Mr. Robot Review: Season 2 Boots Up With Less Hacking, More Heady Drama

Mr. Robot - Season 2 Review

grade_B-Perhaps I was among a subset of Mr. Robot fans who appreciated Season 1 as a clever and engaging “heist” drama that was enriched by the fact that its antihero was, as eventually affirmed, plagued by mental illness.

The start of Season 2, though, inverts that formula, testing your willingness to cascade down many a dark rabbit hole with Eliot. But is that we want, to abandon the semblance of structure that the first season had, in the name of even more “What is real?” fake-outs? Wouldn’t that risk steering the acclaimed USA Network drama into being more of a niche appeal than ever?

Airing Wednesday at 10/9c, the double-episode, 90-minute premiere (the first half of which was “leaked” online Sunday night by fsociety) establishes that in the wake of the “Five/Nine” hack that crippled E Corp and other institutions, Eliot (Rami Malek) — who had emerged from three-day vanishing shocked to learn that the hack was executed as planned — locked himself into a rigid routine that by design steers him away from computer access. In this existence, he whiles away mealtimes with Seinfeld-obsessed Leon (played by Joey Bada$$) and watches local pick-up games alongside new friend Ray (Craig Robinson), journaling every detail of every day in a bid to avoid any more “lost” time.

Elsewhere, we see that Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is quite (uncharacteristically?) dissatisfied with the unarguable results of Five/Nine, that she wants to make “the man” hurt more. Angela (Portia Doubleday) meanwhile is digging in her Louboutin heels at E Corp, evolving into a spin doctor who is every bit as ruthless as she needs to be in the wake of Plouffe’s on-air suicide as well as another very public embarrassment about to be foisted upon the conglomerate. E Corp CEO Price himself is busy strong-arming D.C. into a better bailout for the biggies who fell hard, while Tyrell Wellick’s wife Joanna is coping with his disappearance by… well, you’ll see.

We also meet two new characters — E Corp counsel Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt), whose smart home gets appropriated, Axel Foley-style, by Darlene as an fsociety safe house, and Dom Dipierro (Grace Gummer), the FBI agent assigned to root out Five/Nine’s true perpetrator.

I never begrudge the addition of characters, especially for Season 2 of a surprise hit that needed to stay lean and mean during its freshman run. Nor do I mind seeing the likes of Doubleday being given the chance to do more, after spending much of Season 1 on the periphery. But the fact remains that Wednesday’s Episode 2 opens with some 10 minutes of neither sight nor sound of Eliot. And when we do spend time with him, there is a redundancy to the scenes, whether he’s cheating “death” at the hands of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) or holding one-way conversations with his new pals. (It would seem that the show is inviting us to wonder if there’s another Tyler Durden in Eliot’s life; I’m curious to hear theories.)

If Mr. Robot aspires to evolve into a deep character study, and an even deeper dive into the frightening aspects of mental illness, that is by all means creator Sam Esmail’s prerogative, and I will surely be tuning in, out of curiosity. And hey, maybe the 10 episodes that follow the supersized premiere will set up a more traditional plot/framework/hacking endeavor on which to drape all this character work.

But for those in need of a serialized, compelling storyline, the fact that two episodes in we have no idea what Eliot will be up to on a weekly basis, and only a half of a hint of a whisper about Tyrell’s fate, has to make one wary.

Will you be tuning in for Mr. Robot Season 2? Did you catch the first hour already via Twitter/Snapchat/ATM screen?

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