A review of tonight's Mr. Robot coming up just as soon as my favorite color is infrared…
“You are at the intersection of all of it.” -Whiterose
Elliot vanishes for a large swath of “Python, Part 1,” which begins the two-week the Mr. Robot season 2 finale, having attempted to employ a lucid dreaming technique so that he can turn the tables and spy on Mr. Robot for once. It wasn't quite as extreme as the completely Elliot-free “Successor,” but there was a moment right before Elliot woke up where I wondered if he might not return at all until Part 2.
As Elliot prepares his mind for this particular exercise, he invites us to participate, and other voices come faintly onto the soundtrack reciting the same mantra Elliot is using, making it sound as if we are, in fact, helping him out. But even though Elliot is as fictional to us as we are to him, his plan is an attempt to basically become us: to have the ability to watch a character on this show from a more omniscient point of view without ever being at risk of observation.
But if either we or Elliot are interested in getting answers this week, the technique doesn't do all that much. Elliot's mind takes control of his body again before he has a real sense of what Mr. Robot is doing, which gives him the sensation not unlike the one we're experiencing whenever Sam Esmail chooses to edit a scene so that we leave it before we learn important information, like who exactly died during the shooting at Lupe's, what Whiterose told Angela to get her to back off on the Washington Township case, or even whether the Tyrell Wellick in the back of the cab with Elliot is the genuine article or yet another figment of his damaged psyche. No matter how much we focus and lurk in the shadows, the story's not going to reveal itself to us until it's good and ready.
In that way, the episode probably would have played better had it aired on the same night as the season's concluding chapter, which was once the plan. Instead, it has the feel of a tease – a well-crafted tease with some delightful moments, and that will surely play well for future binge-watchers, but which didn't feel entirely substantial enough as the only hour of Mr. Robot that we get for the next seven days.
Still, the interlocking sequences where Angela and Alexa were both being asked questions that seemed nonsensical to them – Angela about being red or purple, Alexa about whether it loves Dom – were wonderfully weird, and sad, with Whiterose's arrival retroactively supporting what had to that point felt almost like a dream sequence, because the world of Mr. Robot is always at least 10 percent more surreal when she's around. (Given the contrasting interrogations, not to mention the computerized voice that pestered her with the '80s adventure game-style questions about the torch and the key, it was a nice touch that Angela seemed more robotic when going to tell her lawyer to leave her alone.) And though Alexa previously told Dom that the end of the world likely wouldn't come for billions of years, the exhaustion and despair and loneliness on Dom's face as she struggled to sleep suggested a person for whom the end of the world might almost be a relief.
Last week, I noted that Esmail was putting an awful lot of pressure on himself by teasing out the Wellick situation over the entire season, and the design of this episode points to a finale that will have no choice but to reveal a lot of information – about Wellick, Darlene, and Phase 2, at a minimum – which is a lot of plot (and answers) to successfully dole out in an hour-plus. A season ago at this time, Esmail was focusing more on Elliot's internal struggle with his realization about Mr. Robot's true nature, and the finale glossed over large chunks of what the plot had been building towards. That approach worked for me then, but that was at a time when the show was much more focused on the internal struggle between Elliot and what turned out to be, as he reminds himself tonight, himself. This season, particularly in its second half, has pushed so much beyond that story, and emphasized its various mysteries over and over, that it will feel frustrating if we don't get at least some explanations next week – and ones that justify the amount of time Esmail has strung us along on them, even if he's done so with such great storytelling flair.
Some other thoughts:
* Several of tonight's musical selections are from the Back to the Future soundtrack, including “Night Train” (Angela trying to get her abductors to talk to her), the theme to Davy Crockett (the van pulls up to the house), and Marvin Berry & The Starlighters' cover of “Earth Angel” (Tyrell tells Elliot that Stage 2 is ready to go). Is this just Sam Esmail having some fun with another childhood favorite? Does this mean that, given Whiterose's fixation with time, a plutonium-powered DeLorean will be appearing in the finale? Will Elliot invent skateboarding (assuming that isn't distracting in a show featuring Gleaming the Cube star Christian Slater), or merely tell Angela that she's his density?
* Speaking of Esmail, when Elliot refers to his friend Sam who taught him the lucid dreaming technique, could this be something that Esmail himself liked to go on about in middle school?
* For those of you who freeze-framed the sequence last week where Elliot invited us to search the apartment for clues, was the BBQ menu in fact visible?
* Though Price appears to be getting everything he wants with the Chinese bailout and getting the government to approve his ecoin-backed loans, there's at least some truth to what he tells poor Jack, in that the glimpses of the post-hack world that we've seen all season – up to and including the desperate swap meet taking place in Washington Square Park – suggests this broken place very much needs an infusion of theoretical cash. But the strings that are going to come with it will hurt a lot, I suspect.
What did everybody else think? What one story thread do you most care about seeing tied up next week?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org