The number one question I get asked about Mr Robot isn't "do you think Tyrell Wellick is dead?" or "What is Phase 2?" It's "should I catch up, or just wait until it's on Netflix?" This episode provides that answer in an hour of drama that shifts between reality and dream with every thrum of the background music. Short answer: Mr Robot is a show meant to be binged.
That is neither an insult or a compliment. Twenty years ago there was exactly one way to consume TV: Weekly, on the couch, in front of the TV. Now you can watch it on your phone or your computer. You can watch it all in a 12-hour glut or piecemeal over the course of months. So some shows still work with that week to week pace, and a lot of network shows excel in that format. Some pay TV ones manage to, too (see Game of Thrones).
But between the popularity of DVR and Netflix, a lot of shows have been able to play with pacing. Drag moments out. End an hour on a frustrating cliffhanger. Make an oblique callback to something eight episodes ago. Mr Robot is that kind of show. It's daring in how experimental it is, just as it's maddening in how boldly obfuscating it is.
The best moments of Mr Robot are often its quietest, like Elliot drifting into a lucid dream or Angela sitting alone in a room ripped straight from David Lynch's mind. But I'm terrified these moments will be lost to time by next week's finale. Mr Robot is often ecstatically ephemeral, and that's something best rewarded by the most obsessive viewers and by those fresh off a 10-episode binge.
For the rest of us that tune in week-to-week but let the show drift away from our consciousness in the interim, Mr Robot is not unlike the titular character himself — a ghost forgotten in his silence.
After nearly an entire episode away from Elliot I'd forgotten about the hitchhiker in his mind. Obviously, I didn't blank on the character himself, or any of his habits or his motive; I'd just, briefly, forgotten why he was so key in a plot of countries engaged in vicious cyberpunk espionage.
It takes a while to remember his caginess in the last episode, his tete-a-tete with Elliot and Elliot's own reason for laying down and willing himself into an alternate state of consciousness. That's long seconds of recall I wouldn't have found necessary if I'd been mainlining this show like a season of Sense8.
Same with the numerous musical callbacks to Back to the Future 2. From "Davy Crockett" to "Earth Angel" the '50s were alive and well on the Mr Robot soundtrack in the latest episode, and if Twitter hadn't mentioned the BttF2 through-line I might have missed it and spent way too long here talking about similarities between China's war on America and capitalism's own Cold War against communism.
I would still love to do that, because Phillip Price is using a playbook Allen Dulles built when he created the CIA. He's in bed with China, but his true goal is apparent in his interactions in DC. Price wants to dismantle US currency and prop up his own privatised currency instead.
That would, presumably, be as catastrophic as the initial hack, which is part of why White Rose was likely hesitant to grant the request last week. But Price and White Rose still have more aces up their sleeves, in the form of Elliot and his vaulted Phase 2.
What is Phase 2? That's the big cliffhanger of the night. Followed closely by "has Tyrell Wellick really been in hiding and helping Elliot with Phase 2, or is he actually a new manifestation of Elliot's fractured and clever psyche?"
Oh, and "Are Darlene and Cisco dead?"
And "Will Dom ever find love beyond her affair with Alexa, the Amazon robot?"
And "How screwed is Angela now that she's potentially the pawn in a three-way battle between Phillip Price, White Rose and Elliot?"
This episode wasn't about moving from point A to B or answering questions, or even providing us with new questions. It was a deep breath. Our own dip into dreamland, before the new reality these men and woman have orchestrated come crashing down in the finale.
- If Dom is not your favourite character after her heartbreaking conversation with Alexa, which mirrors a drunk one I had with Siri once, then I don't even know what you are.
- There is a vague suggestion that most of the episode was Elliot's dream. I do not think that is true, but Angela's plot line wasn't helping matters.
- Angela tried her hand at an Adventure-like game posed by a robot voice and a small child. I briefly thought I was watching Person of Interest.
- It sounds like either Darlene or Cisco made it. Guess we'll find out next week.
- But don't be surprised if that cliffhanger gets drawn out to season three.
- Seriously, Dom has rapidly gone from a try-hard new character to my absolute favourite. It helps that you can empathise with her more than you ever could Elliot.
- Speaking of Elliot... is he an accidental supervillain?