The second episode of the moody, surprisingly accurate hacker drama that’s your new crack aired last night on USA to much fanfare. So how does it stack up to the pilot that already nabbed a second season?
Set in New York, Mr. Robot centers around neurotic, socially anxious computer prodigy Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), who despises big business, Wall Street, and all the income and social inequality that comes with ‘em. His soul is further sucked at AllSafe, a cubicle-lined cybersecurity job, where he helps protect client E Corp, nickname: “Evil Corp.” It’s a juggernaut conglomerate, synonymous with the One Percent. Elliot’s eventually tapped by FSociety (get it?), a ragtag band of fellow vigilante hackers, led by “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater). Elliot helps them hack E Corp while framing its CTO of doing so, sending him to the slammer. Thus, they complete the first step of a master plan: Erase global debt by deleting E Corp.
Elliot, riddled with all kinds of social disillusionment and corporate hatred, jumped at the chance to help. And in this second episode, we now know why.
His dad died of leukemia, in what sounds to be an Erin Brockovich scenario. It was an illness maybe inflicted by his employer, which was, guess! Yup, E Corp. This eventually led to a physical confrontation that caused a rift between Elliot and his dad, right up ‘til the day he died.
This tidbit is first teased a tad in one of Elliot’s routine therapy sessions, with a full blown reveal at episode’s end, while Mr. Robot and Elliot talk along the boardwalk at Coney Island, the site of FSociety HQ, a hollowed-out arcade. Mr. Robot first comforts Elliot, saying he knows what it’s like to lose a parent—then shoves him into the ocean to an apparent, watery doom.
No! Don’t die, Elliot! I mean, we know he doesn’t. He’s the main character, and it’s only episode two.
We did, however, get to know him a lot better in this episode. Not just in terms of family history, but where this hacker draws a moral line. Sure, this dude breaks the rules: What’s a little password cracking, lying, and social media stalking if it means busting kiddie porn wranglers and cheating spouses, like Elliot did in the pilot?
But now, his involvement with FSosciety’s ramping up, in super violent ways. Mr. Robot wants Elliot to help blow up a natural gas plant near Albany. But all in the name of social justice: The plant’s right next to a data storage facility for “every company in the S&P,” including E Corp. When Elliot tenses up and points out people will die, Mr. Robot, a cartoonish embodiment of hacker ethos, smacks down an ultimatum: “Are you a one, or a zero?” Is Elliot in, or out?
He’s out. I could’ve done without the forced (and dragged out) binary dialogue: Computer show makes computer references! Malek’s measured performance tempers it, though. Seriously, how awesome is this dude on this show? The character says less than the others—aside from the fourth wall-breaking inner monologues, which I’m also not big on—but says more in his face than anyone else.
Like in the beginning of the episode, right before Mr. Robot asks him to physically destroy E Corp’s data in a fiery, murderous deed of terrorism, E Corp’s freshly minted interim CTO, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) asks Elliot to head the company’s cybersecurity division, promising him millions. We don’t know if it’s legit, or a trap: Elliot did engineer the executive takedown that made national news, after all. Do they know that?
But throughout that scene, Elliot doesn’t say much, yet his expressions leap from quiet, paranoid awe (Holy shit, I actually ruined that exec—but what do these people really want from me?) to terror. We know he’s grappling with the reality of his mission, should he choose to continue it. Which he does. “I think I’m happy where I am,” he tells Wellick, before eventually heading back to Coney Island.
However, it sounds like he’s done with FSociety. He doesn’t like killing people. That’s too much. Or is it? After telling Mr. Robot “life’s not that binary,” Elliot says in an inner monologue that the Chinatown gangster Fernando (Elliot Villar) who’s drugging and sexually abusing Shayla (Frances Shaw), Elliot’s neighbor, drug dealer, and sometimes hook-up, “shouldn’t be allowed to exist anymore.” Elliot’s back on his own terms, away from Mr. Robot’s grand plans. When he’s operating on a more micro level, decoding codeword-filled Twitter feeds and tracking Facebook activity of those immediately around him, and then puppeteering events to bring those cretins to perceived justice, his moral barometer seems a lot more fluid.
As you’ve probably noticed, Mr. Robot is a change of pace for most USA shows. It’s way darker and extremely cinematic in tone. And there’re great personalities like Darlene (Carly Chaikin), Mr. Robot’s froyo-eating right-hand woman, who breaks into Elliot’s apartment to use his shower, asking him for clothes because she jokes “her dress has cum stains on it.” Characters welcome!
(Side note: Folks online are already predicting that FSociety, E Corp’s dogging Men in Black, and all the other players are figments of Elliot’s imagination, or schizophrenia. Thoughts?)
The show’s final storyline involves Elliot’s childhood friend and possible crush, Angela (Portia Doubleday), who had gotten him the job at AllSafe in the first place. She senses something’s off with him lately. In this episode, we learn that her new bro-y boyfriend is potentially unfaithful, and that he loves a good secret sext. Might he be Elliot’s next target, who already didn’t like him in the first place? Whatever happens, we know that a new, Chinese-speaking hacker is spying on Angela, through her laptop webcam (an ultra-creepy privacy threat that nearly all the main cast told me they now obsess over). Seems like we might be introduced to yet another hacker group that’s bound to rope in Elliot—or who Elliot wants to destroy to keep Angela safe.
What say you, Gizmodians? Did you like episode two? Will you stick with the show? Are you a one, or are you a zero?
Images courtesy NBC Universal