What a difference a week makes.
With an ambiguous number of episodes now gone, let’s say it’s the first act, ‘Mr Robot’ has delivered the kind of left field plot twists that made the first season so exciting. Season two has been a slower, more interior show so far- reminiscent of that stretch of episodes that started season three of Breaking Bad where Walt swears off cooking. Now that Elliot’s back in the game it doesn’t take long to get himself into trouble, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Last episode I made what I thought was a fairly tenuous connection between Whiterose’s behaviour and that of the Chinese government. This week’s reveal that Whiterose is also the minister of State Security makes that comparison more apt than I intended. BD Wong does an excellent job of making Minister Zhang feel like a wholly complementary character to Whiterose, one whose warm yet officious nature feels like careful study in the sort of man best positioned to get things done. ‘Mr Robot’ loves duality, and Whiterose/Zhang feels like an inverse of the Mr Robot/Elliot construction. Her appearances on the show so far have been enigmatic, brief- her obsession with time and precision suggest a woman who needs control, and the Zhang reveal is a good clue as to why. Running the Dark Army while simultaneously operating as a senior Chinese government minister can’t be easy, and it seems unlikely that the party would accept her as a public figure. So for Whiterose, Minister Zhang is a character she plays, a man tailored to be what other people want. Notice how Zhang changes his demeanour ever so slightly as he talks to different guests but continues to exude a (slightly scary) professional charm.
Dom gets top billing this week as she heads to China to investigate Steel Mountain’s role in the 5/9 attack, and how that Raspberry Pi ended up in a secure facility. In her conversation with Zhang, Dom reveals that she had another life of sorts, but when that fell apart she found a sense of comfort and security working for the FBI. Dom and Zhang seem to share some level of camaraderie, at least enough for Zhang to show her the closet full of dresses that belong to an absent sister. Dom isn’t buying Zhang’s story, but is that enough to try and kill her?
It seems like, and I say seems, the series of events here is that although their connection was genuine, Whiterose wants Dom to know she isn’t to be messed with, so she sends Dark Army troops to take out everyone bar her, then make sure said troops survive to be questioned. If it were as simple as Whiterose making sure Dom doesn’t tell anyone about her real identity that seems like an ineffective way to do it, and the idea that she revealed herself in a moment of weakness is at odds with her protective demeanour.
Following Angela’s moral uncertainty last week, seeing her interact with Elliot and Darlene again reinforces an emotional bond that’s been lost from the show for sometime- most keenly felt when she manages to get a real smile out of Elliot. Whatever Darlene installed on her laptop shows that she’s still got the mission at the forefront of her mind, it was nice to see a few moments of levity in those scenes. Elliot also tells her about his hallucinations, a partial truth, but enough to prove he’s making progress.
After all, it’s Elliot’s moral goodness that has gotten him into trouble before. He’s put himself in danger by hacking the FBI in order to protect his friends, and he’s discovered Ray’s project deals in some pretty unpleasant shit. Elliot gets beaten for his trouble, but Ray doesn’t seem to take any pleasure in it. It’s just a necessary consequence of his behaviour, and Ray has to be the one to deliver it. If he doesn’t, there may be further repercussions for Elliot and Ray, and we’re getting closer to finding out from whom.