Review: On 'Mr. Robot,' Elliot gets back into action with a 'Logic Bomb'
A review of tonight's Mr. Robot coming up just as soon as I go to China for some General Tso...
Midway through "Logic Bomb," Whiterose — or, as they're known in public, China's minister Zhang — quotes Dom a line from the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy of Macbeth as a way to explain their fascination with clocks and hatred of wasting time. Dom's strange, but she's also smart, and she immediately understands Zhang's point about the briefness of our lives and the importance of making the most of each passing second of them.
As Esmail promised last week, "Logic Bomb" is shorter than the last few episodes have been, but still super-sized: 55 minutes instead of 65. The 10 minutes Esmail shaved off certainly helped, but the reason "Logic Bomb" didn't tick by nearly as slowly as the show's previous installment did was also reflective of its content. After the bulk of the season so far took place inside Elliot's head as he waged war with Mr. Robot, "Logic Bomb" turned Elliot's gaze outward again, having him interact more with the other characters and feeling much less like a collection of vaguely-connected mini-shows all occurring at the same time. Last week's episode felt like one Whiterose would strongly disapprove of, while this felt more efficient, even if it was still longer than it perhaps could have been.
As Elliot returns to the real world(*), we see him struggling to draw lines between fsociety and the rest of his life, whether his friendship with Angela or his more street-level cyber-vigilante work. The latter has always been what he's seemed more passionate about — taking down Evil Corp and the corrupt system it represents has always been Mr. Robot's deal, where Elliot feels more connected to people when he's doing simpler peer-to-peer work. Last season, he was able to do both simultaneously most of the time, but the world has changed, as has his life. He's no longer hiding as effectively in plain sight, for one thing, which is how Ray knew to approach him in the first place. He's largely cut off from his friends, who seemingly have to go through a great effort to come see him (while he never goes to see them...), so his main protection comes from the advice Mr. Robot offers, and that's often at cross-purposes to what he wants to do. And the world is in a much more precarious place as a result of the 5/9 hack, which both puts people like Ray more on financial and emotional edge and increases the pressure on Elliot to focus on fsociety-related issues.
(*) Mostly; as usual, check the bottom of the review for Fan Theory talk.
But the episode does a nice job of illustrating how most of the characters are trying to draw lines between different parts of their world, or between what they will and won't do.
Joanna, for instance, thinks nothing of nursing her baby even as she's getting details about a murder she arranged, but she's very strict about how that murder is carried out and what it says about her. Angela at the moment is carrying herself like someone who has totally given herself over to the Evil Corp lifestyle: when Darlene appears in her swank apartment, there's none of the happy and casual interaction between two childhood friends that we witnessed last season, but an imperious executive (or a deep cover spy) who wants this troublemaker out of her life. That she agrees to help with the plan to put a device in the FBI field office at Evil Corps headquarters, and to go visit Elliot, isn't a change of heart, but her paranoia about the risk Ollie poses to her freedom, career, and plans to either align with or take down Price. Maybe she does genuinely still care about what's happening to Elliot, but right now she seems primarily concerned with not letting decisions made in her old life wreck her new one.
And then there's Dom's Chinese adventure, which climaxes this week with a startling shootout between Dom and terrorists of some kind — presented as a continuous take that begins with Dom making small talk with a soon-to-be-killed colleague — but is even more surprising in what it reveals about exactly who Whiterose is and what they get up to when not leading the Dark Army. That the Zhang identity runs state security for China is both a dark joke and an expansion on what Elliot was doing with Allsafe last season: the fox guarding the henhouse. (It also explains how the Dark Army was able to so easily assist with the Chinese end of the 5/9 hack.) Zhang isn't quite an alternate personality for Whiterose in the way that Mr. Robot is for Elliot, but you can see that, good as Whiterose is at faking it in front of the FBI and Chinese government colleagues, they're much more at ease showing Dom the beloved and historic feminine wardrobe — not caring that this clever Jersey girl is almost certain to investigate and see past the lie about Zhang having a sister. Like Elliot, Whiterose can hide very well, and has grave responsibilities. And, like Elliot, Whiterose seems more compelled at times to be true to oneself than to a grander plan.
Of course, we still know precious little of what Whiterose and Price's master plan is, about where Tyrell is and what he's up to, about all that happened before Elliot woke up in the parking lot, who was at his apartment door, and a whole lot more, given that we're nearly at the mid-point of season 2. When Joanna has her bodyguard murder the parking attendant, she insists that the man be drugged first so he'll understand why he's about to be killed. "We let him die with answers," she explains later. "Otherwise, we're nothing but ruthless monsters." I don't think Sam Esmail wants to be a ruthless monster, so it'll be a matter of when, not if, we start finding out the other details and getting a clearer sense of the big picture for season 2. But with Elliot active again — and immediately in harm's way with Ray (who is turning out to be the Vera of this stage of season 2) — this was a good start.
Some other thoughts:
* Elliot's digression in the opening scene about why he writes his own scripts for hacks felt like a bit of a blurring between character and creator; it's not hard to picture Esmail assuming more and more responsibility this season because, while he trusts other collaborators, he thinks he can best translate his intentions from thought to screen.
* One thing I've always wondered about the cliché of the person like Dom exploring a private room at a public event inevitably being found out by the host: does the host have surveillance on the room so they know when someone has entered it? Do they just blow off the rest of the party to keep an eye on the room, lest an interloper wander through?
* While we occasionally heard characters refer to Evil Corp by its real name last season, it feels like it's happening more and more often this year, perhaps because Elliot is so isolated from the other characters, and thus less able to filter the rest of the action through his own mind.
* I'm very curious what Martin Wallström's contract for this season looks like. Shows these days often sign supporting actors to deals where they're only slated to appear in, say, 10 or 13 episodes. We're five episodes into this season, and we've only seen Wallström's face briefly in last week's dream sequence, heard his voice on the phone briefly a couple of times, and perhaps heard him breathing another time or two. Does off-camera breathing pay the same rate as a more conventional appearance?
And finally, our weekly check-in on The Fan Theory, which I now feel is much more likely than less to be true, despite my misgivings:
* Elliot is unable to go see either R.T. or Angela. They have to go to him (though there's briefly talk of him calling Angela). Angela, like Gideon and Darlene before her, meets with Elliot at a table, in positions evoking a prison or hospital visiting room. Elliot is dragged out of his room in the middle of the night by goons. Ray's computer login is "Caretaker." Again, it's not impossible that this is all misdirection — that Esmail, having seen the response to the Mr. Robot twist from season 1, now knows exactly how to push our buttons and make us see things that aren't actually there — but at the moment it makes more sense than not that Elliot is in an institution of some kind.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org