All images: Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Hello, friend. I want you to know I nearly gave up on you. Apart from a few explosive moments of entertainment your latest season has been a bit of a slog. Not boring—you could never be boring—but you could be tedious and aggravating and inappropriately indulgent.

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Also you betrayed us.

But I like why you tried to do this week, friend. You took a step away from your most polarizing character to give us a hacker thriller that would make Julia Roberts or Julianne Moore proud. I’m still wary, but I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

It’s easy to forget why we all loved Mr. Robot to begin with. Before big Fight Club-style twists and apocalyptic hacks, Mr. Robot was a show that excelled at playing with our very justified fears of technology. It was a technophobic thriller for the technophile.

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And that aspect of the show has been absent for far too long. Instead, we’ve done spy capers, taken jaunts to a psychedelic version of the ‘90s, and sat down in glossy offices of the world’s power brokers. But last night, in the first Elliot-free episode of the show ever, Mr. Robot got back down to the basics, and more importantly, reality.

At least I think it was all real.

Mobley, the growing conscience of F Society, getting hacked by Trenton, the F Society gal with the most to lose, is certainly plausible, though it calls into questions Mobley’s street cred. No hacker in their right mind would just click on a link offered by a stranger in a coffee shop (and non-hackers shouldn’t either), particularly in the summer of 2015 when the Stagefright exploit was all the rage. It’s the hacker equivalent of watching the promiscuous cheerleader get lost in the haunted woods outside the creepy cabin. Bitch is toast.

And Mobley is toast too. The guy has finally realized how thoroughly F Society failed at their mission to disrupt the business of our corporate overlords. But he’s too paranoid, and ultimately too naive, to affect any kind of change. Which is why he gets picked up by the FBI, and possibly someone more nefarious—if his missed meeting with Trenton at episode’s end is any indication.

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While Mobley waffles and frets and disappears, Dom is struggling with the consequences of F Society’s latest hack. The group has revealed a massive FBI surveillance operation.

We blindly, willingly, hand over our lives to Google and Apple and the rest, the show has noted, and then those companies pass it off the government so our data can be collated and filed and referenced at a later date—hopefully while incriminating us. If independence was an illusion dismantled in the first season, then the second season is dismantling the illusion of privacy.

It’s there in how quickly Dom learns of Mobley’s sordid fandom past. And how fast F Society invades a woman’s life (while simultaneously invading her home). And the reminder that privacy is an illusion heightens the tension in an already taut episode.

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People died this week on Mr. Robot, and others flit down New York streets with the sword of Damocles over their heads. Death is just a taser zap or a bat bump away for these characters. They’re hunted now, their lives an open book to the Dark Army and the FBI.

It all makes for the very best kind of Mr. Robot episode, though it was bleak to learn that Darlene could be so capable of murder and so blasé about it afterwards. While much of the episode was about the unravelling of F Society and the FBI, it was ultimately Darlene’s episode. She’s slipped into her new role as anarchist revolutionary with ease—though Carly Chaikin does a great job of showing the muted melancholia at the heart of Darlene.

This is a woman who watched her father die and his killers laugh. Who watched her brother go insane. Who ushered the world towards a new dark age. She’s got a lot on her plate, but keeps it tamped down and out of sight, just giving us glimpses of the cracks in her armor, before schlacking over them with a sarcastic aside and a dead-eyed stare.

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It’s key that we don’t see her break when she realizes her boyfriend has been playing her and collaborating with the Dark Army to hack the FBI. We just see his busted laptop, evidence of the wrath Darlene hides away.

And we see her swing a bat at his face.

If you’re a fan of Cisco you better hope he knows how to duck.

Assorted Musings

  • Seriously. Mobley being a victim of Stagefright is sad.
  • Evil Corp’s E-coin has competition from Bitcoin at the bar Angela drank at.
  • The FBI operation is codenamed Project Berenstain. Which is also sort of the name of some rad bears who have multiple accepted spellings of their names that seem to hint at an alternate universe.
  • I bet Elliot is a big fan of the Berenstein/Berenstain theory.
  • Darlene claims the lawyer died because she laughed when she beat Darlene’s family in trial. But guys... the lawyer had a Hotmail account.
  • Dom loves the movie Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, which is apparently hated in the Mr. Robot universe. I never want to live there.
  • I did not discuss Angela because while I am totally fascinated by her struggle this season it’s also a pretty thin plot most weeks. Portia Doubleday is killing it with lines like “I’m 27 and I have a six-figure salary at the biggest conglomerate in history. That’s who I am.” Here’s hoping all that dramatic goodness bubbling beneath the surface gets to explode soon.
  • If every episode for the rest of the season is scored by Angela’s karaoke performances then this will officially be the best show on television.