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‘Mr. Robot’ Recap: Winner Take All

Sibling bonds and high-stakes games feature big in what may be the cyberthriller’s most hopeful episode yet.

There are a lot of adjectives you can use to describe Mr. Robot, but “hopeful” isn’t usually one of them. No matter how you slice it, this is a place where loved ones turn up dead, no one’s to be trusted, and people eat pills out of their own puke to make the pain go away. But this week’s hour-long episode, entitled “eps2.2_init1.asec,” (because Mr. Robot, people) is about as bright and shiny as this show is ever likely to get. We even see a real smile out of Elliot — no Adderall involved.

This week’s centrepiece involves Elliot, at his weird buddy Leon‘s prompting, dreaming about what his perfect future would look like. It looks like the music video for Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: Everyone he cares about — Darlene, Angela, MobleyTrenton, even Tyrell and Joanna Wellick — are eating a fine feast in the middle of a city street, under the open sky; in the distance, a great edifice crumbles. This is the world he wants to fight for — and the first light we’ve ever seen at the end ofMr. Robot’s long, dark tunnel.

This episode also returns us to what’s perhaps the show’s most compelling relationship: The weird, harsh, sweet bond between our hero and his sibling. Via flashback, we see an adrift Darlene paying a visit to her brother on Halloween night, back when he still remembered who she was and before they’d taken over the world. They get stoned and watch an Eighties slasher movie that Elliot torrents called, hilariously, The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie.(Also in Elliot’s pirated collection: Capote, Chinatown, Child’s Play, Closer, A Clockwork Orange, Citizen Kane, The Conversation, Cries & Whispers — and that’s just the Cs of paranoia auteurism.) “This is definitely the root of all of our psychological dysfunction,” she deadpans as they watch a serial killer in a Monopoly Man mask (!) murder teenagers with some kind of pointy hammer.

Some important things we learn in this scene: Their mom is still alive, at least according to Darlene; Elliot got fired from his old job then started seeing a therapist because he blacked out and laid waste to a bunch of network servers; and his sister suffers from panic attacks. This is also the night when the seed that will become Mr. Robot are unwittingly planted, as Elliot, wearing the mask and their dead father’s jacket, begins formulating his corporate-takedown plot to the disquieting thrum of Holst’s “The Planets, Op. 32: Mars, the Bringer of War.”

In the present day, Darlene hops a train out to visit Elliot in … wherever the hell he is. You know those theories that have been bouncing around the Internet that our hero isn’t at his childhood home at all, but actually in some kind of mental facility or prison? After this week, we think that’s almost certainly true. “I will never understand why you did this,” Darlene says to her brother as they sit at the dining room table with their spectral mother watching TV in the next room. “It’s better for me here,” he replies. “Here,” of course, being a place where the enigmatic Roy offers counselor-like advice, and where the Seinfeld-loving Leon spouts enigmatic platitudes over the meals they eat every day … at the exact same time … at a place called the Extreme Junction Diner. For you Bible fans out there, “Extreme Unction” is a Catholic term for the last rites performed over the dying. Wherever Elliot really is, he certainly isn’t at liberty — and even his hallucinations are starting to have hallucinations.

Still, Mr. Robot isn’t one to take things sitting down, so he proposes a solution to break the deadlock: a chess match, using a board provided by Roy. The winner gets control of the consciousness, and the loser loses time forever. Elliot’s therapist Krista, who apparently knows about her patient’s imaginary friend now, warns against this: “Annihilation isn’t the answer.” If Elliot kills Mr. Robot, he kills a part of himself. But he proposes a radical alternative to the popular notion of identity as synthesis: Annihilation is always the answer. Destroying pieces of ourselves is how we create ourselves. Spoken like Mars, the Bringer of War.

Elliot and Mr. Robot’s chess game is played in a tall, dreamy avenue of trees with each piece echoing and reverberating as it falls. After a series of stalemates, Elliot comes to the long-delayed realization that he can’t beat himself. “I want to be here, Elliot. With you,” Mr. Robot says mildly. Elliot isn’t Jekyll and Mr. Robot isn’t Hyde, and it’s only when Elliot accepts this that he can start to tame his crazy.

Plus they’re not the only ones playing games. Angela, back in contact with her lawyer pal Antara, thinks she’s figured out the rules of the chess match Price is playing with her. Meanwhile, he’s in contact with Whiterose. We missed you, B.D. Wong’s mesmerising transgender Dark Army leader! He chats on the phone with the E Corp CEO about the mysterious long con they seem to be playing on the world. “I didn’t start this game, you did,” Price says, as his partner in crime leafs through fsociety files.

And how’s the hacker collective’s de facto leader doing, by the way? After a few episodes of telling everyone to chill, Darlene is finally, properly freaked out about the FBI, the Dark Army and whoever the hell offed Romero last week. She meets for a tryst and an info drop with her old flame, Cisco, in a bar called the Looking Glass. (What’s next: A speakeasy called the Rabbit Hole?) On her way there, everything is a shade of panic: People on the subway wear gas masks and VR headsets; a man on the sidewalk appears to be following her but then, maybe he isn’t. Reality seems to be closing in on Darlene, just like it did on her brother. We end as we began: with the siblings reunited (via PC terminal, at least), as Elliot orchestrates a hack of the FBI. The Alderson twins are back in action. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

Previously: With Imaginary Friends Like These