'Mr. Robot' Recap: The United States of Elliot

Our boy is a free man, just in time for everything to go to pieces

Welcome to the United States of Elliot — our recap of last night's everything-falls-apart 'Mr. Robot' episode. Credit: Peter Kramer/USA Network

"That's how it happened. That's all you missed. That's everything."

It's this sort of pronouncement — delivered by Elliot after he's taken us on a flashback tour of his life behind bars — that should set alarm bells a-ringin' in the mind of any Mr. Robot viewer. There is no bottom to the rabbit hole on this show; and if our man is telling us there is one, it's a sure sign that he's less in control than he thinks he is. And he's definitely not the only one. Last night's episode — "init_5.fve" (just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) — played out as a series of rugs being pulled from beneath feet, from the nervy, nervous Angela right up to the all-powerful Whiterose.

The rewind depicting what life was really like for Elliot in prison was full of head-slapping revelations (Krista's douchey ex was the one who had him arrested! Ray was the warden! Leon also has opinions on Mad About You!), but it was only an appetizer to the real meat of this very busy episode.

So it turns out Darlene did not kill Cisco when she beaned him with a baseball bat at the end of last week, but she's still mighty pissed at him for spying on her for the Dark Army. They've also now got a very glitchy Elliot on their hands, as he's out on early release while the shit is hitting the fan: He and Mr. Robot, so recently having reached a truce, are starting to splinter. Sometimes our antihero watches his other half from across the room, or in one masterfully tense scene, from the next subway car over while a homeless man plonks out gibberish music on a toy keyboard. He's trying to retake charge of what's left of fsociety, but that's hard to pull off when he's not even in charge of his own body at least half of the time. We're willing to bet there's a second split personality in there that we haven't even seen yet. Elliot contains multitudes. Perhaps literally.

Even Whiterose's porcelain calm is starting to crack. She's in New York to meet with E Corp CEO Price, but first she makes a pit stop to literally piss on the grave of Price's predecessor, who she had killed when he displeased her. (That guy's name? Lester Moore, which is also the moniker of a man killed in a Wild West standoff whose headstone in Tombstone, Arizona bears an infamous inscription.)

It seems the same trick won't work on Price. He and Whiterose (in Mr. Jung mode) have a supervillain-esque exchange: The Feds are seizing control of the Washington Township plant from E Corp, which for mysterious reasons the Chinese government has a vested interest in; Price is also demanding that China bail out the company since the U.S. government won't. It's all pretty opaque and confusing, but Esmail makes up for the clunky exposition by making the whole scene — shot in an ornate garden in the rain — look like it was painted by Magritte, all black umbrellas and fearful symmetry.

Whatever interest the Chinese have in Washington Township, they've got nothing on Angela. After her head-clearing karaoke session last week, she's ready to try a new tactic: using a fun little gadget she got from fsociety to access E Corp's secret files about the environmental disaster that claimed her mother's life. Toxicity levels at the plant are still super high. Guess who takes the findings to the U.S. Nuclear Regulation Commission?

Mr. Robot teaches us to trust no one, and that definitely includes the government. These guys are even sketchier than their corporate overlords, as demonstrated in an unnerving, dreamlike sequence: An employee leads Angela down a long, white hallway toward a darkened passageway where she says that "My colleagues in the other room are eager to talk to you." She wisely extricates herself from this horror movie in the making; but no sooner is she back in her apartment than she's set upon by Dom, bearing sandwiches and the revelation that the FBI have been tailing her for months.

"init_5.fve" is juggling a whole lot of balls, and leaves us with many questions: Who's at the door for Darlene? Why is Joanna Wellick waiting outside Elliot's apartment? (And most importantly, did Angela ever end up sexing Duck Phillips?) But as is often the case with this show, the big picture tells us more than the finer points of plot machination. "Order will not protect you anymore, my friend," Price warns Jung/Whiterose. Everyone's coping mechanisms are failing them, and all the systems — even the systems created to take down other systems — are crumbling. Better find something to hold onto.

Stray thoughts:
- Elliot was in prison for 86 days, until he got 86'd by a system that could no longer afford to keep him. We're always here for food service in-jokes.

- After last week's jazzy, metallic soundtrack, this episode returned to the show's Eighties-inflected roots. During the prison sequence, we heard Saint Saviour's "This Ain't No Hymn," Public Image Ltd's "The Order of Death" and Depeche Mode's "Walking in My Shoes." Elliot brings the synth wherever he goes.

- The lights are going on and off all over New York City, which makes for some intimate, creepy sequences that put us in mind of this summer's other nail-biting serial, Stranger Things. And no wonder — Tod Campbell is the director of photography on both shows. TBD on whether the monster from the Upside Down is going to show up at E Corp.

Previously: The Woman Behind the Curtain