For most of this season, there were three things I felt certain would happen.
- Fsociety would discover the dark army have been manipulating them since before the 5/9 attacks, and they would have to find some way to move against them
- Elliot and Mr Robot would find some way to cohabit, and his ability to switch between them at will would prove useful in achieving his goals.
- Angela, despite her best efforts, would end up dead.
After this week, I feel confident that I was wrong on all three counts. Let’s approach them in order.
- With Elliot sitting out most of this season, both literally and figuratively, the show has adopted a patina of failure. An Fsociety without him felt scared and reactive, getting closer to the arrest with little progression. Failure and devastation are not exactly cheery motifs to build a show around, and some of the slow going earlier on did feel mired in thematic noodling. And with this week’s title indicating a ‘back to normal’ for the show, it makes sense they’d choose this week to upend everything again. There’s a lot of plot twists week,-and while the third act relies too heavily on cliffhangers, Esmail’s judicious editing gives them enough space to feel that everything is crashing down around them.
Earlier on, I’d suggested that Fsociety’s success would be undone by the Dark Army’s machinations, and the reveal that Elliot (or perhaps more accurately, Mr Robot) came up with stage 2 sets in motion some troubling possibilities. That the show has chosen to spend so long in a mood of hopelessness to then reveal that Elliot had a plan all along is a challenging move, especially coming off the heels of the prison reveal two weeks back. The unreliable narrator trope is rarely used in television, because it’s potential longevity makes it harder for the trick to work multiple times. If we soon learn what stage 2 is, and why it was necessary to keep it a secret, then the trick still has some life left in it. If not, they run the risk of frustrating the audience.
- A few weeks back, we saw Mr Robot and Elliot switch back and forth when he was getting a beat down from those white supremacists. At the time, my assumption was that this was Mr Robot jumping into to protect Elliot, but now it reads like a more slapdash solution. Now that there’s proper communication between the two, Mr Robot’s comment about overheating is a warning. The brain wasn’t designed to run two personalities at once. Again, this raises an issue. It seems unlikely that the show would get rid of Christian Slater, and it certainly won’t get rid of Rami Malek- but it can’t keep this up forever. What I think we’re seeing is the sort of scene that probably occurred regularly in season 1 but we didn’t have access to it. When Mr Robot is on screen, that’s where Elliot ‘actually’ is, but now that Elliot is aware of Mr Robot as his own entity, is picturing himself outside the action watching Mr Robot. Despite their new agreement, there are things Mr Robot has done Elliot doesn’t know about, and even if he’s convinced Elliot isn’t ready for that information yet the distance between them could have dire consequences.
3. Speaking of distance, Angela’s efforts to find justice for what happened to her family have continued to put her in harm’s way. This week’s visit to the ‘Corridor of Danger’ might have finally been enough to scare her off entirely, and Dom’s visit certainly didn’t help matters. Her storyline has picked a lot of the pessimistic vibes of this season while Elliot explores conspiracy and intrigue. Esmail’s very good at manipulating the size of people within a frame, and with a few lamps built an office so banal it threatened to eat her alive. Are the nuclear safety commission in Ecorp’s pocket? Maybe, but the threat of discovery indicates that it’s not that simple. What Angela learns here is that there are no independent whistle-blowers, and the ambiguous nature of who controls who is kept that way for a reason. Like the Dark Army, people won’t speak out if they know people are watching but are never certain who. If she survives the season, she’ll do it because Whiterose needs her alive for something. What if Stage 2 only happens because Elliot asked to keep her safe?