Here’s the thing about a revolution: It’s not enough to simply start one. You also have to steer it. Otherwise, the systems you took down will rise right back up and bite you in the ass.
That’s what the members of fsociety, scattered to the four winds, are learning as we catch up with them in Mr. Robot‘s Season Two premiere, which takes place a month after the events of Season One’s world-altering finale. We find out via the TV news that the hack that took down E Corp and erased all debt is now being called “The 5/9 Attacks.” Fsociety is being blamed, but so is Tyrell Wellick — the rogue “Evil Corp” employee/pro sadist/murderer who may or may not have helped Elliot pull off the hack. Not that our amnesiac hero — or us, by extension — know how the hell it actually went down.
In the two-part premiere’s opening moments, we flash back to Elliot’s lost evening with Tyrell at fsociety’s run-down Coney Island digs. The latter is trying on the Monopoly Man mask for size, and marveling at the hack’s elegant efficiency. “It’s almost as if something’s come alive,” he says wonderingly. Meanwhile, Elliot reaches into the popcorn machine where we know that Darlene has stashed a gun — and that’s all we get for now. Because like a good Christian Slater–shaped dark alter ego, Mr. Robot knows that withheld information is the best way to keep the people on the hook.
And how is Rami Malek’s unreliable narrator doing? Not so hot. He’s hiding out in his childhood home in Queens, away from fsociety, his sister, any and all computers, and himself. It’s not unusual for a young guy who’s been through a big shock to go live with his parents for a while — except Elliot’s parents are imaginary. His “mom” sits patiently in the living room, and his “dad,” a.k.a. Mr. Robot, shows up from time to time to shake him out of his stupor by firing a bullet into his skull. “He shot me in the head again,” Elliot writes blandly in his journal, as very real-looking blood drips from his imaginary wound onto the page.
He copes by forcing himself into a dull-as-possible routine: Up the same time every morning, church group, watching locals play basketball and lunch three times a day with his friend Leon (played by rapper Joey Bada$$). This is where creator Sam Esmail’s wry humour comes into play: We’re informed us that Leon has just discovered Seinfeld, a sitcom whose nihilistic moral universe is shockingly similar to Robot‘s. “Maybe that’s the show’s point — that shit is just pointless,” Leon opines oh-so-meta-ly.
The pointless point of all of this? Elliot’s trying to get back control of his own brain, and also to get Mr. Robot — who, of course, is also him — to tell him what the hell happened to the still-missing Tyrell. The movement’s leader, meanwhile, wants them to move on and jump back into the revolution. Classic Tyler Durden stuff.
As for that revolution, it’s on thin ice. With most of fsociety’s original players MIA and our hero off in la-la land, Darlene has established herself as the group’s alpha, trying her level best to remind her followers that while E Corp may be down for the count, it’s by no means out. “We’re at war, and we’re losing,” she declares to a group of bros who are more interested in taking selfies with the sliced-off testicles of the Wall Street bull statue than, y’know, actually upending the capitalist system. In her brother’s absence she dispatches Mobley, her last ally from the original gang, to install a new hack in E Corp’s bank database. They encrypt all their files and hold them ransom to the tune of $5.9 million dollars. After some debate, CTO Scott Knowles (the guy whose wife Tyrell strangled to death last season) agrees to bring the cash to the appointed drop-off spot in Battery Park.
What follows the kind of dreamy, druggy, unsettling sequence that Mr. Robot does better than any show on television. With Phil Collins’s “Take Me Home” lilting in the background, an fsociety-puppeteered Knowles dons the Monopoly Man mask, dumps millions in cash onto the sidewalk, and lights it on fire as a crowd watches. Hidden in the background, Darlene smiles for the first time in a month.
After this barnstormer opening, the second half of the two-part premiere catches us up with Mr. Robot‘s other key player: Angela, who joined E Corp last season in a supposed bid to take it down from the inside. She’s now fully drunk the Kool-Aid; she likes working at E Corp now, she says. She gazes at a flowery print in her cubicle at work that declares, “Believe in yourself.” She wakes up in the middle of the night listen to something called “Positive Affirmations, Volume 3.” She is confident, she insists to herself. She loves Big Brother.
Back in Queens, Elliot’s enforced routine is interrupted by another new figure: Ray (The Office‘s Craig Robinson), an affable guy who approaches our man and fills his ear with highfalutin metaphors about basketball and patterns of order and chaos. He also fake-casually asks about our hero’s computer skills, and he’s not having it. But Mr. Robot is: The next time Elliot sees Ray, he discovers that he did meet with him. He just doesn’t remember why.
And in case you were worried that this slow-burning season opener wasn’t going to get as serious as a heart attack, the ending goes quite literally for the jugular. Elliot’s former Allsafe boss, Gideon, who he may or may not have framed for the hack, is being investigated by the FBI. So he flirts with a strange man at a bar who, turns out is exactly not the person to trust. “You may be a patsy, but you’re an important one,” the stranger says. Then, with a “this is for our country,” the man pulls out a gun and shoots him in the throat. Goodbye, Gideon.
Across town, Elliot is drifting off in his church group meeting to the tune of the opening passage from the very chill Book of Revelation (y’know, the one about the apocalypse). He “wakes up” who knows how long later holding a red phone in his hand, and Tyrell’s familiar voice hissing on the other end: “Bonsoir, Elliot.”
Bonsoir, Mr. Robot. We missed you and your gorgeous, slow-mo paranoia. This episode moved a little too glacially, not helped by the fact that most of the key players are off in their own little worlds. “How long are you going to keep us in this analogue nightmare?” a bored Mr. Robot demands of his anaesthetised host. For the show’s sake — if not for Elliot’s mental health — we hope not much longer.