The line between intelligent and self-indulgent is an important one to keep track of. The second season of the hit show “Mr. Robot,” on the other hand, plays jump rope with that line. Its willingness to play with plot structure, narrator reliability and even the role of the viewer makes each episode interesting. While the show’s ambition is its greatest strength, it is also the cause of most of its issues.
The second season picks up right where the first left off, following hoodie connoisseur Elliott Alderson (Rami Malek) and his group of anti-capitalist freedom hackers known as “fsociety”. They have just hacked E Corp, or Evil Corp, a fictional amalgamation of every horrible real life corporation, and are observing the aftermath. The hackers are surprised that the world did not instantly drop their consumerist ways and become more loving to their fellow men. The country is in a panic, there are lines at every ATM and small businesses are closing down because of the economic distress. Fsociety does not have any time to be disappointed, however. They struggle to keep the momentum of their revolution, all while avoiding an FBI investigation led by Agent Dominique “Dom” DiPierro —this season’s most interesting new character, played well by Grace Gummer—and they have to do it a man down. Elliott has isolated himself.
Elliott spends the first half of this season reconsidering everything he did last season and his relationship with fsociety’s leader Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). There is a lot of screen time spent on introspection here, but it holds up mostly due to Malek’s incredible acting. He recently won a well-deserved Emmy Award for his performance, as he has created one of the most fascinating characters on television. Malek is a charismatic force who is able to present many nuances of emotion out of a character who speaks in a neutral tone. Elliott does the show’s narration, but he is not an omniscient presence who dictates events; he merely relays his hopes, fears and ideas to the people he trusts the most: the audience.
While Elliott is never fully confident in himself, the show’s production always is. Creator Sam Esmail directed every episode this season, and they are always a joy to watch. The show gains a claustrophobic and belittling feeling with the actors shoved into the corners of frames, the backgrounds lit with sickly yellows and overpowering white and a skillful use of songs and art in the background. Most of the shots on this show are very symmetrical, adding to the feeling of unease. Everything in the frame is so meticulously placed that even the opening credits never show up in the same location twice. However there are times when style overpowers the narrative. One scene in particular in the season’s penultimate episode was exaggeratedly creepy, going beyond the show’s normal strange scenes and seemed like a Lynchian nightmare.
This leads to my major issue: The show veers into self-indulgence. Last season there were big speeches about the evils of capitalism, and this season Elliott focuses on religion, saying how it is used by the weak to avoid the real world. The speech itself is not a problem, since it refers to a major theme this season about whether delusions, religious or otherwise, are a helpful tool to avoid pain or a way to ignore real life. The problem comes when the CEO of E Corp starts giving James-Bond-villain-style speeches about how he has the power of a god in this world.
Also, this show has to stop with the cliffhangers. Not only does the season end on one, but there are multiple episodes that might as well place a “to be continued” on the bottom of the screen. The first time it happened, I said, “Come on “Mr. Robot,’ you’re better than this.” I was proven wrong when another episode ended with three hanging plot threads. Then the next week came, and all three were resolved quickly and extremely anti-climatically.
“Mr. Robot” does frustrate sometimes, but that usually happens with programs that forcibly break the mold. The show is so committed to its unique style, which is created by its directing, script, extensive censored swearing and even its authenticity. This is probably the most realistic depiction of hacking on TV. “Mr. Robot” has its flaws but it is one of the most fresh and entertaining shows this year. I am excited to see where the show will go next, and in the meantime, I’m going to see what cool things I can do with my computer.
Show: “Mr. Robot”, Season Two
Creator: Sam Esmail
Network: USA Network