What we look for both in public officials and in our friends is character. Not a set of discrete, heroic, ethically significant decisions, but the imperceptible choices of dispositions that are manifest in the course of a lifetime. And character is an indissoluble amalgam of motives and calculations. No one specializes in that. Betrayal, especially, is built into relations of trust at every level of society—at home, in the office, and at war. As social actors, we all have unclean hands some of the time.
Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices
Darlene wanted this to happen. That’s the simplest answer, the Occam’s razor explanation for the murder of Susan Jacobs this week on Mr. Robot. Viewers were no doubt slapping their foreheads during the first act of “succ3ss0r.p12,” wondering how the crew could be so stupid as to allow such a fundamental fuckup to happen. The owner of the house you’re squatting in returns, and nobody saw it coming? Nobody remembered to “check the GPS,” as they mention? This collective of roughly half a dozen people brought the global economy to its knees, and one of the top players in Evil Corp strolls through the front door in the middle of their plan. On a lesser show, this would just be the result of clumsy storytelling, a way to shoehorn in the desired outcome for advancing the plot. But here, the justification is hidden in the seams of Darlene’s personality. She wanted Susan Jacobs dead, and this was how to make that happen. Occam’s razor slices away all competing ideas, to leave only the most logical one remaining. Darlene’s razor sliced away the competing ideas and left a body.
The others were understandably ill-prepared for the situation, and so what looks like foolhardy stumbling to us is simply panic. Trenton and Mobley have only ever dished out vengeance and punishment through their computers, without having to bear witness to any damage they might be doing to those on the receiving end of their machinations. (Quite literally, “machinations.”) Sure, we’ve seen enough kidnapping plots in movies and TV to know that you don’t untie someone just because they say they have to go to the bathroom, but Trenton isn’t made for these physical experiences. Had Darlene not been there, it’s easy to picture Susan turning around and walking back out the front door, and nobody would’ve stopped her.
That’s not to say all was as it should be this week. The problem with depicting dumb behavior is that it requires exceptionally smart execution, and a few moments in the Susan Jacobs ordeal didn’t quite gel. From hitting her head against the brick, to the weirdly hurried manner in which Darlene’s “she flipped out” explanation transitioned into the others scattering, the storyline didn’t play as well as usual. None of this is Carly Chaikin’s fault, though: She was phenomenal in an episode that showcased her portrayal of Darlene at its finest. Her lengthy monologue to Susan, recounting just how deeply ingrained was her desire for revenge—and the young age at which her anger manifested—demonstrated layers to the character that have previously only been suggested.
And those layers were exposed even more fully during the effort to dispose of the body. After shoving Jacobs’ corpse into the animal crematorium, her lack of affect seemed to shock her almost as much as the realization of what she had done. “I figured when the time came, something would stop me,” she murmurs, which is likely what a lot of people think right after they surprise themselves by killing someone they loathe. It’s The Talented Mr. Ripley effect: No one thinks they’re a bad person, and the expectation in your mind is that there are certain lines you wouldn’t cross—and if you do cross them eventually, well, there was probably a good reason, so no use dwelling on it. Better to leave that dwelling behind, both figuratively and literally, and find a new place to crash.
While a deeper dive into the perspectives of Mobley and Trenton has been a long time coming, there’s a reason Mr. Robot is based around Elliot. His absence was felt, and an entire episode sans the troubled hacker highlights an analogous concern within the narrative: Without Elliot Alderson and his scheming alter ego, the rest of Fsociety isn’t quite capable of holding it together. There’s a reason ”succ3ssor.p12” begins with a flashback to the first time Mobley and Trenton meet, complaining they had shown up at Ron’s Coffee to meet Elliot, not have another Darlene-mediated screed from the brilliant architect of the 5/9 plan. Elliot’s sister is smart as hell, but her rebellious group is splintering under the pressure of paranoia. They’re all starting to break, in various ways. For Elliot, paranoia is just another day. It’s the ironic coda to the title of the episode—there can be no successor to Elliot. No one’s up to the task.
By the time Mobley leaves his mysterious package in the bike messenger’s bag, it’s all come undone. Dom’s done her job, and put the fear of God (or at least a lengthy prison sentence) in Mobley’s mind. He has no idea how little she has to go on, or that he was released because they’ve got nothing on him. “We’re burnt,” reads his text, but it’s not the case. Whatever happened to him, and whoever showed up at the coffee shop two hours after Trenton was supposed to meet him—my money’s on Elliot himself, to the rescue—the FBI is drowning in a mess of its own making. The conference call Fsociety released into the world, exposing the invasions of privacy and illicit behavior on the part of Operation Berenstain, is bringing a storm down on the bureau, one that’s probably not helped by FBI Director (in the show and real life) James Comey’s utter ignorance of the project’s true extent. If my theory from earlier this season is correct, and the operation’s name is indeed a reference to some sort of massive alteration of reality, then the shutdown will likely trigger a new project springing up in its place. If only Trenton and the others had any clue; maybe it’s time to dig a little deeper into those hacked files.
Angela was treading water this week. Other than the reveal her temporary beau was actually an agent planted by Dom to try and ferret out any secrets Ms. Moss might be hiding, the entire sequence at the karaoke bar touched on the same character trait we’ve seen repeatedly. It’s just a more extreme version of the encounter with the shoe store clerk in last season’s finale. Someone insults Angela, and after the emotional flinch she habitually employed in those situations, she reaches inside herself and asserts her confidence. (And follows it up with a worrying come-on to an older businessman that just screams “character with daddy issues” a little too loudly.)
She’s getting better at it, as well: Her dad’s friend Steve is a real asshole, so she uses the one thing she knows about him—his employment—as a cudgel, beating him over the head with her ostensible success and his seemingly low lot in life. Just as she did with her own father, Angela shits on Steve like a true capitalist, draining the rejoinder of much of the pleasure we could otherwise take in this determined young woman standing up to some jerk. This persona may feel good, but the hollow promise at the heart of it, dependent upon money and standing, is weak. Angela’s playing the long game, and her soul is changing in the process. This sashaying Wall Street identity is fusing with her prior self. “It isn’t you,” Dom told her last week, but if Mr. Robot tells us anything, it’s that facades are never just facades.
It’s unclear just how much Darlene did or didn’t suspect Cisco’s involvement with the Dark Army went beyond communicating with them last season. But the discovery of his continuing collaboration with the dangerous organization triggers her at the end of “succ3ss0r.p12,” and Darlene goes after him with a baseball bat. That’s the problem with killing someone—after murder, any violence starts to seem within reasonable boundaries of behavior. But the betrayal of trust that came with Cisco’s actions is an emotional gut punch. If one of the core people entrusted with the massive secret of Fsociety is actually selling her out, what’s left?
- Musical cue shout-out of the week: Angela singing a slowed-down, piano version of Tears For Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” which worked even better overlaid with Fsociety’s frantic search for dirt on Susan Jacobs.
- 16 suspects, one deceased? Here’s hoping we learn just who Operation Berenstain has been investigating.
- While Darlene is justified in being super-pissed at Cisco for feeding her whereabouts to the Dark Army, it’s the realization that they, too, have access to the femtocell (and thus the FBI) that should be more alarming to her. Stage 2 is about to begin!
- Mr. Markesh is Mobley’s real name, apparently. According to astrology, markesh is a bad period where you go through disasters or accidents. Markesh yog is a person facing deadly trouble. So things should be just fine for Mobley.
- Nice referencing of Ron’s Coffee; it really takes you back to that first scene of the pilot.
- Honestly, the show does feel incomplete without Rami Malek’s presence. (And Christian Slater’s, by extension.)