Every week, critic at large Todd VanDerWerff and culture writer Caroline Framke get together to discuss USA’s Mr. Robot. This week, we’re talking about "eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z," the 11th episode of the second season. You can catch up on our previous coverage of the series here.
Todd VanDerWerff: For just a second, I thought Mr. Robot was going to make this meandering (assuming we're being charitable; I’d say "pointless" if we're not) second season cohere into something amazing.
Elliot has just gotten into the back of a cab, when someone opens the door. It’s Tyrell Wellick, but he barely looks or sounds like Tyrell Wellick. He's been in hiding. Whatever the second wave is, it’s almost complete, and he's excited to reveal it to Elliot. The two characters exit the cab and walk off into the distance, Tyrell quoting Casablanca.
And then the episode ends. Wait for next week.
Of all of the games Mr. Robot’s second season has played that have proved irritating, perhaps none has proved more irritating than its willingness to stall — and seemingly endlessly so. So as we come to "ps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z," the first part of a two-part season finale and an episode that we will quite sensibly refer to as "Python, Part 1" from now on, it's time for the show to start dropping all of its other shoes.
And some of them drop quite memorably! Price's plan to manipulate the world economy so that ECorp can introduce ECoin — a digital currency he can essentially use to create a world where corporations cut out the middle-man and just become the government — fits with everything we've seen so far. And Whiterose deciding to use Angela for as yet undisclosed purposes against him also makes sense.
But there's still so much we don't know! What is the second wave of Elliot’s plan? Where's Tyrell been? Will Dom and Alexa ever find true mutual understanding? And those are just the "biggest" questions. It's a little concerning how much "Python, Part 2" will have to wrap up.
Has Mr. Robot turned to narrative tricks too often for us to keep trusting it?
Caroline Framke: There were a lot of things in "Python, Part 1" that I liked a lot — namely Portia Doubleday’s wonderfully subtle performance, surprising no one who reads these recaps — but I agree that this episode felt strangely obtuse, especially since it comes so late in an already (deliberately) confusing season.
I’m willing to believe I was immediately put off by the fact that "Python, Part 1" started with Elliot trying to force himself into a lucid dream state so he could control how and when he sees Mr. Robot. Based on the mid-season reveal that Elliot had long been tricking us into believing he was free and in the real world instead of hallucinating while in prison, I instinctively raised my defenses as he started to fall asleep, assuming we were in for some double-reality fuckery.
And in fact, a "lucid dream" is exactly what I thought was happening to Angela as we tagged along on her ride in the back of a mysterious white van to a mysterious suburban house, where she took a mysterious personality test from a mysterious tiny blonde doppelgänger next to a mysterious fish tank.
Mr. Robot has always been in the business of messing with the heads of both its characters and its viewers, so I had no reason to believe that any of Angela’s bizarre storyline was for real — until Whiterose walked into the room.
So while I’m excited for what, exactly, their partnership means, I’m still wary. We don’t know the whole story, and knowing Mr. Robot, we never will.
Todd: And all the while DARLENE IS BLEEDING IN THE STREET SOMEWHERE!
I will say that "Python, Part 1" did a really good job of raising the season's tension to a low boil. In particular, Dom's frustration over her struggle to get anybody else at the FBI to take her seriously — when she's more or less cracked the case (without yet finding Elliot) — have me thinking that when she finally meets our protagonist, it's going to be a beautiful, beautiful thing.
And I've even started to like the stuff about Mr. Robot and Elliot seeming like they're glitching out, because it's giving us a little insight into how Elliot can slowly but surely erase information that's vital to his existence. At one point in "Python, Part 1," he tells us that he has to remind himself that he and Mr. Robot are one and the same, and it's not hard to see how, left unchecked, that could lead us back to the Elliot we saw at the start of season one.
But, yes, I'm starting to fear that all of season two has been a long setup for whatever the new status quo will be in season three. And whether that new status quo involves the continued breakdown of society or Elliot and Price running the world together or just Dom and Elliot discovering how much they have in common and falling in love, I'm worried that keeping one eye on the future is hurting season two.
We've done that a lot in our discussions of this season, though, haven't we? We'll talk about where things might be going, and how we're concerned about the future, while discussing the present less than we maybe should. And I think that's perhaps because the present is increasingly a series of intriguing teases and nothing more. That sounds harsh for an episode and season I've liked, but my patience feels thin.
Season two did right by Dom, but can Mr. Robot pull off whatever it’s trying to do with Tyrell?
Caroline: There’s still so much to process. The show is clearly setting up future conflict, what with E Corp making an active play to control American currency, but it’s troubling that "Python, Part 1" raised far more questions than it answers this late in the game.
Like you, though, I loved everything in this episode that pertained to Dom, probably even more than I loved the stuff that pertained Angela (which will be a surprise to anyone who reads these recaps!).
Her frustration and even fury at being able to see the answers just out of reach and the FBI slapping her wrist as she goes to grab them have made for some of the best moments of the season. Watching her slowly deflate when she’s told in no uncertain terms that the fight is over — and that everything she’s been working for is negligible in the grander scheme of things — is devastating.
(All credit where it’s due here to Grace Gummer, who can make a scene where a woman wearily talks at a computer fascinating.)
But even though it was super compelling to watch Dom crumble, the back corners of my brain were wondering what's happening to Darlene and Cisco. The latter now has an APB out on him, and surely Dom could and should come up with a sketch of Darlene’s face for the FBI. Is it significant that Elliot hasn’t heard about the shooting? Will Trenton and Mobley save the day at the last minute? (Also, remember Trenton and Mobley?)
Todd: If anybody's saving the day at the last minute, it's Baby Wellick, don't you think?
More seriously, if there's any one thing that exemplifies this season's problems with just giving certain information to us straight, it's the complete and utter absence of Tyrell. He's not the world's best character, but he was a vital ingredient in season one, and without him, season two has lacked a dark-hearted mirror for Elliot's worst tendencies (just as Angela serves as a mirror of his best tendencies).
Originally, I'd hoped we would get just an hour of seeing what Tyrell had been up to all this time, but since he was in charge of the next stage of fsociety's revolution, I guess that would have given away too much. Yet keeping him offstage for so long has raised expectations so impossibly high that I'm not sure the show can deliver.
But you know what? I hope it can. Mr. Robot has taken its lumps in the press and from fans this season. Some of them have been fair (I don't know why that chess episode happened). Some have been less fair (the season's scattered approach is really bearing fruit now).
I would like nothing more than to see the show stick the landing and prove the haters, if not wrong, at least a little bit less right.
Caroline: I mean, just last week I wrote about how season two is doing some things better than season one. And I still believe it! But much of that opinion was predicated on the idea that Mr. Robot had an endgame in mind for this season, and like you said, "Python: Part 1" sure made it seem like the show’s writers are heavily prioritizing their setup for season three over building to a satisfying ending for season two.
The annoying thing is that we assumed season two was going to be the story of whatever Stage Two is, and it’s not. It’s about the limbo in between the initial five-nine hack and whatever’s coming next, which makes for some confusing sideplots and dead ends in the meantime.
So, now what?
Todd: My best guess? Next week's episode will be so jam-packed that it ends up being two hours long with ads. I'll see you there.