(Photo credit: Michael Parmelee/USA)

In an increasing urban and technological society, the natural processes of human existence have acquired a moral status to the degree that they are thwarted. It is the common feeling that some inhuman force has possessed our ground and our air, our men and women and our thought, a machine more terrible than any that Emerson imagined.

-Lionel Trilling, Sincerity And Authenticity

We’re back to the ones and zeros. Before Elliot logs in to Ray’s site on the TOR network, and discovers his new freelance employer is hosting child slavery, illegal weapons, hitmen for hire, and more, he has a moment of reflection. “If/Then” programming, he calls it—a situation where, if certain conditions are met, then a logic bomb detonates, and “everything blows up in your face.” It’s another version of the “are you a one or a zero?” speech Mr. Robot delivered early last season, an inevitable decision to come down on one side of a fence or the other. And Elliot instinctively goes exploring, as is his nature. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, curiosity is Elliot’s exploit. And it’s what just got him seriously hurt.

Then again, Elliot’s not the one who ends the episode with automatic weapon fire hailing all around him.

(Photo credit: Peter Kramer/USA)

Mr. Robot started off strong this season, full of intrigue and pathos, but this is the first episode that really felt exciting. Fateful decisions and deadly situations have re-awoken that sense of thrilling uncertainty that drove much of last year, where the rabbit holes of conspiracy and funhouse-mirror mind games always came second to a coherent story executed with verve. “Logic_b0mb.hc” was a great reminder that all the theorizing and clues are fun because of the smart, accessible plot; they’re not the source of the appeal. Mr. Robot has Easter eggs aplenty, but what makes it great is a commitment to sharp and solid narrative. Without that, all the curlicues of riddles and psychology float off into the ether. And there’s nothing quite like an assault by gun-toting killers to force you into the present moment.

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In a lot of ways, this was Grace Gummer’s episode, as we finally start to get a sense of mid-level FBI agent Dominique Dipierro and her personality. Dom is a bit lost in the world, as her identity is so tethered to her job and its rewards that she’s at loose ends when she’s on her own time. As she tells Whiterose tonight (who not only has a real name, but is the damn Minister Of Security for China), she had a significant other, a life, and a plan to be a lawyer, but when her love got down on one knee and proposed, she fled. By her own admission, she didn’t really have anything else until she ended up in the FBI. Her work gives her an identity, a sense of belonging—as Dom says, she is “disgusted by the selfish depravity of the world, but at the same time, I’m utterly fascinated by it.” She needs something that intense; she can’t even dream.

And the timing of that conversation is no coincidence. When she walks into the room filled with clocks, it’s 11:50 p.m.: 10 minutes to midnight. The symbolism of that is meaningful, especially when the clocks strike 12 at the exact moment Whiterose has let his guard drop, and his eyes well up with emotion. It’s not just his beautiful dresses (dresses he claims are his sister’s, but Dom knows better) that fill him with feeling; it’s the contemplation of another world, one where the hack of 5/9 never happened. Time is becoming a key factor in the story. I alluded to it last week by pointing out that it sure seemed like Darlene’s knock at the door was the final shot that ended last season, and then some commenters explicitly called it out, making the case that time is looping in on itself in Elliot’s world. If so, then the connection between Dom and Whiterose isn’t just a chance meeting between key players in this mystery. As the clocks tell us, it’s the start of a brand new day.

(Photo credit: Peter Kramer/USA)

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And that If/Then programming is forcing Angela to make a hard choice, too. She’s been put into a one or zero proposition by Darlene, requiring Evil Corp’s promising young PR employee to commit to resistance or refusal. Even her outfits mimic her state of mind: In the above scene, where she’s confronted by Darlene in her living room asking her to make a drop of a package on the 27th floor, so that Fsociety can execute Elliot’s hack of the FBI, her clothing is black and white, emblematic of her hesitation, being caught between two worlds. And once she agrees to the plan, and hops a variety of public transit to meet Darlene at Jacobs’ residence (where she meets Trenton and Mobley!), she’s dressed in all black. She’s made her choice, and it’s the side of her old friend.

Because no matter the state of the world, Elliot and Angela miss one another. She’s tried to reach out to him time and again, but he didn’t want her to see him in his current state, hallucinating Mr. Robot. So once she visits and makes him sit down at the table, he has to confess: “My dead father is standing behind you right now.” It’s an incredibly touching scene—Angela elicits the first genuine smile we’ve seen from Elliot this season—because these two have a connection that transcends the concerns of the moment. He’s happy to hear about Qwerty the fish; she’s worried she feeds him too much. It’s a small beat, but it elevates everything around it, reminding us that, no matter how broken these two may be, or how corrupt the world, this is ultimately a story about damaged people grasping toward the light. Unfortunately, Elliot’s reach has again exceeded his grasp.

