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.
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.
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?
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.