No Elliot, no problem.
This week's episode of Mr. Robot skipped over its protagonist and his imaginary friend entirely for an hour focused just on the motley crew of fsociety and corporate plaything Angela (Portia Doubleday). The idea of an Elliot-free episode of Mr. Robot sounds like the result of a wacky-tobacky session in the writers room, but "Successor" was a winner because of the way it pushed its characters to the edge and forced them to react.
Without Elliot, it was also the real-est episode of Mr. Robot, eschewing the storytelling tricks the series has become so famous for in favor of things that were actually happening, in this case, non-stop tension between the authorities — who are finally catching up to the rest of us — and the hackers as this dangerous game becomes a two-team affair. And, let's be honest, it was a welcome break from the fact-or-fantasy mental gymnastics Mr. Robot has been putting us through, particularly after the divisive reveal in last week's episode that Elliot was in prison all along.
Without Elliot, who can actually be rather tame and reactionary when compared to the rest of the characters, "Successor" also got to explore one of the series' main themes: How far would you be willing to go for success? For Angela, it meant letting some old man slobber all over you. For Darlene (Carly Chaikin), well, it meant something far worse.
For all the success and notoriety that fsociety has had up to now, it has still remained mostly anonymous, as has been its intention. But when Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt) walked back into her automated apartment that had been taken over and used as fsociety headquarters, the veil of anonymity was obliterated and fsociety had to deal with a new problem.
This reasonably spooked Mobley (Azhar Kahn), who never seemed to think things would go this far even though he told Trenton (Sunita Mani) "If you had that much to lose, you shouldn't have done this in the first place." And his threat to quit the team spurred Darlene into action. Deadly action! With Susan a possibility to expose them all, Darlene tased her into a pool where she drowned. Mobley asked her why she did that if she had seen all of Susan's emails about her pacemaker, but Darlene played dumb and pretended she had no idea that a couple thousand volts to her chest would be the end of her. Make no mistake, this was no accident. Darlene consciously committed murder.
Was protecting the anonymity of fsociety important enough to kill for? For Darlene, yes. And given the tight lips of Trenton and Cisco (Michael Drayer), it was worth it to them, too. It pushes Mr. Robot into sh-- is REAL territory, where fsociety can't hide behind their keyboard like some Gamergate putz lobbing insults across Twitter. Season 2 has been moving toward this all season, with the death of Romero and the FBI's slow-but-steady investigation into the 5/9 hack.
But more importantly, it lifts Darlene into territory we always feared she would go. She's always been the most militant person in the room, but we never had to see her make the kind of choice she made in "Successor." It separates her from everyone else and cements her commitment to the cause. There's no turning back for her.
(One side note: Though she successfully knocked off the one person who could identify her, I'm worried about the discarded VHS cassette that she filmed an aborted take of the fsociety video on. Where did that tape go? It could come back to haunt her.)
Angela is in a similar point of no return, and has gone to similar lengths to find her definition of success. Lured into the corporate world by the almighty dollar and this notion of finding her worth as it is defined by Evil Corp (c'mon girl, quit the Stuart Smalley act and believe in yourself), we've already seen how far she'll go. It's pointed out by her dad's friend Steve, who not so subtly said she fellated her way to the top and disgraced her family by partnering up with those who were responsible for her mother's death. Ouch. Angela got rekt.
But rather than recognize this and atone for it, Angela has let the Evil in Evil Corp. seep into her, and she stung back that Steve was just a plumber and that she was earning six figures before she was even 30. It's blue collar vs. white collar, and echoes her chat with her dad in the previous episode. She's essentially disowned her family for a taste of lavish corporate life and sh--ting on the lower class, whether they be her dad's friends or a shoe salesman.
The interesting thing about Angela is that she doesn't seem convinced she's on the right track, and maybe she uses those self-affirmation tapes to convince herself that she's where she's supposed to be. Doubleday's expressive eyes and permanently worried look tell another story that she's struggling with internally, and the anonymous sex — which may come back harder than herpes because her new beau is secretly working for the FBI — and male attention she craves seem like a coping mechanism for her own self doubts. Hey, we've all been there. It's almost as if Mr. Robot is telling us that personal happiness doesn't come from material wealth or fancy job titles. Who knew?
What did you think of "Successor"?
Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on USA.