Here’s your tech-savvy vocabulary term for this week’s Mr. Robot episode: “kernel panic.” It’s what happens when an operating system comes across an internal fatal error — something essentially and deeply broken within itself — that it can’t recover from. For old-school PC users, it’s when the screen becomes a snowstorm of indecipherable numbers and commands — when the machine examines itself and finds something it doesn’t know how to process. It’s what happens when the shadows on the wall of the cave cease to form a coherent narrative.
It’s the same thing that’s happening to all of the lost souls this episode, though we see nary a laptop screen. Instead, it’s all disquieting tight shots of faces in mirrors, trying to convince themselves that they aren’t all busted up inside. And they’re dancing as fast as they can.
Elliot continues to be very not okay: After a blackout, he comes back to himself on the phone with an apparently very-much-not-dead Tyrell Wellick, who’s full of cryptic non-information and an almost romantic nostalgia for our unhinged little hacker: “I think about you a lot, Elliot. I think about that night we became gods.”
Mr. Robot puts the kibosh on the call before we can learn any real information, at the same moment as he hears news of Gideon’s murder from the TV news. The revelation — and the continual bullying of his dark Jiminy Cricket — sends Elliot on a quest for his old friend drugs. It’s Adderall this time (pretty much as far from morphine as you can get) and our heros’s riding high. We chase this particular dragon right alongside him, and man, is it a doozy — starting with a nasty hallucination in the form of dark-suited men pouring cement down Elliot’s throat. He wakes up puking his guts out, then he out-crazies his crazy by eating the pills out of his own vomit. (This show, man.) Cue a six-day jag with no sleep — but also, to his delight, no Mr. Robot. Everything is hilarious! The sky is so blue! Elliot is in control! We don’t think Rami Malek blinks even once during this sequence.
The comedown is awful, and props to Sam Esmail’s genius direction that we feel it, too. Elliot’s world starts glitching — pixelating, making horrible crackling sounds, and populating itself with terrifying children in fsociety masks. “Yeah, I know. That’s very weird,” he deadpans. This particular bad trip culminates in Elliot in his church group going on an absolutely nutso wake-up-sheeple rant about the uselessness of belief and “metastasizing mind worms,” delivered to the ceiling and the godless sky beyond.
Unlikely salvation comes in the form of Craig Robinson’s Ray, who needs something regarding site migration and virtual wallets, whatever all that means; for now he’s helping Elliot battle his demons. Ray, too, has an invisible friend — in the form of his dead wife who he makes small talk with — and he offers his compatriot some apparently comforting platitudes about how control is an illusion … just as Mr. Robot appears once more. We’re not sold on Ray yet; he so far seems to exist solely to be mysterious. But we’ll wait it out.
Elsewhere in the brave new world, the remaining members of fsociety are experiencing their own kernel panic. Romero — whom we learn via flashback scored the gang their Coney Island digs in the first place — turns up dead in his mother’s backyard, shot through the head. (We’ll miss you and your gravitas, Ron Cephas Jones.) Mobley and Trenton are freaking out: They suspect that the Dark Army is erasing its tracks, but chill, you guys. Darlene is on it. “Stop spazzing and be cool,” she advises. Her lieutenants are understandably mistrustful of the both of the Aldersons, and we smell a coup coming. That is, if they can manage to stay not murdered long enough.
On the case: One Dominique DiPiero, an FBI agent played by Meryl Streep scion Grace Gummer. Esmail doesn’t shy away from showing us the weird underbelly of all his characters, which is what makes Mr. Robot more than the sum of Elliot’s neuroses, and Dominique is no exception. She can’t sleep, either, but not because of Adderall: She stays up all night in her huge, darkened apartment, watching bad TV, having cybersex with strangers, and feeling all the feelings about Gideon’s murder. Like that woman we met briefly last week, Dominique has a smart house, and it’s her only source of conversation. “Alexa, when is the end of the world?” she asks the house. Her domicile says not for a few billion years, and you get the sense that’s not nearly soon enough for Dominique’s taste.
Still, she cakes on the makeup that makes her look not quite so over the world and its horrors to the tune of White Buffalo’s “Highwayman” (“The bastards hung me in the spring of ’25 / But I am still alive”) and goes to see Romero’s mother. Turns out our departed hacker didn’t do such a hot job of covering his tracks, because Dominique discovers a poster for last season’s “End of the World” party that leads her directly to fsociety HQ. Watch your back, guys.
And speaking of watching backs, what is going on with Angela? She’s all in with her role at E Corp now, seemingly content to manage the PR of CEO Phillip Price and the other corporate monsters. The executive summons her into his cavernous office, and it’s very spider-to-the-fly: We only ever see him at a distance, in his position of power, until he deigns to get close to Angela and the camera. She’s invited to a dinner that is, of course, a trap, one involving the same men who covered up the toxic spill that killed her mother (and Elliot’s father). Price leaves her with a disc containing damning evidence that could ruin all their lives, and Angela with a choice. “Remove emotion,” he advises. Looks like Elliot isn’t the only one with a demon perched on his shoulder.
Previously: Apocalypse Now