***Spoilers for Mr. Robot through “eps2.8_h1dden-pr0cess.axx” follow. Spoilers***
Things get … intense, this week on Mr. Robot, and the distinct plot threads that have inexorably been winding and braiding together are now forming a broad and detailed tapestry. We are racing towards the endpoint, but I don’t know if everyone is going to make it.
Where to even begin?
Starting with a flashback has become nearly a standard this season, so back we go to what seems like just before or just as all the shit hit the fan. Before he took up his explosively brief diet of bullets, Terry Colby gave Philip Price a copy of Colby’s own book, the exact kind of egotistical self-serving present one narcissist would hand off to another.
Quietly soundtracked by Erik Satie’s Gnossienes No.1, Colby and Price talk politics, taking easy jabs at Trump and joking about how entering the political game will finally muddy Colby’s seemingly honest, pristine soul.
Colby has other concerns to raise with Price, though. See, it turns out Colby was working on a frankly incredible project on behalf of Price and E Corp: Price wanted (and perhaps still wants?) the UN to vote to annex the Congo … to China.
Colby is everyone in this scene, his position boiling down to just “… seriously?!?” but Price demands it and Price will get it. Somehow, China annexing Congo is both a thing that can happen and, I’m guessing, a much larger part of the Whiterose/Price arrangement.
When Colby pushes a little and asks why: why any of it; why play musical chairs with actual countries and lives? Price calmly tells him that Price just has to be the most important man in the room, all the time. When he’s not, he makes efforts to make sure that, eventually, he is. Always.
It must curl his hair being around Whiterose.
Price invokes God a little bit when talking up his legacy, and Colby is still all of us when he just … leaves. Because, and I think I’ve asked this before, what can you say to such unflinching, unabashed megalomania? You say nothing. You stay out of its damned way.
Then we go back to Joanna’s perspective of her meeting Elliot. I’ve just now realized how Elliot’s life is like a video game. He has the primary mission to complete, but to have the best chance at beating the boss he has to level up via these side missions. Neat!
Joanna has picked up Elliot for a simple reason: to find Tyrell. She tells the story of her first date with the absent psychopath and how she directed him to sleep with a stranger in order to steal the woman’s cheap earrings for Joanna to wear. It was how she knew he would do whatever was necessary for her, to protect her. Whenever he had to do what was necessary, Joanna would get a gift. That’s how she knows he’s alive now and has been calling her, and that’s what Elliot is there for: to find him.
This is his side mission for the week. He’ll either earn some XP or he can progress to the next level, either/or …
Elliot is appropriately wigged until Joanna clarifies she hasn’t actually spoken to her husband, but she knows it’s him calling and Elliot will track him down. Elliot demurs and tries to leave, but Joanna steps in and hisses in his ear: “Do you really wanna say no to me?”
Bro … I don’t think she was “asking,” per se.
Just as a side note, Joanna wears more makeup in this scene than I’ve ever seen on her and I think that’s intentional. Perhaps it’s a sign of her nerves or that she’s putting on this front of fierceness and perfection. She’s hiding how scared she really is.
With no real choice being given, Elliot acquiesces. The bodyguard drives him over to a computer store, as Elliot would have to wait weeks to retrieve his own machines from the NYPD, and Robot and Elliot use a brief moment alone to point out the irony that Evil Corp has created its own currency, which it regulates, to address the economic crisis. Then, they outline a very simple plan: pretend to track Tyrell to as far away as possible — another country, ideally — and hope like hell Joanna buys it (which: HAAAA!), but then something realllllyyyy weird happens;
The phone, Tyrell’s phone, rings and Elliot answers and we hear … the same exact breathing he heard in prison; the same exact breathing Joanna heard. And Mr. Robot vanishes.
Guys, I’m calling it: Tyrell lives. I’d bet the farm, but I don’t have a farm, so you’ll just have to take my word.
Robot stays gone while Elliot is internally pondering this; he finally gets back to the apartment, which remains in nearly the same condition we saw it in when he was arrested. This is significant. He sets up his machine and dives directly into the hack, using a technique so low-tech as to be hilarious, especially when the bodyguard talks up the fact his “team” couldn’t make any headway: every cell carrier has an emergency back door to show blocked numbers in case of an emergency. Elliot faxes a request to unblock the number, pretending the caller has threatened suicide. While they wait for the number to be returned, the bodyguard rambles on about his strange, old jobs, while the show does the most insanely clever thing. Elliot asks us to look around his apartment. He has begun to doubt Mr. Robot’s claims about Tyrell and has realized that Robot has only ever wanted to get back to the apartment. The camera pans around for us to examine the scene as closely as we can, to try and spot anything Robot might have been looking for.
