Oh hey, so Elliot is in prison. Has been this whole season. Hands up if you didn’t see that twist coming from a mile away. No? No one? Mr. Robot isn’t usually the kind of show that underestimates the intelligence of its audience. It did last night though, in a big way — and it was smug about it to boot. Not cool, Sam Esmail & Co. Not cool.
We’ve been watching the show’s antisocial antihero in his curiously ordered routine for a while now, supposedly cooling his heels at his mom’s house: three meals a day at the same diner, watching pickup basketball with Leon, church group, regular meetings with a therapist. Knowing as we do Elliot’s proclivity for building elaborate delusions to shield himself from the truth (see: his imaginary friend Christian Slater), it wasn’t a stretch to guess that he was actually in some sort of highly controlled environment, be it mental institution or slammer. It turns out it was the latter, a fact that’s revealed to us at the end when Krista asks Elliot, mid-therapy session, “Where do you think you are right now?”
“Please don’t be mad at me too long,” Elliot says to his other imaginary friend, the audience. “This is the last time I’ll keep things from you. I promise.” The scales fall from the camera’s eyes, revealing our boy in an orange jumpsuit, surrounded by bars and cold white walls. It’s supposed to make us go “WHOA!”, impressed by our narrator’s (and Esmail’s) ability to couch the truth in elaborate fantasy. But for the canny viewer — and that’s the kind of viewer that Mr. Robot is built for — it just comes off as pandering.
So let’s backtrack: Which of the multitude of sins led him to this juncture? The obvious answer would be the supposed murder of Tyrell Wellick. Early in the episode, Mr. Robot tells Elliot that he/they did indeed off everyone’s favorite Danish Patrick Bateman, using the gun Darlene stashed in the popcorn machine at the fsociety arcade. But we’ve got a funny feeling that Tyrell is still alive and well and beating up hobos somewhere out there.
Meanwhile, his maybe-widow is fed up with waiting around. Joanna‘s ready to take things to the next level with her basic boyfriend, Derek, whom she gifts a divorce summons wrapped in a literal bow. It’s hard to figure what she sees in the guy — but then again, it’s hard to figure what is ever up with her. She was a fascinatingly twisted Lady Macbeth in Season One; this year, her story has been so disconnected from the rest of the narrative that it’s difficult to muster up much concern for whatever game she’s playing.
And speaking of games: More chess! Ray convinces a thoroughly beaten-up Elliot to get his evil black market site back up and running. But Elliot also takes the liberty of making the site public and tipping off the FBI. He suggests a friendly chess match while he waits for the ax to drop, and Ray spins a yarn while they play. The story of how the site came to be is a microcosm of fsociety’s whole beef with the capitalist system: The gent’s late wife started the marketplace innocently enough, and when it began raking in money, they turned a blind eye to what (and who) people were actually selling. Fast-forward to the hardened kingpin of the dark web we know and loathe. Adam Smith’s invisible hand, the show seems to suggest, operates most perfectly in a universe where morality ceases to be a factor.
Ray gives Elliot a chance to skedaddle before the Feds show up, toppling his own king as his opponent beats a retreat. Checkmate. But it’s far from over for our incarcerated protagonist, as he’s saved from being gang-raped by a group of vengeful skinheads by Leon, who reveals his ties to Whiterose and the Dark Army. Man, these guys do not mess around.
Also not messing around: one Angela Moss, who’s caught between a billion warring factions but never breaks a sweat. She secured fsociety’s FBI hack for her old buddy Darlene and closed a loophole in the class action lawsuit against E Corp that benefits both her dad and the CEO. It’s tricky to decipher whose side she’s really on at this point, but her position makes her the series MVP right now — and that’s thanks in no small part to Portia Doubleday’s slow-burning performance.
“I’d like it if we could trust each other again. Let’s shake on it.” Oh Elliot, we’d like to, we really would. But we’re not sure we can until the show realizes that the true appeal lies not in the wool it can pull over our eyes, but in what it can unfold, moment to moment, in an increasingly rich world. Your move.
– Darlene and the fsociety gang orchestrate a sweet prank: dropping the Wall Street Bull statue’s sawed-off testicles through the roof of the Capitol Building while Congress is in session. Punk as fuck.
– The song playing as Angela rides a cab through the city listening to a news report about how New York’s post-Five/Nine waste disposal problem: “Garbageman” by the Cramps. “Do you want the real thing, or are you just talkin’?” seems to be the question on everyone’s mind.
– Remember Van Gogh’s eerie suicide painting that was hanging in miniature in Elliot’s imaginary dining room? It’s a whole giant mural at the IRL prison. Maybe not the best message to send to the inmates.
Previously: Too Many Cooks