Apparently all Mr. Robot needed to shock the crap out of us again was to take a break from Elliot and his Mind Palace. After last week’s disappointing “Brain prison has been real prison all along!” episode, the show leaves the be-hoodied boy wonder off camera entirely to focus on the other Alderson sibling: the magnetic but mysterious Darlene. And lest you thought all the crazy wound up on her brother’s side of the gene pool, boy, have we got a tale for you.
We’re familiar with Elliot’s MO at this point: Committing a morally dubious act? No problem. Just tune out and let your imaginary friend do all the dirty work! Darlene, on the other hand, performs her darkest deeds with eyes wide open. (No wonder those eyes looked like two haunted wells out of which that girl from The Ring might emerge at any moment.) The raggedy remnants of fsociety are still holed up in the smart house they ganked from E Corp’s top lawyer, and with their newly acquired access to the FBI, it’s hackin’ time. Darlene, Trenton, Mobley and Cisco eavesdrop in on a conference call in which the Feds discuss Operation Berenstain (no relation to the bears), a program in which they’re surveilling millions of American citizens’ tech chatter in a blind attempt to uncover the perps behind Five/Nine. The gang shoots a quick video — with our anti-heroine in the Monopoly man mask — and fire it off to Vimeo.
But all is not well in the society of f: No sooner does the vid go viral than the home’s owner Susan returns from vacation only to find her beautiful pad infested with hackers. These guys may be great at breaking into systems, but they haven’t a clue what to do when faced with an actual person; all Darlene can think to do is try, as always, to “own” her.
Mr. Robot has given us a million scenes of people typing frantically into laptops, and props to Sam Esmail and his crew for always finding a way to make it feel fresh. Shots of the collective poring through Susan’s emails for dirt are intercut with a very shaky Angela singing karaoke at a bar — a halting, piano-backed rendition of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (which, in this show, is extra true). The editing ramps up the feeling of brittle helplessness that pervades the episode: Darlene may be in charge of the world’s second-most-powerful hacker collective and Angela may have climbed her way to the top of the corporate ladder, but neither really knows what to do with the power they’ve accumulated.
For Darlene, the answer turns out to be going full-on homicidal. She’s had it in for Susan ever since she was four years old and saw the lawyer on TV, laughing at the moment the verdict exonerating E Corp in the toxic waste case was delivered. She explains this to her in a speech worthy of a Batman villain — except she’s the good guy here, right? The liberator with the dead dad? That’s harder to parse after Darlene tasers her foe straight into the pool, with full knowledge that since Susan has a pacemaker, an electric shock is a death sentence. Her body is disposed of in the same dog cremation ovens that they used to destroy fsociety’s hard drives in Season One — a brutal juxtaposition between wiping data and wiping human beings. People aren’t like computers; they don’t behave according to a logical set of rules, and they don’t burn nearly as easily as silicon and plastic.
There’s one more string left to unravel: Cisco. He invites Darlene to crash at his place for the night, but as she finds out from a quick perusal of his laptop, he’s reporting her whereabouts to the Dark Army. Cue our newly minted murderer bashing her boyfriend in the head with a baseball bat, and credits.
Fsociety has fully imploded, and this episode sends out a loud and clear signal: They need their Elliot back. This is the first episode to not feature its star, which was a bold and canny move. As broken as he is, Rami Malek’s damaged-goods narrator is the glue that holds this whole operation together — and now we’ve seen what the world looks like without him.
– Watch Carly Chaikin closely: Though Darlene only speaks in sureties, her true feelings about what she’s done are all over her face. Like Malek, Chaikin is an incredibly expressive actor, and she brings so much more to the character than what’s on the page.
– Angela goes on a date with a dude who we later find out is spying on her for the FBI. But she ditches him to put the moves on an older man she meets at the bar, played by Mad Men‘s Mark Moses. A word of advice, Ange: Learn from Peggy Olson’s mistakes and do not climb into bed with Duck Phillips.
– A neat little allegory for how persistently corrupt systems hang on: The dogs that the hackers liberated from the pound last season all ended up getting recaptured in the end. And remember Ron’s, the coffee shop owned by the guy who ran the kiddie porn site Elliot shut down in the pilot? It’s still very much up and running. The more things change ….
Previously: Check and Mate