Contributed by Mo Walker
The American hackivist drama, Mr. Robot returns to screens for a second attempt at vanquishing the forces of corporate greed. Ironically, Mr. Robot is returning on the cusp of major societal upheavals in the United Kingdom and the United States. I was a huge fan of the first series; I devoured each episode in series one and attempted to turn several friends onto the show. I did not have trouble explaining the show’s premise. However I had a lot of difficulty describing the protagonist and primary narrator, Elliot Alderson. Actor Rami Malek, from the various Night at the Museum films, portrays a character coping with several mental disorders including social anxiety. I told people that Malek’s performance was worth watching at least once. Adding to the show’s mystique was Christian Slater (star of the films Heathers, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Interview with a Vampire). Slater portrays the enigmatic Mr. Robot, who was one part Jiminy Cricket and two parts abusive drill sergeant.
I got excited whenever I saw promotional material for series two featuring a black hoodie or an fsociety’s mask, a twisted version of the Banker from the game Monopoly. Given recent news events such as Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, I was also curious to see if any parallels between these events and series tow of Mr. Robot would emerge. Though I have not come to any sort of formal conclusions, I can definitely see some overlap between Mr. Robot and real-world events. As I watched the double bill, I found myself slowly being immersed back into protagonist Elliot Alderson’s reality. However something felt a little off. Perhaps my memories and more importantly feelings surrounding the first series were off. Maybe I am an unreliable narrator like Elliot.
The opening moments of episode one rattled the foundation upon which my memories of series one are built upon. Instead of picking up on the series one episode ten cliffhanger, the show opens on a scene from series one episode nine. Elliot and Tyrell Wellick, Swedish actor Martin Wallström, are conversing inside fsociety’s headquarters the night of the hack against the multi-national conglomerate E Corp. Following this scene the show takes a jump forward in time. Once again the audience is greeted by Elliot who shepherds us through his new regimen. Just as the audience and Elliot have the routine down, Mr. Robot returns and violently attempts to uproot the new order. While Elliot attempts to wall himself off from the after effects of the hack, his sister Darlene and remnants of fsociety launch a new counter-offensive against E Corp using its General Council Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt from Netflix’s House of Cards).
The second episode continues to broaden Elliot’s post-fsociety world by introducing a new character named Ray, portrayed by Craig Robinson from the U.S. version of The Office. While Darlene continues to wage a campaign of public humiliation against E Corp, special guest star President Barrack Obama has tasked the FBI with catching fsociety. Investigating the E Corp case is Dominique DiPierro, portrayed by Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer. Episode two also checked-on Elliot’s childhood friend and newly hired E Corp employee Angela (Portia Doubleday from 2013 remake of Carrie). Clearly Angela is being positioned for something in future episodes, especially once Elliot comes out of retirement. By the end of episode two, Mr. Robot has finally managed to cox Elliot out of his new routine.
So, I watched both episodes and still couldn't figure out why my feelings towards the series I'd once loved felt off. Eventually I realized the problem was with my level of expectations, not the show itself. I assumed Mr. Robot would continue the pace it maintained towards the end of series one, at least initially. Instead, things seem to have slowed down and the pacing is more reminiscent of early episodes of series one.
I can appreciate that the show is keen to explore the ramifications of the previous series, I just wish some of the cards were turned over a little faster. On the plus side, if the pacing is my only issue I suppose I've not got much to grumble about. It may have been a bit on the slugish side but I am still heavily invested in creator, writer, and now episodic director Sam Esmail’s vision for the show. I strongly believe Mr. Robot deserved its recent Primetime Emmy Awards nominations and its wins at American award shows such as the Golden Globes earlier this year. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend starting with episode one of series two. If you are interested in Elliot’s journey, I suggest putting on a black hoodie and starting with series one.