The Bottom Right theory suggested by a writer for the show would seem to point to the wide-open book on the side table, between the couch and Elliot’s room, but other viewers have noticed red light in the frames as well, previously used to indicate that Elliot was in prison. Could the light just be a nod to Elliot’s new-found freedom being less than “free” right this second? Is it the book? Is it the microwave we’ve previously seen him use to fry hard drives?
We’re not to know, yet. Elliot ignores some texts from Angela while he waits, but he finally gets a reply to his request and ties the number to an address.
Whatever that place is, the bodyguard freaks out and declares Tyrell would never be calling from “that house” and he legs it. This is the house where Elliot tried to find Tyrell in Season 1, the first and only other time Joanna and Elliot met, when he told her his name was Ollie.
Make of that what you will. Left alone, Elliot answers his damned phone.
He meets Angela on a subway train and, seriously, prepare for your heart to shatter. The poor, broken, exhausted girl, while both of them sit under posters that suggest they’re being listened to, asks Elliot direct questions about fsociety and eventually admits she’s going to confess her role in it all. She’ll protect Elliot and Darlene but she has to own up to what she’s done.
Elliot spends the entire scene glancing off to his left while they talk, which is important later.
What’s slightly more important right now is that Angela asks Elliot about a time in a museum when she had to get him because he was yelling at staff who couldn’t see the person Elliot could see.
What the what?! Elliot, with a sheepish smile, tells her he has absolutely no memory of that, but she wonders if it was Robot, his father, or someone else.
Then, the trains stops and she tells him he should get off. And Elliot, who a few weeks back begged a kind woman to stop hugging him, steps in towards Angela and, gently, lovingly, he kisses her.
The last time they will say goodbye to each other for a long time was on a train platform. The train stops, Elliot runs, and a tearful Angela is left alone. From what would have been Elliot’s left, the space he was glancing into throughout the entire scene, two people approach her. We don’t get to see who they are.
And this brings us to the crux of the episode. Hold on to your butts:
It was Vincent that Cisco found at the Smart House. The super eager hacker is the guy Darlene put in charge of the Washington mission to teabag congress with giant brass balls (Best. Sentence. Evah), but he’s returned in a terrible state. While Cisco has to say some harsh but true things about Darlene’s failures as a leader to convince her to take Vincent to a direly needed hospital, we jump back to the Smart House.
Dom is there, because, unknown to Darlene, the Washington crew got caught — all but Vincent, who barely made it out of some kind of car wreck. They gave up the Smart House, so now it’s known the owner is missing and neighbours gave sketches of Cisco to the Feds. Dom compares these with sketches (*siiiiiiiiiiiiigh* fucking) Ollie gave her and knows she has her man.
She runs to her boss, Santiago, the one who suspiciously survived China, and he doubles down on shiftiness by ignoring her warnings about Dark Army, opting to put Cisco’s face all over the news as soon as he’s physically able. He gives Dom just enough information to start trying to find Cisco’s address but the man is sooooooo clearly a plant for the Dark Army or for someone. He has an agenda.
Back with Darlene and Cisco they wait on Vincent in the ER and Darlene tells what might be the most significant story of her character arc. See, in dressing her down Cisco told her she wasn’t special. He apologises, but Darlene takes it in stride and explains that it’s the truth. Elliot has always been the special one. On that fabled, fated trip to Coney Island, it turns out their mother let go of five-year-old Darlene’s hand in the crowd. Darlene wandered alone before an old lady picked her up, took her for ice cream, and took her home to raise as her own daughter. Darlene could have shouted out or run or tried to get help at any time, but she didn’t. Because she felt special for once. She had to be kidnapped and held overnight to feel special. In the end, the police came and took her home but she still wonders: what if they never had, and this woman had become her mother? What would her life have been like?
But, then, she reasons, if she had stayed … she wouldn’t have Elliot.
Excuse me, I have to go and cry for a hundred years and then write an essay about my feelings.
