Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
-Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
Stability gave Elliot a sense of comfort. It may have been a failed effort to purge Mr. Robot from his system, but his daily routine over the past weeks was something in which he took solace. It’s the same reason kids will take the same seats every day in a classroom, even without assigned seating. It’s why most of us cultivate habits we can perform in the same way, or at the same time, or in the usual place, day in and day out. It’s a form of protection. The world is a messy, uncertain place, so anything we can do to combat that instability brings a small measure of peace, for people like Elliot especially.
But order is no longer going to keep him safe. (It didn’t anyway, of course, but now there’s not even the small serenity of knowing what tomorrow brings.) Whiterose and Elliot became the counterposed images in this week’s episode, each of them confronting a cold reality: There are forces beyond their control, preparing to do things over which they have no say, and can only destabilize what they’ve worked so hard to achieve. For Whiterose, it’s the confrontation with Phillip Price. Evil Corp’s CEO delivers the kind of harangue that would sound melodramatic, were it not for the sneaking suspicion he’s capable of seeing it through. “I will rain chaos,” he seethes, telling his business associate the threats are over, and China had better hand over the bailout cash if Evil Corp is to retain control of the Washington Township plant. But the key line isn’t the intriguing bit about World War Three starting if his demands aren’t met, or the discussion of Price’s “little pet project” that is almost certainly Angela. It’s his counterthreat to Whiterose: “Order will not protect you any more, my friend.”
Price may as well have been delivering his indictment to Elliot. Not only do we see the entire arc of Elliot’s arrest and imprisonment—the time period we jumped over in the beginning of season two—but Elliot’s carefully constructed prison world is gone. He’s back in the real world. “Init five,” he says, thinking it should bring color and sound, not this grey drab world waiting for him outside the walls of his confinement. Nothing is as he expects, including himself. And as he starts to try and regain control of the situation, to put forth a degree of self-assertiveness, he’s instead forced to realize he’s several steps behind both the Dark Army and his alter ego. Order won’t protect him any more, either. Mr. Robot may think the FBI needs to see him living a normal life, but there’s no secure place to rest. “I have no normal” is Elliot’s last line of the episode for a reason.
It was good to have Elliot back in the fold this week, though ”init_5.fve” was weakened by a surfeit of soap opera cliffhangers. Having someone open a door and then making the audience wait a week to see who it is works when it’s part of a larger purpose, an intentional disorientation of time and identity that fits into the larger narrative of the show. Having both Cisco and Darlene end this week on “What’d they see?” teasers felt like overkill, the show succumbing just a hair to the “tune in next week!” trolling of which critics often accuse it. Normally with Mr. Robot, it’s a clever ploy to undermine those very conventions. Unless something very smart happens in the next episode to justify those delays, this was a bit clumsy, an indulgence rather than a necessity.
Angela’s arc, however, is thrillingly, inventively alive. Positively Byronic in its increasing moodiness and alluring mystery, her subplot journey to the regulatory commission deepened the sense she’s in way over her head, tumbling down a rabbit hole of Price’s design. It was great watching her go to work with the rubber ducky, accessing her shitty new boss’ passwords and using them to gain entry to the Washington Township files. (Watching her be mistaken for Monica was fun, too.) And there’s a great moment of inner triumph when she first arrives at the commission, blowing Jeff’s mind with the extent of her insider info. You can see the feeling of success playing around the edges of her eyes. It’s what makes it all the more jarring when Deputy Director Phelps walks in and does everything but twirl a mustache, revealing the ugly truth that, whatever’s happening at the nuclear regulatory commission, it’s not good. And it’s messing with Angela’s head—which is normally a job best left to Angela herself.
Thankfully, Dom’s there to make it all seem ten times worse. There’s a weird pleasure in watching Agent DiPierro adopt a jocular tone and offer sandwiches while inviting herself into Angela’s apartment. The discovery that the FBI knew about the AllSafe CD this entire time makes the subsequent explanation all the more worrying. The bureau’s been tailing Angela, following her from place to place. (Except for the Fsociety hideout, we hope.) But now Angela sees the doors closing on both ends of the hallway she’s traveling. She’s betrayed her employers to once more try and get justice done at the Washington Township plant, and now, after learning even the regulatory body is controlled by outside forces working against her, here’s genial Dom, informing Angela the next person who arrives at the door will throw her into a dark cell. There are no allies left, by Dom’s assessment. Now would be a good time for Angela to reach out to her best friend.
