Mr. Robot has always been a very stylish show. That's a distinctive perspective that series creator Sam Esmail brings to the project - especially this season having directed every episode. And yet, "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z" takes a pretty severe turn into the strange. It bends the rules of reality and makes the audience guess what's real and what's not - even more than usual. There's an ethereal and dream-like quality throughout this hour. Elliot wants to escape his mysterious life and constant quest for his identity. He wants to become the silent observer like his friend the audience always is. He wants to fade away into lucid dreaming in order to get some definitive answers about what's going on in his life. And yet, the episode purposefully cuts away from its stories at the precise time when the answers are about to be given. It is a frustrating detail. This plays like the first half of a story. It's not surprising that it's part one of an epic two-part season finale. But it also sets up so much work for next week's episode. This hour is still a lot of fun and has a ton to unpack. However, will that mean anything if there is simply too much for the actual finale to handle a week from now?

So, this episode leaves a couple of important mysteries unanswered heading into the finale. Did either Cisco or Darlene survive last week's shootout? What did Whiterose tell Angela to get her to believe in her? Does Elliot actually meet with a real Tyrell in the back of that taxi? And what exactly is Phase 2? This hour forces all of these mysteries into interesting positions. They all have the potential to shake up the very foundation of the show. Elliot wants to be the silent observer. He wants to be the one spying on Mr. Robot and trapping him in his lies and deception. But there is no distinction between Elliot and Mr. Robot. They are the same person. Elliot forgets that when he's out trying to stalk Mr. Robot through the city. It's not even clear that he's slipped back into reality when he opens the taxi door. Elliot's search for control and identity have been pinnacle character details throughout the entire series. He needs to make sense of his surroundings. He doesn't have the answers. He's in the dark just as much as the audience is. He wants to join us in our observational role. He wants to see the troubling details happening throughout this world. In fact, there's a long stretch of the episode where it feels like he has slipped into this observational mode and is just watching the other characters' stories play out. And yet, that's not the case at all. The audience is still watching. But Elliot himself is trapped in sleep just waiting for Mr. Robot to wake up and move into action.

It's quite an isolating experience as well. The search for answers and purpose in the world can be horribly depressing and alienating. Elliot, Dom and Angela all find themselves lost in this world. They have no one else that they can truly trust. The world is crashing in on them. They don't know how they are going to survive. They don't know how to win in this situation. Elliot suggests that maybe they don't have to win. They just have to make sure their opponents don't win either. That's a tall order considering the amount of plot they are each facing. They are all extremely in the dark. They don't understand why their existence is any more special than the next random person walking down the street. Whiterose boasts that Angela should have died ninety days ago. It's unclear what was so special about ninety days ago. The audience knows time is important to her. But it also just seems like a random declaration. Something that puts importance on her. Importance and intrigue that Whiterose has to see for herself. But something that also makes existence feel even more random and chaotic. Not everyone is Philip Price who can control the world and its inevitability. He sees the poor state of the world and takes advantage of it. He proclaims that this is the wave of the future and everyone has to get on board with his plan. He had the vision to make this a reality and simply doesn't care about the people of the world who'll have to deal with the regular consequences of his actions. He's the one shaping the world in his image. And yet, Whiterose also seems to suggest that not all of this may be as inevitable as it seems.

That's exactly why Whiterose wants to meet with Angela in the first place. She has defied the odds. She is somehow still alive despite the many forces out there willing to take her down. That's why Whiterose is willing to allot 28 minutes of time to talking with Angela. That's more than she has been willing to give to nearly everyone else. That's impressive. She obviously sees something in Angela that bears investigating. And yet, that process is just so weird and strange to watch. Angela is picked up on the street by two people who won't tell her where they're taking her. It's exactly as Dom predicted. The final destination is just a regular house in a regular neighborhood. There's absolutely nothing to distinguish it to inform Angela of where she is. The pictures on the wall have red and yellow squares covering the faces of the people. And then, Angela finds herself locked in a room. A room where shadows engulf all the edges. A room with a fish tank leaking water. A room with a table in the center with an old computer and floppy disk program. A young girl walks into the room and starts asking her random and specific questions. Angela simply wants to know what's going on. She doesn't want to play by these rules. This is a foreign experience to her. She plays along because she has empathy for the girl who'll face punishment should things not move forward as planned. But again, it's such a strange experience.

