Mr. Robot 2×03 ‘eps2.1k3rnel-pan1c.ksd’: The fallacy of control

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Do you guys remember Sons of Anarchy?  That biker show that was pretty good for a few seasons, but went insane when it hit Season 6 because Kurt Sutter’s scripts were so obnoxiously self-indulgent?  Well, this episode of Mr. Robot kind of reminded me of Sons of Anarchy, not because of any of the content, but because Sam Esmail has such a singular command over the show AND because we’re treated to an extended 60 minute (without commercials) episode.  Kurt Sutter was notorious for creating absurdly long episodes where not much happened, dragging the show down every time we got an extended episode.  And here, in this episode of Mr. Robot, we get a taste of Sam Esmail indulging himself, extending things a little longer than necessary, including scenes that probably could have been cut.

Source: USA

Source: USA

But does that mean the episode was bad?  Well, not really.  This episode of Mr. Robot continued to contain the strength of the premiere, keeping a strong thematic focus throughout while never drifting too far into a self-indulgent strain.  Really, there was a level of restraint to the self-indulgence, as quite a bit happened in the episode, and many of the characters feel more alive than they were before.  With so many new characters in play, and with many of the characters apart and in their own individual storylines, it’s important to have a strong setup, deepening characters like Ray and Dom that we just met last week.  And while it can be hard to keep the setup interesting, the thematic focus is still very cohesive and consistent throughout all of the individual storylines.

Source: USA

Source: USA

The crux of this episode revolved around Elliot and his attempt to purge Mr. Robot from his system, and it tied nicely into the idea of freedom and the impossibility of total and complete freedom.  The one thing that has grounded the second season, more than anything else, is the notion that the 5/9 hack hasn’t truly liberated anything.  Chaos without anything to replace it just creates more chaos.  Elliot has nothing to replace Mr. Robot with.  He uses adderall to keep himself awake so he doesn’t have to see Mr. Robot anymore, and he tries to fill the void with mundane things like Seinfeld trivia, enthusiasm about basketball, and cleaning.  But, really, Elliot doesn’t care about those things.  He doesn’t care about God, about religion, about the systems that other people use to give meaning to their lives.  And that emptiness is filled with a massive pain, a pain that is subverted by Mr. Robot.

Source: USA

Source: USA

What makes this really great is the way that it humanizes Elliot and the rest of the cast.  Ray also lost somebody, his wife, in a car accident that wasn’t her fault at all.  He sees how his life was shattered completely outside of his consent or outside of his control.  Angela, at Evil Corp (which is a phrase that has been notably absent from this season), is getting a glimpse at the executives that make it operate, and she sees how small she is in the process.  Even Dom, who suffers from social anxiety and a sense of isolation, can’t move past being able to only really interact with her Amazon Edge.  Everybody in this episode is trapped, often by invisible forces that we can’t directly fight against.  How do you defeat social forces, mental or emotional sabotaging forces?

Source: USA

Source: USA

We also see how fsociety has made themselves targets of some unknown entity, that 5/9 further imprisoned themselves instead of freeing themselves.  They’re unsure if they’re being hunted by corporate forces or the Dark Army, and Romero is assassinated in his own home, further descending fsociety into paranoia and fear.  Darlene still believes in sweeping statements, in sending a message, but the other members of fsociety are less willing to believe in fantastical notions.  People are dying, they’re in open war, and nothing is being done to actually take down Evil Corp.  Darlene is trapped inside her beliefs, inside the fantasy she’s created, and it’s only going to be a matter of time until reality comes to swing at her.

Really, the idea of freedom is farcical.  True freedom means purging yourself from all social institutions and structures, and there’s no way to entirely do that.  Free will itself is a lie, or at best something competing with the opposite.  When Ray equates control to “unicorns and rainbows”, he’s not entirely wrong.  We have an ability to make decisions in our lives, or we at least have to believe that to keep social order, but we have to acknowledge when things are out of our control.  Because it’s that acknowledgement that lets us move forward, and, just maybe, take back control down the road.
What do you think of this season of Mr. Robot so far?  What do you think will happen to fsociety?  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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