Review: ‘Mr. Robot’ reveals some secrets in a bonkers episode

alan-sepinwall
Senior Television Writer
08.12.15 128 Comments

USA

Many thoughts on tonight's “Mr. Robot” coming up just as soon as I take an NJ Transit train to New York for a ballet class…

“I think we should talk.” -Mr. Robot

Well, that was something, wasn't it?

“Mr. Robot” has been a show with secrets all along – chief among them the question of whether the title character is real or just Elliot's alter ego – but this week's episode revealed that there were far more secrets than even we might have realized going in.

So, yes, Elliot discovers that Mr. Robot looks exactly like his dead father – and is thus almost certainly a figment of his imagination (or else a father who faked his death and learned to retard the aging process, or a hacker who had extreme plastic surgery, or an identical younger cousin of Mr. Alderson) – and yet that somehow wasn't even the episode's most stunning development. (And not just because all of us had been speculating about Mr. Robot's reality, and many of you had wondered if he was an avatar for Elliot's dad.)

Nor, for that matter, was it the revelation that Mr. Robot – or rather, I'm assuming, Elliot in his Mr. Robot persona – is in cahoots with Tyrell Wellick. That's certainly surprising, and if Elliot really is Mr. Robot, then that paints many of Tyrell and Elliot's previous interactions in a new light. But that was taking place in the midst of a larger breakdown for Tyrell, who manages to avoid a police interview about Sharon's murder only because his wife is cutthroat enough to endanger their unborn child to do it. If Elliot/Mr. Robot has somehow turned Tyrell away from his ruthless quest for power and towards fsociety's mission of anarchy – or if knowing of their mission has somehow made him aware of a way to become something much more than just the CTO of Evil Corp. – then it would explain all the more why he's been so erratic of late, when he was introduced as a smooth, if sociopathic, master of the universe.

No, both of those were great, but the hour's biggest kick in the teeth was the revelation that Darlene was Elliot's sister. Obviously, something was up when we discovered that she and Angela were pals who speak of Elliot when he's not around, and in hindsight, knowing the true nature of their relationship explains why she seemed to be acting so forward with him in so many of their encounters. Elliot doesn't understand why this strange woman seems so comfortable invading his home and talking to his friend Shayla, when in fact she has the kind of familiarity that comes with being siblings who went through a terrible family tragedy together. She was never being flirty; she was being a nosy sister.

Elliot has talked since the start about hacking his own mind to create constructs like Evil Corp., or even us in the home audience, and he's wondered if Mr. Robot or anything about fsociety was real, or merely a bit of malware rummaging through his head. Even with that understanding, the notion that he has managed to erase all memory of his sister's existence – multiple times, judging by Darlene's wounded reaction to realizing Elliot forgot her yet again – suggests a level of damage that even we couldn't fathom until this point, and that even Elliot had kept hidden from himself.

This has always been a show driven by its direction as much as its writing, and this episode did a great job of using its visual style to convey the very fragile and suggestible state of Elliot's great brain. When he leaves the meeting with Whiterose (played with a suitable level of mystery and majesty by B.D. Wong), we see in the jagged, extremely close way the camera is following Rami Malek how quickly Elliot has been infected with Whiterose's time paranoia. And when Elliot flees his sister to once again consider the depths of his madness, our view shifts from an omniscient to an incredibly subjective one, as Elliot not only breaks the fourth wall to accuse us of being in on the conspiracy the whole time, but somehow reaches through to the other side to hurl the camera to the ground.

That is a bonkers moment, operating on a meta level that even “Community” might not have tried, and yet it fits completely and utterly with the way Elliot's mental problems have been depicted thus far. It makes no sense within any real concept of reality of the world of “Mr. Robot,” but we've known from the start that the show's reality is fluid and depends very much on Elliot's state of mind in any given moment.

On Saturday night, “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner came to the TCA Awards to support winner Jon Hamm, and he spent much of the night telling any critic who would listen how much he loves “Mr. Robot.” He had only seen the first three episodes at that point, so I can only imagine the level his fervor will reach by the time he gets to this one. But the intensity, the imagination, and sheer confidence of the storytelling on the writing, directing, and acting levels on display in this one illustrate exactly why the creator of one of the greatest TV shows ever made would have fallen so hard for this strange new show.

What did everybody else think?

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Alan Sepinwall has been writing about television since the mid-'90s. He's the author of "The Revolution Was Televised," about the rise of TV's new golden age, and co-author of "TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time."

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