Mr. Robot: Season 2 episode 3 review – eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd
“I think about that night when we became gods.” These words, uttered by Tyrell (whom we still haven’t seen this season) to Elliot over the phone, envelop one of the main themes of the third installment of Mr. Robot‘s second season. The episode, that appears to be a step-up even from last week’s enigmatic premiere, asks rhetorical questions about what religion and God is, and what it truly means to be in control.
If there were some that complained about last week’s episodes being a little slow and expository, they will be glad to see that this week Mr. Robot fell on us with a bang. The viewers were treated to several important plot elements developing, as well as rich and thematic cinematography. Below is our detailed and spoiler-heavy review.
The episode opens up with a flashback of Romero introducing Mobley to the Coney Island arcade, and we learn that the past owners of the place all had particularly unfortunate endings. “This place made him crazy. He thinks it’s cursed”, Romero tells Mobley. It’s an interesting statement in a show that focuses largely on cyber terrorism, hacking, computers and corporate capitalism; there doesn’t seem to be a lot of place for prejudice and superstition here. And yet, as it turns out, Romero is soon found dead at his home, another owner of the arcade ending up toast. This raises suspicion and panic among the other fSociety members that all fear someone’s taking out everyone from the hacker organisation one by one to cover up the tracks of the big hack – and Elliot is one of the suspects.
Speaking of Elliot, he manages to stumble even deeper down the rabbit hole this time. After Mr. Robot ends his call with Tyrell for him before he manages to find out any new information, Elliot finds new “salvation” in drugs again – this time, in Adderall. While the copious amounts of the drug helps him get rid of Mr. Robot, it opens up a whole new dimension of trouble – he may not completely realise it but everyone else, including the viewer, Elliot’s imaginary friend, can see that this kind of behaviour does him more harm than good. Even Elliot himself feels deep down that his temporary, drug-induced happiness is fake. “You’re not buying any of this either, are you?” he asks us. No, Elliot, we’re not, and we’re worried about you.
Rami Malek has always been wonderful as Elliot Alderson, though during season 1 it was easy to forget that sometimes because of the character’s stagnant, numb nature. Just like in the season 2 premiere, Malek once again proves the scope of his acting abilities during the Adderall sequence, where Elliot spends six days without sleep – the character’s expressions are as fake happy as fake happy gets, with a smile that’s more likely to creep you out than cheer you up. His pupils are dilated to the extreme and his eyes are twitching, his head desperately shaking while he tries to convince himself that he is happy with his life. The whole sequence is mind-bending, and it is very easy to fall down the hole along with Elliot when you see his brain literally malfunctioning like a computer does; the directing here is absolutely on point, when we see the world around Elliot turn to pixels and enter a state of kernel panic, where the episode gets its title from.
Malek’s acting shines once again in the church group scene, where he declares loudly (by accident) his real thoughts about organised religion and God. Elliot declares that believers are but addicts of hope that get their drugs from God in a speech reminiscent of Rust Cohle’s thoughts about religion from 2014’s True Detective. “There’s no order, there’s no power, […] all religions are just metastasizing mind worms meant to divide us so it’s easier to rule us by the charlatans that want to run us” Elliot declares, and we shiver.
As for other characters, this time we get a lot more of Dom DiPierro, the FBI agent played by Grace Gummer. As is usual in Mr. Robot, we get to see the most private moments of the character, the moments where’s she’s most vulnerable but also the most herself before we see her in public and among other people. FBI agents and other similar officials are often hard to identify with on TV because we usually only see the cold, wooden outside of the character, and rarely what they are like outside of the job. With Dom, we get to see her at her most human head-on, which helps the viewers immediately connect with the character. We see that she is a lonely person that only has her smart house to talk to and internet strangers to have cybersex with. Upon visiting Romero’s mother, Dom discovers the location of fSociety quarters by complete accident, and we can only speculate as to what’s going to happen now.
We finally learn more about Ray, who needs Elliot’s help with his virtual wallet problem, but also helps Elliot himself with his demons. He preaches to Elliot that control is but a name we give to our ways of coping, an illusion. “Then what do we have?” Elliot asks him. According to Ray’s philosophy, we can but stumble through life in order to move forward. And as Ray wonders if whoever Elliot’s seeing still takes over, there stands Mr. Robot once again.
The episode also offers scenes of Angela and her continuous plunge into the world of E Corp, as well as moments of other fSociety members, but we still need to wait and see where those stories lead.
The third episode of this season is more fast-paced than the two-part premiere, and it gives us more clearance on where the season is going. While there are still more questions than answers, the paths of the characters now have some light on them, and we have Angela’s plan to root for, fSociety’s collapse to fear for, and, as always, Elliot’s state of mind to care for.
Image credits: USA