This review contains spoilers from episode eleven of Mr. Robot Season Two.
In the surreal confines of a red-carpeted office, Angela finally meets Whiterose—and, perhaps, herself. Stolen to a suburban safe house by Dark Army functionaries, the erstwhile E Corp whistleblower enters a sort of Limbo; it’s as if she passed through sun-splotched streets and clean, bright corridors on her way to another world. The room is dim, even dank. Thin, gray light trickles in, mixing with the aquarium’s garish illumination, but the edges of the space are plunged into shadow, unseen boundaries it seems prudent not to cross. And so she submits to the child’s strange questions:
Have you ever cried during sex?
Have you ever fantasized about murdering your father?
Are you a giraffe, or a seagull?
Are you red or purple?
Is the key in the room?
For “pyth0n-pt1.p7z,” at least, the answer is yes. The key is in the room, this room, where Mr. Robot discovers the formal analogue to its characters’ psychological extremes. Throughout its second season, the series has spent an inordinate amount of time burying and unearthing what are often called “Easter eggs,” clues from which the attentive viewer might piece together an explanation of the plot, and “pyth0n-pt1.p7z” acknowledges that this approach to the subject at hand is not as fruitful as it seems. I suppose it’s possible that the cat clinging to a branch in a motivational poster (“Hang in There”) contains some hidden meaning, that the paperback Lolita, the unsettling interrogation, and the retrograde computer are part of Sam Esmail’s grand design, but the episode’s most brilliant gambit is to turn from elucidation to emotion—to mysteries than cannot be solved. The room in which Angela finally meets Whiterose is the closest this season’s come to representing certain states of mind, not in spite but because of the fact that the details resist explanation. “Mind awake, body asleep,” as the chorus of whispers accompanying Elliot chant in the opening sequence. “I don’t want your proof,” Whiterose tells Angela. “I want your belief.”
Returning to the articles of faith, religious and political, that ran through “unm4sk” and “k3rnel-pan1c.ksd,” “pyth0n-pt1.p7z” completes the circle of an uneven season; Mr. Robot no longer seems lost in the wilderness, though I’m torn, on the whole, as to whether this is more intriguing than it is too little, too late. (On Twitter, Nate Scott, of USA Today’s For the Win, and I came to the conclusion that it might’ve made a superb miniseries, with a one-episode prison-hallucination prologue leading directly into the FBI hack, Elliot’s release, and subsequent events. Alas.) Even so, “pyth0n-pt1.p7z” confirms last week’s return to form with an economical change of pace, suggesting from its first moments—the image of Elliot in bed, blurring by degrees until he face fades to black—the strengths of Mr. Robot’s minor key.
What unites Elliot, Angela, and Darlene (whose fate is unknown), after all, is not ideological conviction, exactly, but the experience of grief: As Whiterose understands, their campaign against E Corp, from within and without, is an attempt to find a “reason,” an explanation, for their parents’ deaths. Just as Darlene, in “succ3ss0r.p12,” remembers Susan Jacobs’ role in her childhood’s chaos, Angela’s young interlocutor, blond hair pulled back, suggests an earlier version of Angela herself, already bruised by life’s cruelties; Elliot, watching his father as his father watched him, recalls the expectant boy in the car, naming Dad’s new shop “Mr. Robot.” Though “pyth0n-pt1.p7z” pushes the narrative nearer its conclusion—with the news of China’s $2 trillion bailout of ECorp, with the decryption of the takeout-menu cipher, with the reappearance of Tyrell Wellick—its foremost merit is to reattach the personal motivation behind fsociety’s revolution to the political one. The series’ anti-capitalism is less powerful in the abstract than it is in the specific—its suggestion, one that goes beyond Elliot, Angela, and Darlene, that the amoral acts of corporations ruin real people’s lives.
This is even true, as it happens, on the other end of the spectrum, where Dom DiPierro’s investigation of 5/9 continues to bump up against bureaucratic roadblocks. She’s begun to recognize, it seems, that this is not simply a consequence of the usual red tape, but the product of conspiracies of which she has, as yet, no proof. It’s appropriate, then, that the character responsible for carrying Mr. Robot along its meandering path has the most powerful scene in “pyth0n-pt1.p7z,” an episode all about the emotional underpinnings of our choices. Her conversation with Alexa is funny at first, tending to favorite colors, boyfriends, eyes, but as she reaches the verge of tears she becomes another girl bruised by life’s cruelties, asking unanswerable questions:
Alexa, are you happy?
Alexa, are you alone?
Alexa, do you love me?
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.