The Invisible Code of Chaos - Mr. Robot s02e01 & s02e02 Review

Hello friend! Welcome to my review. There will be more in the future, and I hope you’ll keep me company for all of them. Writing about TV can be a little lonely sometimes, you know—it’s always nice when that void you yell your thoughts into yells back. Or maybe not yells, but politely responds. Anyway, here are some of those thoughts, for you:
The episode starts by showing us a little piece of the first season’s last memory gap (the one where Elliot launched fsociety’s attack and Tyrell disappeared), but doesn’t give us much new information, except that someone in Dark Army is really pretentious.

        In case you missed it: "the winds of the heavens shift suddenly. so does human fate. we will make an exception."

It also shows us Tyrell being pretentious and telling us it’s like the hack has “come alive.” Perhaps the message here is that everyone is really pretentious, and we shouldn’t pay too much attention to what they are saying? That communication is futile, because most of us are fixated on style rather than saying something of importance? Or maybe none of it means anything, and the purpose of this scene is just to add some suspense and make us wonder what is in the popcorn machine? I could have done without it, and without the scene of Elliot being pushed out of the window as well. It’s nice to see some of the strange cinematography of the show on display though, and the scene at the doctor’s office is brilliant both visually and in terms of sound.

This is what I’m talking about. This is a perfect opening shot. And then the story takes over, and Elliot’s narration draws us in.

Did you immediately understand that the women Elliot lives with is his mother? I know they have a chilly relationship, but I’m still surprised that they act like strangers. It does not surprise me that Elliot’s life nowadays mostly consists of sitting silently, hollow-eyed, and listening to people talk at him. I just hope he finds a reason to talk back soon.

Then we find Elliot in the therapist’s office, in a tense and quite depressing conversation. I was disappointed when I found out the monologue was Elliot telling Krista about his routine, and not addressed to the viewer—not because it’s a bad storytelling choice, but because it feels strange to be left out like this. It’s not about style, but about the relationship between the viewer and Elliot (either the real viewer and the character of Elliot or the real Elliot and his fictional viewer friend, depending on perspective). After we’re cut off from his appointment with Krista, Elliot starts talking to us again. He doesn’t trust us, he says. We should have told him what we knew. Of course, we didn’t actually know anything, though most of us had a hunch or two, but that doesn’t matter much here. How would Elliot know he’s the (unreliable) narrator whose perspective we see things from?

Considering this recent mistrust, I wonder who his journal is directed at. It looks like it’s directed at a “you,” and though many people write their journals this way I suspect there’s a purpose behind it here. There usually is.

Welcome back Mr. Robot! This guy does not like the journaling, or Elliot’s new lifestyle in general. As Elliot writes in his journal, Mr. Robot wants to get to work. What exactly it is he wants to do isn’t clear, but we can assume when he tells Mr. Elliot to lead the revolution, it means more chaos. I’m really enjoying the back and forth between Elliot and Mr. Robot, even if I’ve seen something similar before (again, this show steals shamelessly from Fight Club). The theme of control is tied to Elliot’s mind and mental health here, but it also relates to other aspects of the show. Elliot can’t control his life—his actions, his imaginary friends and foes—but he’s still expected to take charge of a global revolution. And the targets are exactly the people you would expect to be in control, but all the power and money in the world can’t seem to give them that now. In 2016, power structures need digital structures for their daily functioning, and those structures can be hacked. Towards the end of the episode we see the unease this creates among E-Corp’s top people, and it’s damn satisfying to watch even if I’m convinced this is a mostly temporary state of insecurity for them. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Elliot’s hallucinations have really gotten more advanced. Not just an unreal person, but a gun, and a bullet and being shot in the head with those two—which we learn from the journal has happened before. At the same time, he’s learned to understand that they are hallucinations while he is experiencing them. I find it interesting that even with Elliot seeing through his illusions, he still doesn’t see through them. They’re all there, down to details like blood dripping from his head onto the journal page. Unfortunately I don’t know enough about mental illnesses with distorted perceptions of reality to determine the accuracy of this—but I do know that unlike the illusions of some sci-fi or fantasy that the main character makes go away by declaring “this is not real,” hallucinations that come from the mind can’t simply be summoned away. I look forward to seeing more of how Elliot handles his illness, now that both he and us viewers are aware of it.

The scene with the “smart house” could be another clever, if somewhat obvious, comment on control: a house built specifically for the purpose of controlling one's environment goes out of control. It’s scary to think of how many things we use that we don’t actually understand, and can only control when they work perfectly—meaning we’re not really in control in the first place. Aside from this, there’s not much to comment on. If you’re curious about smart homes, this article on The Verge goes a little deeper in analyzing that part of the episode.

I’m happy to see Gideon, and sad to see him like this. Mr. Robot is such an asshole.
He may be part of Elliot, but we see him as the devil on his shoulder, and I keep wishing for him to shut up and let Elliot do things his (probably less destructive and hurtful) way. This “infinite loop of insanity” may make for some good TV, but it’s damn frustrating.

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Darlene as tyrannical revolutionary leader, and the schmucks she leads, is less infuriating but also less intriguing. It’s definitely good to see her as some kind of leader, but the impression here feels flat. I hope we get more depth from her again later on in the season, and not just this juxtaposition of clichés, angry speeches, and crying in the bathroom.

