Knocking on the door of brilliance, Mr Robot's second season is frustratingly anti-climatic despite its intricate set up, fantastic direction and magnetising performances.
The first season of Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot placed Elliot (Rami Malek) firmly in control of what we were able to witness. Considering how, at that time, we were not fully aware of how far down the rabbit hole Elliot was, we perceived most of what we saw to be happening as truthful. Of course, by now, we know that that’s rarely the case with this show. Esmail has regularly stated that he wishes to see the show go on for several more seasons, for that’s how he’s planned the advancement of the story and it’s characters. However, after watching Season 2 come to a close, I find myself asking whether or not the show merits that kind of run.
Split into two parts, the finale of season two was set up elaborately, as some sort of final puzzle piece to the winding, twisting, turning season before it; bringing plotlines from the first season to a close and newer ones into focus. That was what viewers, or rather those who had actually stuck the course, came to expect. Much like the scene from 500 Days Of Summer, expectation and reality rarely pan out the same way.
Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, there’s no doubt that Mr. Robot can be one of the smartest and most complex shows on TV. The insane amount of detail and complexity that is thrown into the show can at times be overwhelming and lost on the audience (me included) when we’re trying to piece together the basics. Esmail’s direction, since he took over the reigns as director, is gorgeously shot. The unique framing and colour palettes perfectly complement the mood of the show. However the show, especially this season, almost definitely suffers from trying to do too much. Whilst there’s certainly a fine line between ambition and pretentiousness, Esmail rarely acknowledges how to walk between it. Often touted as one of the best shows of all time, Breaking Bad also opted to reveal its plot detail by detail, with an almost excruciatingly slow burn. The difference with that show and this however, is that almost every plot strand that was teased was completed with a worthy and logical payoff. From the floating, burnt objects in Walter’s pool to the scenes that show Walter way further in his story, Vince Gilligan had a tight grip on where he wanted his story to go and was unwavering in his execution of it. Esmail seems to want the same thing. Teasing motifs and plot strands consistently and slowly, often to the point of frustration as we anticipate the big reveals, which may or may not come.
Yes, we do have the culmination of some of the season’s many plot strands, but we end up with more questions than answers. In my opinion, the struggle between Elliot and his ever-present persona Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is a conflict that has outstayed its welcome. Midway through the season, it seemed he had come to an understanding/co-existence with his alter-ego but alas, Mr. Robot continues to thwart Elliot’s understanding of what’s happening and by proxy, our own. Throughout the season we are lead to believe that Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) is in fact dead, killed by Elliot after completing the 5/9 hack, an event that Elliot can’t actually remember committing. The end of the first part of the finale reveals that Tyrell is very much alive and very much involved in the next phase of Elliot’s/Mr. Robot’s life. But what is “phase two”? Who does it involve? Why does nobody know what it is? Revealed to us by Tyrell as Elliot’s idea, phase two ends up paying direct homage to Fight Club, with a plan to blow up E-Corp’s remaining documents. Whilst not being much different from the first phase, at least we got answers after Season 2’s many questions.
In addition to those plot lines, we sat through the reveal of several others. We find out that Tyrell wasn’t leaving hints to his wife Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) of his whereabouts, but that the CTO of E-Corp Scott Knowles (Brian Stokes Mitchell) has just been playing a long, tormenting game. We also find out that FBI has been much more in the know about F-Society than we are led to believe, and that Whiterose (BD Wong) didn’t kill Romero (Ron Cephas Jones), it was just a freak accident. Despite that sounding like a lot, what we didn’t find out is far more pressing. Why is Angela (Portia Doubleday) so directly involved? How much can we attribute to Whiterose? What’s Phillip Price’s (Michael Cristofer) endgame? What’s Mr. Robot’s endgame? Why deliberately blend Angela’s conversation with Whiterose with Elliot’s lucid dreaming if Angela is real? Why does ‘Red Wheelbarrow’ keep appearing? Unfortunately, it’s questions like these which tip a lot of Mr. Robot into pretentious psychobabble, often beautifully formed, but devoid of substance.
If there’s one consistently great benchmark upon which the show stands, it’s the performances of its key players. Rami Malek’s now Emmy-winning performance is magnificent. Teetering right on the edge of insanity, Elliot is a marvelous creation and is perfectly realized. Similarly, Christian Slater’s Mr Robot is a terrifying yet charming presence. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent, with B.D Wong and Michael Cristofer especially effective given their limit screen time. With (apparently) a lot more to see from the show yet, it might be premature to hail Mr. Robot as style over substance. With Esmail so often reaching for the stars, it would be a shame if it never quite reached them.
Mr. Robot‘s season season aired on Amazon Video. It has been commissioned for a third season, to air in 2017.