TV Review: Mr. Robot (2×04) “eps2.2_init1.asec”


Welcome back to my weekly recap/review of season 2 of USA Network’s Mr. Robot. You can check out my previous coverage of episode 3 here. As usual, spoilers are ahead!

Official episode description: “Elliot friends Ray, hopes he can finally help delete Mr. Robot. Dom makes a big discovery. Darlene wonders who’s the bigger threat– FBI or Dark Army?”

Alright, let’s just get it out-of-the-way: I love a good flashback. And in Mr. Robot‘s case, flashbacks are rarely ever bad (objectively, at least), as they deliver us golden nuggets of truth that we’ve been wondering about for episodes on end. The initial sequence of “eps2.2_init1.asec,” whose title’s hidden hacker meaning I’m keen to research and make connections to, centers on the Alderson siblings one Halloween night. It’s the perfect backdrop to offer the audience some answers for which we’d been longing, and feels true not only to the show but to who Elliot and Darlene are as people. These tidbits of knowledge could be considered gifts, even, as so many pieces of our generally still hazy understanding of Elliot’s and fsociety’s pasts were finally cleared up and brought together. Here’s what we learn in the opening sequence:

  1. The origin of the fsociety mask. It’s Halloween, so there’s an excuse to wear something as creepy as what would eventually become the caricatured face of the biggest revolution in American history. (At least in the Mr. Robot universe America.) Darlene comes a-knockin’ on Elliot’s door and as soon as he swings in, she greets him with a, “Trick or treat!” from behind the plastic face. She reveals she picked up it up at a 99-cent shop in China town, and was surprised they made masks from The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie. (The Mr. Robot team actually released an eight-minute clip of the film. You can watch it here. Warning: It’s super gory and definitely NSFW.)
  2. The beginnings of Elliot’s dissociative behavior. Or, like what we saw in Elliot donning the Mr. Robot jacket, at least the outward signs of his dissociative identity disorder. “I’m seeing a shrink,” he says, and tells Darlene that he destroyed a room of servers at work after being forcefully locked inside. The kicker? He doesn’t remember doing it. Here’s where Elliot’s struggle with losing time begins, and he fears the worst for himself. “I guess it’s official: I’m crazy.”
  3. The inception of the “destroy E Corp” mindset. As aforementioned, the iconic and infamous mask is from a fictional 1984 film entitled The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie. No tip-toeing around what that title might mean, that’s for sure! Darlene and Elliot smoke a bowl and tuck into the film, making commentary on how they watched it growing up. “This is definitely the root of all of our psychological dysfunction,” Darlene states, which spurs Elliot to question if Darlene is “still having” panic attacks. These facts, paired with Elliot’s recent firing and admittance that he is seeking psychiatric help, spark an eager monologue. He dons the mask and his father’s old “Mr. Robot” repair shop jacket, and delivers his plan. I got ALL THE CHILLS.

But beyond that, past getting these delicious breadcrumbs of information, what I loved seeing was the dynamic between Elliot and Darlene. Prior to the reveal that they are in fact related, it was captivating watching the two stellar actors bounce off one another through their respective characters. Chaikin and Malek have such an incredible chemistry, one that sizzles in its subtleties. It’s wrought with a tension, an Elliot pulls where Darlene pushes game, that draws you in close. To see it again was such a treat. More of this, please.

Like I have discussed in previous recap-reviews, Mr. Robot season 2 is so markedly different from season 1. There’s more mystery, darker depth and plot-lines and character fates that are much harder to accept. But there’s also a certain air of artistry to season 2 that is unlike what we’d seen before. Though the first season wasn’t without its stunning imagery, expertly framed shots, vibrant pop culture allusions and brilliant montage moments (lookin’ at you, “Steal My Sunshine” scene), each of the four episodes we’ve seen thus far have had a unique kind of beauty to them. This shift is reminiscent of the one NBC and Bryan Fuller’s 2013 series Hannibal had between its second and third seasons: while the one prior was admittedly a vision, the latter purposefully embraces the art and makes a point to make it artistic. And now that each episode runs over an hour without commercial breaks — this one clocks in at just under an hour and five minutes — there’s a lot of space with which to play. Sam Esmail does just that. He takes his time directing each scene with a gentle care and a decisiveness that wasn’t present in the first ten episodes of the series, but is overwhelmingly clear in the latest ones. Nothing has been done in vain, at least not in my eyes. No image, no glimpse, no song choice; I love how rich the entire viewing experience of season 2 has become; I find myself reveling in the lengthy sequences, the ones that feel like an indulgence even though the plot has me on edge. Past the flashback scene, the artistry is the most prominent aspect of this episode. I’m so looking forward to how this intensifies in the coming weeks.

Among all the gorgeousness of the cinematography and the satisfaction from the flashback, let’s check in on the status of our featured players.

Darlene and Elliot — The Aldersons are FINALLY back together. Let the angels sing. My reaction to the pair teaming up once more was akin to the one I had when Game of Thrones‘s Sansa Stark and Jon Snow reunited: fists in the air, wide smile. Darlene involves herself with Cisco, her on-again off-again boyfriend/liaison to the Chinese hacker group the Dark Army, to keep tabs on how much information the authorities have gained about fsociety and the five/nine hacks. Meanwhile, Elliot plays a chess game with Mr. Robot to determine his fate in his involvement with a certain hack Darlene has devised. (No spoilers here, but the outcome is very satisfying.)

Angela — The wannabe queen bee of E Corp continues to play the wicked games Price throws her into, and for a few split seconds, it seems as though she’s keeping up — and possibly even getting ahead. When she attempts to negotiate a deal she believes will land her a more illustrious job, her efforts don’t go entirely unnoticed. However, as is usually the case with Ms. Moss, she’s quickly shut down. Just as she’s about to taste higher power, she’s brought back down to where others at E Corp believe she belongs. In an odd way, I can empathize with Angela, and in an even odder way, I want Angela to “win.” I’d love to see her finally craft a masterful, manipulative plan and use it to her advantage — whatever side she may be on.

Dom — One of my favorite characters is still on the hunt for my other two favorite characters, though neither of them know the identity of the other. While rummaging through the abandoned fosciety arcade, Dom finds a bullet casing. I’m terrified already.

The Wellicks — Still no sign of Tyrell. Cue shaking fists. We do, however, get some follow-up with Joanna. There’s involvement with E Corp CTO Scott Knowles, money troubles in efforts to keep things hush-hush about Tyrell and a clandestine extramarital affair.

Ray — I still don’t know if I trust him. The paths he leads Elliot down — especially at the end of the episode — makes me believe he may not be as well-intentioned as Elliot believes him to be. That’s not to say he’s a bad guy necessarily, I’m just not sure he is totally, 100 percent good. Time will tell.

Rating: 9/10

Mr. Robot airs Wednesday nights at 10/9c on USA Network. You can watch “eps2.2_init1.asec” 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.