Mr. Robot 2.0 – Musings on the Second Season

by Robbie Repass | @trashmanreeps

 The sophomore season of the USA Network series Mr. Robot has reached its end and I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Mr. Robot was a surprise summer 2015 hit that quickly gained critical acclaim and social media buzz, a pop culture phenomenon in an era where it's harder and harder for a new television series to stand out.  Even a few prestigious awards have been showered upon Mr. Robot's first season, including the Golden Globe for Best Television Series - Drama and Best Supporting Actor - Series (won by Christian Slater, in the titular role) and most recently the Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (won by Rami Malek).  The first season stood out for many reasons including the intelligent storytelling, clever plot twists, and interesting characters - most notably the lead character and our unreliable narrator, Elliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer and hacker who struggles severely with paranoia and hallucinations.  That's a lot to live up to in your second season, surely, but I think creator Sam Esmail pulled it off.

Season one had an astonishing pace and was full of thrilling episodes while delivering a couple major plot twists; most would have predicted Mr. Robot to be an alternate personality of Elliot's but did we realize the imagined leader of fsociety was his dead father? And even if that was predictable, who saw Darlene as Elliot's sister coming?!  A common complaint I heard during the first few weeks of the second season was that the plot was moving along too slowly - audiences today are spoiled when it comes to their television, and we weren't getting the instant gratification we have come to expect. But credit to Sam Esmail and his vision for the second season - the slow burn of the first seven episodes and the regimented lifestyle Elliot had adopted gave way to one of the biggest and most unexpected twists of perhaps the entire series thus far.  Without the methodical build toward that reveal it would have seemed like a cheap trick for shock value, an attempt to recapture the twists of year one.  The attention to detail displayed here, all the way down to set design, restores my faith that the creative team behind the series is still at the top of their game.  

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After Elliot's incarceration was revealed we were reminded that we simply cannot trust the narrative when viewed through the perspective of our hero, which made the eventual return of Tyrell all the more powerful.  Was he really alive and off the grid this whole time?  Or is he another creation of Elliot's fractured mental state?  This left the audience guessing right up until the final moments of the season.  Masterful storytelling.

If I had any complaints about the first season it would be that it introduced many interesting ancillary characters that the narrative simply didn't have time to explore.  From Angela to Darlene to Joanna Wellick to ECorp CEO Price and mysterious Dark Army leader Whiterose - season two allowed for the development of these characters and insight into their motivations.  All this while adding the element of an FBI investigation into the 5/9 hack and the introduction of Agent Dom DiPierro (played superbly by Grace Gummer) as a foil to Darlene, Angela and Whiterose's differing motives. Not to mention raising the stakes, as the prominence of the shadowy Dark Army ratcheted up the nerves of those involved, making paranoia a scourge for all to contend with and the very real possibility that their lives are in danger with any misstep.

For these reasons I thought the second season successfully built upon and perhaps even surpassed the first; who else can’t wait for season three?