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Before being beaten to a pulp by Ray’s goons, Elliot had chosen to do right, the same moral code that initially pushed him to expose the cafe owner who ran the kiddie porn website in the opening minutes of the pilot. He refused Mr. Robot’s entreaties to mind his own business, or take Ray’s advice and not look at what was behind the curtain. “You don’t know when to stop!” Robot fumes, his exasperation falling to Elliot’s determination faster than the firewall of a public library computer system. But that’s what makes Elliot so good at this: His utter inability to see a situation that violates his internal moral code and allow it to happen. It’s what lets him hack the FBI, develop the perfect exploit for a logic bomb, and set up the malware to deliver his designs into every computer and Android phone used by the FBI. It’s God access—and Mr. Robot should’ve expected it. After all, didn’t he want Elliot to be the god, with himself the prophet?

The excitement coursing through Elliot becomes our excitement, too. It turns out that having Elliot in front of a computer isn’t just good for Mr. Robot’s endeavors, it’s good for the show. When Elliot’s heart races, so does ours, as we experience this world through his eyes, even when we’re halfway across the world, in China, seeing things he doesn’t know anything about. (Or does he?) There’s a reason the lights drop out when he’s hacking, and the world falls away, until eventually even his own body slowly reduces in size until it disappears altogether. He doesn’t live for the world. He lives for this. Although there’s an idea of the world that he’s willing to stick around and fight for. We saw it last week, and tonight’s meeting with Angela is a reminder of just how important that idea is to him.

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Joanna Wellick birthed a monster. But it’s not her child, who receives an unusual rattle this week. No, her creation is still inside her—it’s a justification for her actions, one that’s truly chilling in its means-to-ends rationalization. She has the parking lot attendant Karim killed, but she goes out of her way to make certain it’s done in such a way as to make it clear to him that he is being murdered for a reason. As she calmly explains to her body man, “Killing a man instantly robs him of explanation…This way, his mind is able to understand why his life is ending. We let him die with answers. Otherwise, we’re nothing but ruthless murderers.” It’s a disturbing explanation, made more so by the ease with which she returns to singing softly to her child. It’s a brutal coldness, one that would be purely monstrous, if we didn’t also see the frantic hope she holds out to hear from Wellick. The chance that he’s outside the house, calling the cell, is enough to send her racing out the door. Whatever deal Wellick struck with Karim, with his wife, and—presumably—with Mr. Robot, him not making contact after all this time apparently wasn’t part of the arrangement.

The wicked fun of this week’s cliffhanger beatdown of an ending lies in the fact that Elliot’s wounds were caused by a seemingly unrelated situation, not tied to Fsociety in any discernable way. It happened not because of any labyrinthine machinations of evil men behind closed doors, but because Elliot is who he is. His desire to get answers is an itch he must scratch. Darlene may be leading the revolution on the ground, but Elliot’s war doesn’t differentiate between scale. An attack on innocent people must be met, if it’s possible. And Elliot has the means. He just might not have the functioning bone structure, after tonight.

Stray Observations:

  • When Dom’s coworker suffered that headshot, and the blood splattered across Dom as she fell to the ground, I genuinely jumped. It made for a jarring counterpoint to the now-you-see-it-coming murder of Gideon at the end of “unm4sk-pt2.tc.”
  • Speaking of that first episode of the season, I know some of you have raised concerns about the strange numbering of the show’s episodes, but we’re sticking with this. The show itself treats “unm4sk” as a single, two-part episode, so we’re doing that, too, no matter what IMDB says. (And let’s not even get into the whole “2.0” numbering the season starts with, by which logic we’re on episode 2.3.)
  • Good to see Angela’s ex is still a total douche who gets excited about “Josh Groban night” at their old bar. Too bad he gave the FBI a facial composite sketch of the guy who sold them the CD, a.k.a. Darlene’s sometimes-boyfriend and link to the Dark Army.
  • Whiterose and Dom’s talk about art inspired by revolution was deeply meta, calling out the ways it can be both beautiful and destructive—and even that depends on your point of view.
  • On-the-nose dialogue of the week: Dom calling out the lax security at the FBI office. At least she didn’t turn to the camera and wink.
  • I’m taking bets on what the .dmg file that Darlene hid on Angela’s laptop consists of. I’m guessing it’s some sort of monitoring program, but I’m curious if anyone has a different take.
  • Steel Mountain is becoming Steel Valley. “Rebranding.”
  • Dom passes two guys in dragon masks on the airport escalator. Does Fsociety have a different face in China?
  • Angela’s apartment is so austere. It looks like no one even lives there.
  • The opening hacking sequence gave us some stylistic devices we hadn’t seen before—specifically, the almost comic-book-panel screen splitting into four sections. It was a great way to visually depict the shift in action both narratively and aesthetically.
  • “Never trust a tech guy with a rat tail.”

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