Mr. Robot 2×01 – 2×02 ‘eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc / eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc”: The impossibility of revolution

mr2x01 cover
If there’s one concern I’ve always had about Mr. Robot, it’s that it sometimes keeps its head in the clouds without coming down for a reality check.  There’s something true about its criticism of the way that technology infects our lives.  We’re dependent on it to keep us deluded, we look at news that reinforces our beliefs, we descent into catatonic states playing hours and hours of video games, we worry about Instagram likes and Facebook comments.  Technology changes our reality in ways we don’t entirely understand.  Not to mention how technology is used to reinforce power structures, from NSA tracking to drone strikes. But that’s a little cynical, isn’t it?  Technology keeps people alive, connects people in ways previously unimaginable, allows us to see the face of a loved one 3,000 miles away.  It’s not all good, but it’s certainly not all bad.

Source: USA

Source: USA

With that in mind, this two-part premiere (it may seem like Season 2 has actually been expanded to 12 episodes, but it’s really only 10 episodes with a double-episode premiere and a double-episode finale) both puts my mind to ease and worries me about the future.  Elliot is isolated after the 5/9 hack, trying to purge Mr. Robot from his psyche, something that has made Mr. Robot a vicious antagonist, shooting Elliot in the head and tormenting him with thoughts of murder and violence.  It’s a great way to dig into his psyche and his current predicament, but continue this for too long and his isolation may feel more like a stalling tactic than anything else.  The Elliot scenes in this episode, especially the ones with Mr. Robot, were the absolute best, and they showed just how fragile Elliot is and how unequipped he is to deal with the impending war.

Source: USA

Source: USA

What makes this premiere great is the notion that the 5/9 hack really didn’t make anything better.  This grounds the episode in a way that keeps some of the more “head in the clouds” elements easier to deal with.  Evil Corp is using the hack as a way to assert that people haven’t paid their bills.  Innocent people like Gideon are being murdered for their supposed complicity.  Citizens are angry, but aren’t carrying out some overhaul of the system.  Revolutions are messy, violent, and rarely replace existing systems with anything much better.  Power structures are always in place, no matter what you do, and they always prey on somebody.  Even Darlene is more jaded than before, making her petulance a little easier to swallow.  She still lives in this fantasy where she’s waging a holy war against the system, but she’s beginning to see just how real that war is getting.

Source: USA

Source: USA

We also see how this affects those inside of Evil Corp, something we witnessed in Season 1’s finale when an executive shot himself on camera.  Having Angela inside of Evil Corp gives us a great view into how people working “for the system” are responding.  Really, Angela is just trying to get by, working to get her stressful job in PR done, repeating mantras and sayings to herself to get through the stress of the work and the existential crisis that comes with it.  The executives at the company still feel like mustache-twirling villains, though CTO Scott Knowles acts remarkably human when he’s frightened by fsociety’s malicious payload, burning six million in cash because he was told to.

Source: USA

Source: USA

But what’s interesting is that fsociety’s plan to have Evil Corp burn the money speaks to how they really don’t know what to do next. Darlene is hunkering down for something, but fsociety is so obsessed with tearing the system down that there isn’t any real plan for what comes next.  And while that makes Season 2 relentlessly bleak and nasty, it speaks to a truth that the “THE SYSTEM IS RIGGED WAKE UP SHEEPLE” rhetoric doesn’t quite dig into, and one that speaks volumes to our time.  Nobody knows how to fix things.  Nobody understands the current system well enough to really diagnose it.  So we descend into chaos without any way to get out of it.  And the man who dug into it is too caged in by his own mind to figure out what is even real.

And that’s the question here: what is real?  Mr. Robot might be a vision of Elliot’s, but Elliot sees Gideon’s throat slit, sees the blood from the bullet wound in his head.  He hears Tyrell’s voice on the phone, but is Tyrell a vision now as well.  How does Elliot keep himself from constructing an entire alternate reality, just like Darlene constructs the reality that she’s fighting a righteous war to free the world from malicious systems, just like Angela constructs a reality padded with cute phrases and mantras, just like Gideon’s killer constructs the reality that Gideon is responsible for 5/9, even when he knows that’s wrong.  We’re all living in our own reality, even if we don’t want to believe that.  Do we really even want to wake up?
So what did you think of the premiere?  Do you think Tyrell is still alive?  Let me know in the comments!
Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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