Mr. Robot delights in being a challenging show, sometimes to a fault. And though I still look fondly at the bruises my brain suffered from the wrestling match of Season 1, Season 2 has been a slightly different story largely because the head games that proved magnetic in Season 1 came with the meat of a TV show — clear plot — and Season 2 has been content to dance in the ether and — I apologize in advance for using this next term — be very Mr. Robot-y.

As fascinating as the internal rumble between Elliot (Rami Malek) and Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is, that can't be all that Elliot is about. But that's all Elliot was about for much of the first four episodes as he locked himself in self-imposed offline exile in a battle of wills with Mr. Robot. That was never the case in Season 1; Elliot was masterminding a world-changing hack AND he was figuring out who Mr. Robot was, and the two plots worked excellently together. Sure, the severity of figuring out that your hacker recruiter was actually a hallucination of your own damaged mind would be enough to send you into drastic circumstances, but we all know the drama of Mr. Robot comes from the coexistence of these two personalities living in one body; therefore, we knew that Elliot would have to give up his fight against Mr. Robot and get on with the hacking biz-ness. Watching him drown in Adderall made for great visuals, but it also held up the story. I'm sure I'm not the only one who let out a huge sigh of relief when he finally opened up a terminal window in Ray's (Craig Robinson) office.

That doesn't mean Season 2 has been bad — not at all! I loved the double-episode premiere. But it does mean that with less forward momentum, Season 2 hasn't sunk in the hooks like Season 1 did, and a few of these early hours — particularly last week's episode — felt like they were spinning in place. The challenge we expect was there, but the payoffs were not. Thankfully, "eps2.2_init1_asec" (these episode titles are getting crazier than Elliot) pushed things over the hump and toward where the show needed to be. Basically, Elliot got back online! Hallelujah.jpg!

Mr. Robot: Is Elliot hallucinating his daily routine?

Season 2 still hasn't answered any of the questions we had from Season 1, so when Elliot answered the knocking at his door in the opening scene, it felt like we were finally going to see who was at the door in the final moments of the Season 1 finale (well, the "final" scene before that other final scene). But nope, it was a flashback to the previous Halloween before this all started when Darlene (Carly Chaikin) reconnected with her brother. It's a fascinating scene even though it had hands heavier than a Cray-1 supercomputer with its mask analogies, but the mask analogy actually worked well when it revealed the birth of fsociety and the actual mask that is its signature image. (It's a mask worn from the totally unreal 1984 film The Massacre of the Bourgeouis , which can be seen in its 8-minute entirety right here.)

It was cool to see Elliot put on the mask and become a different person, almost as if donning the mask and his father's jacket at the same time summoned the spirit of his discontent dad. But the truth was this was the first time we'd seen Elliot switch over to his alter ego before our eyes, which helped put the creation of Mr. Robot on Elliot rather than making Elliot a victim, as we've been fed to believe. Elliot just gave that alter ego a face — his dad's face — and the way Mr. Robot has portrayed Elliot's situation up until now has been of Mr. Robot invading Elliot's headspace rather being invited. For those of us out there who truly believe that Elliot needs Mr. Robot (#TeamSlater!) to be his best self, this was an awesome scene.

And it finally appears that Elliot may be coming over to our side. The bulk of the episode involved a literal chess match between Mr. Robot and Elliot for control and — hold on, may I just quickly say how much I hate chess metaphors in TV and film? Ugh. Anyway, it was another example of postponing the obvious — first it was shootouts in Elliot's room, then it was Adderall, now it's chess — and after three consecutive stalemates, Elliot realized that Mr. Robot could mayyyybe help him achieve a future worth living for, as his pal Leon (Joey Bada$$) so eloquently advised him.

Christian Slater, Rami Malek; <em>Mr. Robot</em>Christian Slater, Rami Malek; Mr. Robot

Leon's advice triggered a wonderful dream sequence of Elliot finding that happy place that eludes him so, one that conquers his loneliness and sees him dining with his friends in the middle of a street and celebrating his acquaintances' life successes (Lloyd! Lloyd's out-of-his-league girlfriend! Bill from Steel Mountain, who Elliot absolutely demolished in Season 1!). As locked into his own stubborn spiral as Elliot appears to usually be, he has shown great ability to knock himself out of his orbit and change abruptly, to jump tracks and go on a new life path with a simple suggestion. You know, just like a crazy person might. But for all the positivity, I can't help but feel it's just an effective way to kick things into gear again and that doom and gloom are around the corner. Elliot may be destined for his prison of depression and loneliness, but you can't say that he's constantly searching for a better life, not just for himself, but for everyone.

That's directly at odds with Angela (Portia Doubleday), who is out for numero uno (or is she, she's talking an awful lot with her old lawyer). She had those slimeball Evil Corp execs arrested for insider trading thanks to the evidence that Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) gave her, and continued to leap up the corporate ladder by uncovering some information about the Evil Corp coverup that killed her mother and Elliot's father. She tried to use it against Price, who essentially laughed her off while at the same time acknowledging that what she found out — that he really wanted to nix a third-party inspection of the Washington Township — was important stuff (he said it was all in her head but nope, not buying it).

But it's probably not as important to Price as some other things are. We finally saw Price and Whiterose (B.D. Wong) chat again, but speculating on what's actually going on between these two would be fruitless because Mr. Robot isn't giving us anything. There's talk of an administration and a U.N. vote, but I'm pretty sure there's a whole layer above what we've been shown that we can't possibly comprehend with our tiny, feeble minds yet. But you have to know it's huuuuuuuuge. The other question here was, "Whose side is the Dark Army on?"

Rami Malek, Mr. RobotRami Malek, Mr. Robot

That's what Darlene was wondering as the walls closed in on her. The answer is likely the Dark Army is only on the Dark Army's side and probably playing every side to see which one is the most profitable, but Darlene doesn't know that. Her old friend Cisco says the Dark Army probably isn't coming after them, but someone certainly is. And now she knows the FBI is sniffing around the fsociety arcade? That news led her to get in touch with Elliot, who agreed to help Ray in order to find that future worth living for and get back online. His first stop? Hacking the FBI. Dayum.

Before we leave, we should still note that the "Elliot is in prison/a mental institution" theory is still very much in play. Darlene visited him and never acknowledged her mother, Elliot's still either in his room, Ray's office, the hallway with the phone, the diner or his mom's living room, which we've already explained could be hallucinations. Don't be surprised if a reveal comes soon, especially since Elliot is back in the game.

That's it. It's the second episode in a row with some bumps, but it also made a huge leap by getting Elliot back in front of a computer, something I've missed dearly. But more importantly, it appears that Elliot and Mr. Robot are back working together again, and even if Elliot knows Mr. Robot isn't real, that's where Mr. Robot needs to be.

NOTES

- Joanna's storyline may be the most confusing of all. She's gaming for Tyrell's severance package, and up to her own nefarious plans. And also hurting poor Derek's feelings!

- Cool use of a piano-fied version of Green Day's "Basket Case."

- Bill! Yeah, it wasn't real, but seeing Elliot hug Bill was a happy moment.