Season 1 of “Mr. Robot” was a great season of television that had a cool edge to it in its fourth wall breaks and some pretty crazy plot twists. Season 2 takes this further and tries to mess with the viewer in every way possible. The fourth wall breaks are bolder, the plot convulses like it is epileptic and the viewer is always, always left questioning. That being said, the show falters when it tries to conform to TV norms and the faults are pretty apparent this season. I do think, however, that the good parts outweigh the bad. So go watch this show, and especially this season, if you haven’t yet because the rest of this review is ridden with spoilers.
Season 2 of Mr Robot isn’t just “Season 1, but bigger”; Season 2 of the show represents a pretty drastic shift in tone, setting and narrative from the first. Everything is bleak this season, everyone is more paranoid and everything is painted in shades of gray. This has to be one of my biggest joys with this season, while individual episodes might have varied in consistency, the whole season felt cohesive in tone, making it collectively feel like something more than just a bunch of episodes.
Along with this focus on tone, creator, director and writer Sam Esmail puts the focus on expansion: expanding on everything brought up from last season. Instead of just following Eliot around for another season which does happen quite a bit, we got a ton of screentime with characters old and new.
This isn’t all a good thing though. Whenever you have all these narratives happening concurrently, there’s always that one narrative that just isn’t as interesting or as fun to watch as the rest. That would be Dom’s narrative. Dom just felt so flat throughout this season. Her character never had anything more than just being the good-intentioned FBI detective searching for the hackers. I felt like there wasn’t enough to make her anything more than a sideline character. There were some hints dropped that there was an actual character behind her overacted facade, but that’s all they are: hints.
But Dom is the exception, not the rule. The other characters on this show really came into their own this season. Darlene and Angela’s stories played one another to great effect as the two of them tried to help one another in continuing the hack, and both spiraled to the bottom as the world forces them to change from who they once were. We also got to see more of Cisco, who quickly became one of my favorites.
And then there is the man himself. Far and away, everything that involves Eliot and his alter-ego Mr. Robot are the best parts of this show. From the hilarious faux-sitcom bit, to the adderall binge, to the absolutely stellar last 10 minutes of the season finale, these two characters work fantastic together and are always involved in the best parts of the show.
Speaking of the last 10 minutes of the season finale: it was some of the best television I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The way Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) walks in and out of frame while the camera tumbles around Rami Malek (Eliot) as the absolutely stellar electronic score by Mac Quayle in the background convulses and ramps up in volume with this incessant ambient-ish synth was fantastic. And the tension just kept on getting ramped up until Eliot and his bug eyes walked toward the camera as he states, “It’s time to take back control,” and then it ends in one of the most satisfying pseudo-cliffhangers ever put on television.
This brings me back around to some critiques. This whole season has been about Eliot trying to regain control, and control could be seen as the theme of this entire season. But while this makes for great television, nothing about control was really explored. This show is truly great at a lot of things, but it has always relied more on tension and plot twists to keep its hooks in you rather than meaningful explorations of any theme. Now, you could level this critique at any piece of art, but the reason it bothers me with “Mr. Robot” is that the show always feels like it’s about to say something meaningful, but it never follows through.
This frustration isn’t just limited to my bickerings either. You can see it in how some characters on this show are used and tossed away without being looked back upon. Season 1 had Shayla, who was a romance for Eliot and sort of a romance for Angela for a little. Then she got murdered and we got to see how her death affected Eliot, but then it was back to “who is Mr. Robot” for the rest of the season. This season, we had Ray who was played greatly by Craig Robinson. I loved his character, and how his illusion of his wife paralleled Eliot’s illusion of his father. Unlike Dom, these two characters are great additions to the show, but they are never used to their full potential and are awkwardly just tossed away halfway through their respective seasons.
All this being said, “Mr. Robot” is still one of the best shows on television. I haven’t been this stressed out watching a TV show since “Breaking Bad,” and that’s great, I love being taken along for the ride on the stress-train. But it’s not always a smooth ride; sometimes the stress-train that is “Mr. Robot” gets derailed in the worst way possible by flat characters, boring episodes or just odd narrative decisions. And when you do compare it to a show as expertly executed as “Breaking Bad,” it’s hard not to notice that “Mr. Robot” isn’t living up to its full potential.