But Elliot has problems of his own—and his own self is the problem. It’s startling when Elliot’s washing his hands and we suddenly hear Mr. Robot telling Darlene and Cisco to be quiet, a small moment far more compelling than a dozen door-opening cliffhangers. “One second everything was normal, then all of a sudden you stopped responding,” he tells Elliot. The barriers keeping Elliot’s two identities separate are beginning to break down. They’re jumping in and out of control, and in and out of coherence. Worst of all, for once Mr. Robot doesn’t know what to do about it. “It’s like we’re overheating,” he worries, the ramifications playing across his expression in waves. And that worry might be triggering a new form of secrecy, as Robot uses the brief moments when Elliot slips from direct consciousness to talk with Cisco on the subway. Or does he? Elliot knows that when Mr. Robot does something, it’s really he who performs the action, but it’s unclear why or how Elliot can see these movements from some outside perspective.
And that’s before Darlene learns that Stage 2 was Elliot’s idea.
This is the true Pandora’s Box opened by this episode—the realization that Elliot, as Mr. Robot, has been in contact with the Dark Army. He’s working with the deadly hacker organization, and it throws everything we thought we knew about that group into question. Had Elliot and Whiterose met before that first encounter last season? Did they meet after? I’m guessing that Tyrell Wellick is “the man” in question when Xun references “his friends,” but I’m unsure about “the girl.” Certainly it’s not Joanna, who greets Elliot outside his apartment with that purring, “Hello, Ollie.” Whatever plan is going into effect, Mr. Robot knows about it, and Elliot doesn’t. The truce they arrived at after Ray’s goons beat him half to death won’t last long once Elliot discovers the world of information being kept from him. It’s a shame, really: I like seeing them work together, not at cross purposes. They have enough enemies as it is, and if those antagonists are anything like Phillip Price, Elliot and Robot need to watch out. Some men would rather see others lose than win themselves.
- There’s a lot this week, simply because there were so many small moments that hinted at something larger, without offering up further clues. But first:
- Musical cue shout-outs of the week: Saint Saviour’s “This Ain’t No Hymn” rings out while Elliot’s taken in by the police. And that’s “The Order Of Death” by Public Image, Ltd. playing while he’s being processed into prison. And once he’s walking down the halls to his cell, Depeche Mode’s “Walking In My Shoes” fills the soundtrack. On the nose, but fun.
- Leon was a Dark Army plant from the very beginning, there to help Elliot with whatever he needed. And finishing his Mad About You viewing cycle. “My man Paul Reiser, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
- Elliot spent 86 days in jail. Something tells me that’s not an arbitrary number.
- Darlene and Elliot’s hug was like a soothing balm amid the chaos of “init_5.fve.” Especially when he hugs back.
- Similarly, it was fascinating to see Elliot visit his mother after pretending to be staying in her home all this time. And her clock is stuck at 11:15.
- Award for most unexpected scene of the week definitely goes to Whiterose, as she takes a moment to literally piss on the grave of Evil Corp’s former CEO.
- Speaking of Whiterose: A few of you have asked about the pronoun question. Until we know more about the situation, I think the most respectful tactic is addressing Whiterose as “she” in scenes where she presents as female, and “he” in the equivalent scenes signifying as male. The scene with Dom and the clothing a couple weeks ago suggests Whiterose considers herself a woman, but it’d be presumptuous of me to say for certain either way yet.
- Good to know Nancy Grace is still a blowhard jerk in the world of Mr. Robot.
- Ray was the warden. Damn.
- Who lives across the hall from Cisco?
- I think we have a lot of talking to do after this one, no? I’ll see you all online (mostly via Twitter) and in the comments.