This review contains spoilers from episode ten of Mr. Robot Season Two.
Nearly ten episodes into Mr. Robot’s sophomore season, the conclusion of “h1dden-pr0cess.axx” turns the series blood simple, capturing the crackling suspense of the term’s hard-boiled origins. Coined by Dashiell Hammett in his 1929 novel, Red Harvest, “blood simple”—which Mr. Robot uses to describe Joanna Wellick—refers to the state of fear and confusion that follows a murder, and though it’s apt enough for the action that caps this week’s episode, Sam Esmail’s direction thereof is a model of control. As the camera remains planted in place across the street, chaos descends: Dom DiPierro catches up with Darlene and Cisco, a distant figure in the diner’s window; a motorcycle carrying a Dark Army assassin swings into view; gunfire erupts, the carnage unclear. The shooter takes his own life as the police arrive, and Dom, who ducked in time to avoid the bullets, hurries to the spot where the getaway driver had been idling moments earlier. When “h1dden-pr0cess.axx” cuts to black, she’s peering into the middle distance, and the only sound we hear is the sirens’ sharp blare.
As with the series’ other high point this season (Angela’s infiltration of the FBI), the sequence follows its conceit to the logical extreme. In both cases, Esmail generates tension by prolonging the strain of the situation to the point of discomfort, by underscoring the interlude’s dimensions in space and time; if the end of “h1dden-pr0cess.axx” is designed to obscure his next twist—are we sure it’s Darlene and Cisco at that table in the window?—it’s nonetheless stark on the subject of violence, on the mayhem the 5/9 hack has unleashed. Coupled with Elliot’s drive-by glimpses of beggars and shuttered businesses, piles of trash and long, snaking lines at the ATM, this grim set piece suggests an answer to Elliott’s question, one long since leached of its optimistic color: “Is this the future I was fighting for?”
In returning to the problem of purpose—Elliot’s, Darlene’s, Angela’s—”h1dden-pr0cess.axx” is also confirmation, after a fashion, that this season’s detour into our protagonist’s imprisoned imagination advanced no new understanding of the series’ blighted universe. We are, and I say this without pleasure, right back where we started: As I wrote of the season premiere, “the question Mr. Robot seems to pose is whether the promise of Elliot’s revolution is worth the price.” It’s vexing to see Elliot return, all these weeks later, to the same Marxist language that marked “k3rnel-pan1c.ksd”: “Maybe wars aren’t meant to be won,” he says, as if in homage to the notion of “permanent revolution.” “Maybe they’re meant to be continuous.” It’s hard not to wonder what might’ve been had Esmail seen this as the season’s starting point, rather than its endgame.
As other allusions to earlier episodes bubble to the surface—the German map of Europe in 1914 that hangs behind Price’s desk; the heavy breathing on the phone that suggests Tyrell Wellick may be alive—”h1dden-pr0cess.axx” becomes an echo of the series before it lost its way, though on its own merits it’s almost as sleek as “logic-b0mb.hc” or “m4ster-s1ave.aes.” If Tyrell’s fate, Joanna’s objective, and the reasons for Price’s pressure on “the last honest man” are still TBD, the crux of the hour is its sustained attention to the present moment, to characters as “frozen in limbo” as the system Elliot sought to destroy. For once, no particular outcome seems preordained: As with Darlene’s uncommonly sincere reflection on a family trip to Coney Island, it’s the path not taken, the permutation unprepared for, that defines “h1dden-pr0cess.axx.” After all, it’s the uncertain and the in-between that creates what we call “suspense.”
In this context, it’s not simply the startling finale that elevates the episode, but the extended sequence that precedes it, weaving three separate threads into a momentous whole. After that strange scene in which Elliot asks us to search for a clue as to Mr. Robot’s absence—”Can you help? Can you look? Can you see anything?”—and the indication that Joanna’s henchman recognizes the address where the unknown number is calling from, Elliot and Angela meet on the subway; Darlene and Cisco retreat to the diner to await news of Vincent’s condition; and Dom pieces together the latter pair’s whereabouts with some real gumshoe detective work. What’s most impressive, perhaps, is Esmail’s ability to pull the strands taut without dissimulations, hallucinations, or twists, relying instead on Darlene’s broad smile, Dom’s acute mind and Angela’s desperation.
There are lingering questions, of course, as is Mr. Robot’s wont: Who are the two figures that approach Angela on the subway after Elliot departs? Is it Trenton and Mobley? Darlene and Cisco? And if not, did they survive the shooting? But as “h1dden-pr0cess.axx” approaches its conclusion, and this frustrating season its end, I’m struck by how open, how honest, the sequence is, as if there’s nowhere left to hide.
Matt Brennan is a film and TV critic whose writing has appeared in LA Weekly, Indiewire, Paste, Slant, The Week, Flavorwire, Deadspin, and Slate, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans and tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.