TV Review: Mr. Robot (2×03) “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd”


Welcome back to my weekly recap/review of season 2 of USA Network’s Mr. Robot. You can check out my previous coverage of the season première here. As usual, slight spoilers are ahead!

Official episode description: “Elliot vows to beat Mr. Robot but it ain’t easy, smh. Angela sees behind the scenes at evil corp. Sh*t.”

After a big bang of a comeback — one that was smartly marketed in an ultra-meta way (i.e. early leaks on Twitter) — Mr. Robot is beginning to settle into its second season. How exactly the series is doing it, however, is a bit unfamiliar. There’s a vast new landscape to explore, new territory to conquer — and that has some fans sweating it. While I had mentioned that Mr. Robot viewers should have little to worry about in this new season, and while I still stand by that, I can see where some apprehension can arise. And I can empathize, because I feel it a bit too.

The distinction between season 1 and season 2 is becoming more clear. There are noticeable differences between the two, both tonally and in pacing. What’s more is that it’s also different in plot. (“It’s supposed to be! That’s what new seasons are about!” you cry. Hear me out.) Many other Robot fans have vocalized their awareness that this episode, “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd,” was a mile marker in the journey of the show. In its sixty minutes, the shift we’d previously seen comes to a halt, digs its heels into the ground. While the double-dose of Mr. Robot last week (shown in two generally fantastic episodes) gave audiences a kind of crash course to the newness of it all, episode 3 “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd” sees Elliot going further and more intensely in his efforts to close the gap between the fragments of his dissociative mind. With his ailments now out in the open, a darker plot is only natural.

Elliot Alderson? More like Elliot Adderall-derson.

Elliot continues to grapple with the aftermath of the hammer laid down in season 1: the massive twist/reveal that Mr. Robot is his deceased father, Edward Alderson, and the man with whom he’d been “interacting” was simply a projected persona. Dissociative identity disorder is a doozy. Regimenting his life into routine with Seinfeld-loving Leon (Joey Bada$$), basketball game-observing Ray (Craig Robinson) and a journal filled with Mr. Robot’s antagonistic antics has worked thus far. But now, Elliot has gone into full “kernel panic.” (Where we get the episode’s title!) Elliot’s mind is like an operating system, and when such a system detects something that it cannot remedy, kernel panic ensues. He falls back on old coping mechanisms, and turns to drugs to numb and repair. Elliot swaps his trusty morphine for Adderall and the high is Everest-ian. Mr. Robot has vanished. The world is suddenly technicolor. He can handle talking to people, he “feels 100 percent” and he’s “pretty sure he’s even found God.” But the crash is bone-crushing. His world begins to glitch, broken pixels of life popping up around him. He’s gone five days without sleep and people are speaking backwards. Elliot snaps, pulls his hood back up over his massive eyes and realizes he cannot go on like this. Where he’s headed next is anyone’s guess.

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On the flip side, Angela continues to function as an E Corp puppet, looking less like her old self with each passing scene, both in terms of personality and physical looks. The wardrobe and the hair, the makeup and the affected voice, all paint her with an air that can be aptly described as robotic. She is (and has) pushed to detach herself from her emotions, even in the face of adversity and the affirmations of her worst suppositions. At a dinner mistaken for a date, Philip Price advises Angela to take the plunge to ruin the men who ruined her mother. Will she crumble or calcify? I can’t wait to see.

Amongst all the happenings of our main characters, we’re given breadcrumbs about Tyrell. There’s pieces of conversation heard, but they’re cut short by an ever-intruding Mr. Robot. I know this is all intentional, and all will be revealed in time, but I’m SO CURIOUS as to where he is, and what happened that fateful night and the following morning in his car. As Tyrell poetically confessed to Elliot, “I think about that night we became gods.”

Like other fans, I’m beginning to question if Tyrell is even real at all. Is he just another projection? Who knows. If Mr. Robot’s taught me anything, it’s that I should never be too certain about the path it’s on — twists can and likely will occur at random, with very little warning. Which actually is a case in point in this situation, as we see the murder of yet another character, Romero. Coming directly off the heels of Gideon’s cold-blooded kill in episode 2, seeing Romero dead by a clean shot through his head was too chilling to be coincidence. Other fsociety members raise their suspicions about the hands behind these deaths and point to hacker group the Dark Army. I can’t say I disagree with their assumptions, and I do believe in Darlene when she says she’ll have a handle on things.

Despite not seeing a whole lot of them on-screen, I still really enjoyed Gideon and Romero and was sad to see them go. I do, however, look forward to building relationships with the newbies in season 2: Ray, Leon and Grace Gummer’s FBI agent Dominique “Dom” DiPierro. So far, I’m undecided on Ray and Leon — are they truly helping Elliot? — but I’m knee-deep invested in Dom’s storyline. Cyber-sex, a smart house, her sharp and slightly cynical disposition and her increasing closeness to cracking fsociety? It’s a weirdness for which I can sign up. (I also noticed her Patsy Cline poster, so she gets extra points in my book.)

Sam Esmail has known what this season would hold for each character and for the audience since the start, as he’d mapped out the madness long before the Emmy nominations (and wins) and well-deserved acclaim. And while I may be the slightest bit apprehensive about how season 2 will unravel, I trust in Esmail. I trust even more in the cast and their impactful performances as their characters — I’ve said before that I don’t believe the show would be what it is without Slater and Chaikin and Doubleday and Malek, especially. I’ve got a lot of faith in this show. I don’t foresee disappointments of any scale or strength, and I’d be surprised to see myself let down in future episodes.

Overall, “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd” solidifies the new era of the series. I’m equal parts nervous and excited, so keep it comin’, Mr. Robot. You’ll most definitely be on the winning side of the war.

Rating: 8/10

Mr. Robot airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on USA Network. You can watch “eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd” right now on the USA Network site here. Be sure to tune in to my weekly reviews here on TYF!

AJ Caulfield is a 22-year-old writer, massive goofball, and quite possibly Leslie Knope's long-lost twin. She's a big fan of 80's rock music, female-directed films, and Mad Men.