Is this why Darlene is so absent? Was she just the pathologically ignored child compared to her “special” older brother? Oh, Darlene, baby girl.
They learn Vincent is getting tests and they can take an hour to get some food so they do, and, just so you know, the show is about to Fuck. You. Up, the pair actually share some sweet moments over their food, teasing each other about whether Cisco can have something he didn’t order off Darlene’s plate.
Oh, man. Brace yourselves.
A nurse at the hospital sees the news and calls it in and, while Santiago still, continually tries to shut Dom down, she quickly and brilliantly figures out the pair likely don’t know they’re on the news and are probably coming back for their friend, so can’t be that far away. She runs out into the night and, while my heart rate reaches dangerous levels, she eventually tracks the pair down at their restaurant. She calls in for backup, running away from us while the camera remains static on the other side of the road. The action remains buried at the back of the frame in an amazingly bold directorial choice that makes us feel more powerless to help than we could ever feel. Seconds after she calls for back up, the Dark Army arrives and shoots point blank into the window.
Dom, meanwhile, as she does, dives clean out of the way, fires back and injures the shooter, who Dark-Army suicides before he’s captured and, as backup finally arrives, Dom runs back to the same spot from before. She’s covered from head to toe in blood.
Cut to black.
I … I just … I need several drinks.
- This is an old one, but the bodyguard’s reaction to the address made me think it belongs to Scott Knowles, the husband of the woman Tyrell murdered. It was hinted he had some knowledge of the gifts Tyrell sent to Joanna, though obviously not the specific significance it has for her, so he could be playing head games.
- But what if it’s Haus Wellick the calls are emanating from? I would think Elliot would have at least recognised Tyrell’s street address, having been there once before under his own steam and literally just an hour ago, but the show has planted the idea at least one call came from outside the home …
- Is it Tyrell? Did Robot vanish because a lie he told just got depth charged right in his face? Did he vanish because he can’t be Tyrell and Robot at the same time? He seemed just as surprised as Elliot when that phone rang.
- But here’s the thing: the sounds were the same again. The same as Elliot heard in prison, the same as Joanna heard. Is it a recording, like I’ve wondered a dozen times?
- And what was in Elliot’s apartment? The book appears to be the big clue but what else can we see? An overturned pizza box, some deposited mail? I think it’s the book. From previous episodes, that same spot has previously been occupied by Qwerty and his bowl. The bowl is now closer to the kitchen and the fish lives with Angela. So, someone put that book there after she came by?
- What of Darlene? And Cisco? Honestly, at this point, I want the survivors to end up in Dom’s custody. They’re safer there than anywhere else. Santiago is not to be trusted; Dark Army is everywhere.
- But it seems pretty clear it’s too late for somebody to be protected. Will it be Darlene or the newly interesting Cisco who bites it? All signs have pointed to Darlene, but, where she goes, Cisco tends to follow. Maybe, this entire time, we were worried about the wrong hacker.
- Oh, and what about Darlene’s story? I’ve wondered a long while why Darlene’s place in the family seems so … strange. This is part of an answer, but is it all of it? And perhaps a more pressing question: how exactly did Darlene get lost? She claims she can’t remember exactly how she found herself in the crowd, but they establish she was alone with her mother when it happened. Every thought I have about this scenario is just depressing. I don’t even know if it’s vital to the plot; it just speaks more to the misery of the Alderson children’s upbringing.
And, just briefly, I want to talk about the shooting scene. It’s the show’s second mass shooting in one season, a heavy load and no doubt at least a small allusion to the grim and dominating headlines of the last few years. Unlike shootings in other shows, in cinema, both incidents have been shot in a carefully planned and chosen style that distance themselves from the ugliness of the scenes, but also reflects Dom’s awareness of her surroundings so well it hurts my heart. In China, Dom (and we with her) were so swept along by her story that the shooters were in the lobby firing before anyone knew it. Now, Dom is more shrewd, has figured out some level of the danger but, like so many others, remains in the dark in very important ways. The decision to plant the camera and have her walk away into that wide, open frame, into the gaping maw of danger, reflects her obliviousness to the continued danger around her. She trusts too much, is too strong-headed, and has missed vital clues. For her warning to Angela last week, Dom clearly hasn’t applied the same concerns to herself. She needs to. She doesn’t have much hope otherwise.