Synopsis: Five/nine has changed the world, leaving Elliot in complete seclusion, while Angela finds happiness at Evil Corp, and fsociety, under Darlene’s control, delivers a malicious payload.
Hooooh boy. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to watch a show with a completely and intrinsically unreliable narrator. And what it’s like is emotionally taxing and insanely engaging. It’s a very rare thing on network TV to have unreliable audience stand-ins at all, let alone one like Elliot. Elliot is literally a narrator. He’s not just the protagonist, he truly speaks directly to the audience, he talks to himself, and he knows he’s unreliable.
In fact, what appears to be the most pressing storyline for the sophomore season, is Elliot piecing through exactly what of last seasons misdeeds he’s personally responsible for. Currently, he’s hiding out at his mom’s house, avoiding the internet at all costs, and sticking to an extremely regimented schedule, in the hopes of keeping “Mr. Robot” at bay. He journals his every waking moment and has isolated himself completely from all forms of technology, in the hopes of eliminating any gaps in his memory, and eventually Mr. Robot entirely.
The two-part season opener focuses very heavily on Elliot’s mental state and inner turmoil, and offers very little in the way of explanations about last season’s hanging plot threads. He agonizes over the presence of Mr. Robot, he attends a lot of pickup basketball games, and hangs out with the same guy for every meal.
Mr. Robot shows up every time Elliot is tempted to do something he shouldn’t. Gideon asks Elliot for help, and Mr. Robot stands to the side, aggressively and distractingly eating an apple with a knife. Elliot meets a man who wants his help on a hacking job, and Mr. Robot appears over his shoulder, complaining about the enforced analog prison Elliot’s created. When Elliot’s alone, they argue incessantly, becoming so heated that Mr. Robot often shoots Elliot in the head, and Elliot wears a bandage, even though it isn’t real.
Elliot’s determination is admirable and heartbreaking. And destined to fail. How can he get rid of another half of his personality? How do you get rid of someone if you refuse to do the only thing they want from you? But if you did it, why would they leave when they’ve finally got their hooks in you?
This comes to a head when Elliot again meets the man he refused to do a hack for, and the man asks why he’s acting so differently than the night before, revealing that they had a meeting Elliot doesn’t remember. When he confronts Mr. Robot, he simply says “when people see you coming, they see me.” This triggers a terrifying and unsettling outburst of maniacal laughter from Elliot, at the realization that his miserable, self-imposed exile backfired so spectacularly, and control, as Mr. Robot continuously told him, is an illusion.
Elliot tries again to break the cycle, essentially telling Mr. Robot to get bent, and he goes off to his church group. He dozes off, given the fact that he apparently didn’t sleep the night before, and wakes up back home, on the phone with Tyrell himself.
Darlene, for her part, has taken over fsociety, and is determined to finish what they started. She hacks E-Corp’s general counsel out of her own smart house, just for extra irony, and sets up camp there, determined to complete the mission and take E-Corp to task.
In her first power play as queen bee, she sends E-Corp a ransomware payload, that promises to brick over their entire system, if one of their chief officers doesn’t deliver exactly 5.9 million dollars to a given location. CTO Scott Knowles takes on the job, and when he gets there, a bike messenger delivers a mask, with a note that tells him to don the mask, and burn the money. Which he does, while an entire city block watches.
This turn of events takes us back to Angela, who’s working as an up-and-coming PR darling for E-Corp, and currently fielding press inquiries about the incident. It’s a job she was supposed to take temporarily, while looking for a way to take them down from the inside.
As it turns out, she likes it, and she’s good at it, and she doesn’t want to leave. She claims to have found peace after everything, that abandoning the fight is for the best, but we also see her unenthusiastically hooking up with men she doesn’t know at bars, and watching self-affirmation infomercials instead of sleeping.
With nothing but a music box mysterious missed phone call to Joanna as a clue to the unfolding events of the larger Five/nine arc, it’s safe to say it’s anybody’s game. E-Corp isn’t rolling over and playing dead, White Rose is still in play, Darlene has plans for fsociety, and everything in the premiere was entirely muddled and overshadowed by the inner workings of Elliot’s identity struggle, which is narratively flawless, given the setup of the audience as a figment of his imagination.