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The episode ends with what I was referring to earlier: the demands from fsociety, which Scott Knowles, Phillip Price and Susan Jacobs discuss in a very gray, fancy office, coming to the conclusion that Knowles should go and give fsociety 5 million dollars (an amount the company can apparently find “between the couch cushions”—I’m not disgusted by this at all!).

And intermission.

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This is a powerful image. Burning money is an effective way to get people’s attention. But then what? What’s the message? The opening scene of this episode reminds me of something my favorite Swedish politician Gudrun Schyman, and her political party Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative), did six years ago: Burning 100 000 Swedish crowns, equivalent to roughly 11 500 dollars, to demonstrate how much money women in Sweden lose each minute because of wage disparities between men and women. Now, I adore Schyman, and I’ve voted for FI in elections for both the Swedish and the European parliament before—but I felt ambivalent about this action.

On a personal level, I’m anxious about money because I’ve grown up worrying about it, and seeing it wasted is unpleasant. On a political level, it’s a little distasteful when a party that claims to speak for the poor and marginalized takes money from wealthy, white men and uses it for spectacle. I would call it out of touch, except Schyman herself grew up in a poor working class family, so she knows very well what it’s like not to have any money. Darlene was never wealthy either—the backgrounds of other fsociety members are less clear.

One thing these two actions have in common that makes them less offensive is where the money comes from: FI received them as a donation from two male supporters; on Mr. Robot, the money comes from a powerful corporation. But whereas FI had a clear message—and used this as a way to get attention to spread that message—fsociety’s purpose is not as clear. They’ve already got everyone’s attention, but instead of saying something they just keep pulling clever stunts. I hope the writers on the show are depicting the group this way intentionally, and that we’ll see some type of commentary on the methods used later on (without completely dismissing civil disobedience and resistance). The show is clearly showing its political activists as flawed, but I don’t think that’s a free pass to avoid showing the consequences of this type of appearance focused and rather narcissistic activism.

Okay, I’ll shut up now. Enough with the political rambling.

I absolutely loathe Phillip Price, and I think you do too. But it’s interesting to hear how similar his understanding of capitalism and corporations is to his opponents’ views:

“That is the business model for this great nation of ours. Every business day, when that market bell rings, we con people into believing in something. The American dream or family values… It could be freedom fries for all I care. It doesn’t matter. As long as the con works, and people buy and sell - whatever it is we want them to.”

Basically, it’s all bullshit. And Price wants to keep selling it. The music choice for this scene confuses me—I’m sure the “off” feeling of the scene/music match is a stylistic choice, but I’m not sure it works.

Continuing on the theme of uncertainty, I don’t know what to think of the show’s treatment of Joanna and her sexuality. To me the scenes read like the BDSM sex is an extension of her sociopath-like behavior, and I imagine this might be offensive to many practitioners of BDSM (not to mention inaccurate). I’d love to hear what someone who knows more about the subjects thinks.

Like Elliot, I don’t care much for sports. Musings on order, chaos and fear are much more fascinating. What mask do I wear? Maybe a DGAF one, to hide the fact that I give too many fucks. Or the mask of someone who’s trying to save the world, when a lot of the time I’m just tired and frustrated, and I don’t want to think about anything real or important at all, much less do anything about it. And you? Are you a badass or just a shitty basketball player? Ray sounds like he has read Elliot’s mind here, which is an interesting change from the other people talking at him, who don’t even seem to have noticed he doesn’t talk back. I hope Elliot lets him in eventually—he could use a friend too. Late night phone calls during Mr. Robot-blackouts don’t bode well though.

Angela is wearing so many masks I don’t even know which ones are fake. She’s clearly not comfortable at E-Corp, but at the same time she seems to be taking the easy road when she decides to stay with the company instead of using the job to take them down.

Everything Angela tells Nayar (the lawyer, whose name hasn’t been mentioned very often on the show) is blatantly untrue, and sounds rehearsed—especially when she echoes the positive affirmations she’s started using with a cliché “I have value.”

So does that mean Angela doesn’t believe these things herself? Or has she completely forgotten what it’s like being honest with yourself and others, so that she doesn’t even notice when she’s talking bullshit? The low self-esteem might explain her readiness to adopt this new, skewed perspective, but is baffling in itself. I don’t remember Angela being this self-loathing in season 1, and I hope she doesn’t stay like that for too long. The first season introduced promising female characters; it would be a shame if the second one undid that work instead of progressing.

I admire the writers on this show for how they weave their themes into scenes and conversations. It’s really smartly done. Within two minutes of Elliot looking through his journal and starting a conversation with Mr. Robot, the concepts of control and identity/masks return, with some additional twists. Eliot may put on a mask (mostly by being silent) to hide Mr. Robot, but in fact it’s Mr. Robot that they see, without knowing what he is. And somehow Elliot manages to get Mr. Robot to give him what he wants by making him feel like he’s not in control - but in order for that to happen, he has to lose control, so that Mr. Robot can take over and contact Tyrell.

Oh Gideon—he certainly makes an honest and sympathetic impression, and I don’t think it’s a mask. Gideon manages to be a complex character while still being a thoroughly decent person, and I’m going to miss his presence on the show. He is also the only confirmed queer character, and though I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a bury your gays type situation, it’s still unfortunate that the show’s world is now completely void of queer people. Here’s hoping the Trent/Darlene ship finally sails this season! I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched enough 100% straight TV. It’s 2016, and we can all do better.

Tova Crossler Ernström is a bisexual Swede, feminist, socialist, INFJ, Hufflepuff, HSP and Taurus. She is fond of personality tests, labels, and lists.