It's an especially powerful sequence because it is intercut with Dom questioning her own life. Her relationship with Amazon's Alexa is the closest and deepest bond she has in this world. The machine is always there for her. It answers all of her questions. And yet, Dom is in a really dark place right now. She's questioning what the point is in her life if forces out of her control will just keep her from doing anything. She wants to make a big deal out of the shooting at the diner. But she can't because the Chinese government has just provided the bailout money for Evil Corp. She wants to understand this world and feel like she's in control of her life. Instead, she's just laying on her bed unable to fall asleep. She's too busy questioning all the big mysteries of her existence. Alexa is the only one there to answer her inquiries. It's a line of questioning that starts off simple. What color are Alexa's eyes? Does she have a boyfriend? But it too takes a turn to the existential. Dom wants to know if Alexa is happy. She wants to know if she loves her. Work is everything to her. It comprises her entire life. She has nothing outside of it. Is that all a mistake now? Does she have nothing to prove her purpose in this world? Angela ultimately comes to the realization that she had the key all along. That helps unlock the true answers from Whiterose. Those answers are enough for her to tell her lawyer to stop calling her. But Dom is still adrift by the end of this episode.

Elliot's trip to the observational side of things doesn't tell him a whole lot of anything either. He realizes that Mr. Robot really is keeping secrets. He knows now that he can't trust him. Their partnership was mutual earlier this season. But now, it has officially been broken once more. Mr. Robot is always playing a game. And yet, that means Elliot's psyche is constantly messing with itself. Mr. Robot and Elliot are the same person. Elliot needs to spy on Mr. Robot much like how Mr. Robot spies on him. It's easy to get caught up in the chase for a completely different person. But at the end of the day, these two are the same. There is no clear distinction between them. There is no cut and dry line of where one ends and the other beginnings. They both exist at the same time. They need each other. They rely on each other in order to survive. Mr. Robot desperately needed to get back to the apartment. He needed to decode the message he received from Tyrell. But getting to that message was completely up to Elliot who has other things on his mind. He was able to provide Joanna with answers about the whereabouts of the mysterious caller. And yet, he still can't get the same information for himself. He runs into Tyrell again in the back of a taxi. But it's unclear if he's actually there. Elliot can no longer trust his reality. That has always been true of this show. But it seems more so now than ever before. Tyrell proclaims that Phase 2 is really to begin and it will be glorious. Elliot can now see it. But Elliot doesn't know that Phase 2 was his idea. He doesn't know that he's responsible for everything that has happened. That makes for a very dangerous lead up to the finale. The show will have to provide a ton of answers to the actual plot. But it should be interesting to see how this story ends for the year.

Some more thoughts:
  • "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z" was written by Sam Esmail and directed by Sam Esmail.
  • Whiterose thinks it's silly that Angela let a simple lock keep her from opening a door. Doors are wonders to her. She loves the mysteries of the unknown. How a person's life would be completely different if another choice was made or if someone lived instead of died. She definitely gets Angela thinking about her existence.
  • What Angela goes through is such a mysterious and alienating experience. She doesn't want to play along with this twisted game. And yet, she emerges from it just as robotic as that little girl and that phone call were.
  • Whiterose doesn't know if its empathy or gullibility that made Angela decide to play along after learning the young girl would be abused if she didn't. Either way it got Whiterose exactly what she wanted - a conversation with Angela where she dominated the entire thing.
  • Dom notes that it has been a month since the attack on the FBI in China. Time really does move in weird ways on this show. It's not always clear how much time has really gone by.
  • So, was that barbecue flier a part of the big fly-on-the-wall sequence from last week's episode. If so, it's clear the show had a plan all along. Given what we know about Esmail that seems very likely - though I can't confirm it for certain.
  • And now, it's up to Tyrell to provide all the answers. He's actually in contact with the Dark Army and knows about Phase 2. So, he can really help Elliot understand everything that has been going on - only if he's real, of course.