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Mr. Robot: The Never-Ending War Hits Home for Elliot

We're barely breathing after an intense episode

Tim Surette

Are you still breathing? This week's episode of Mr. Robot was a ticker test, tightening the screws on its characters as the FBI inched closer and closer to our digital revolutionaries. What we've seen recently from Mr. Robot and in this season in general is a departure from the WTF-ery of the first season and more of a conspiratorial thriller that thrives on external tension rather than the internal complications of yore. And you know what? Mr. Robot has made the transformation really, really well.

There wasn't a whole lot to dissect here as things were pretty straightforward, well, as straightforward as an FBI manhunt can be, but nervousness was the word of the day in "Hidden Process." The two big stories -- Cisco (Michael Drayer) and Darlene (Carly Chaikin) hunted by Dom (Grace Gummer) on one side, and Elliot (Rami Malek) doing Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) a solid on the other -- ran parallel until the bloody end, both stepping over each other in wonderful fashion to create a sense of paranoia that only the best TV dramas can create. Add in Sam Esmail's confident direction and Mac Quayle's driving score -- the series' dark horse candidate for MVP -- and you had one hell of a ride.

Mr. Robot: Is Mr. Robot gaslighting Elliot?

Following Darlene's murder of Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt) in the previous episode, I pegged Darlene as not long for this world. She doesn't strike me as the type who would be caught by the feds, and was more likely to go out in a fiery ball of death because that's just how Darlene is. So of course Darlene had a come-to-Jesus moment about her role in fsociety, and with the help of Cisco, understood that she wasn't actually a leader and that Elliot was the "special" one in the family. Her chat with Cisco in the hospital was Darlene at her most vulnerable, and their amicable chatter over late-night Mexican grub was a softer side of these two, who previously angry-boned in a dirty bathroom and hit each other with sports equipment in between profanity-laden rants.

You know what we call that kind of transition in the TV world? A death sentence for a character.

With the FBI getting two eyewitness accounts on Cisco, it put out a bolo on him -- despite Dom's warning that it would mean a death sentence for him at the hands of the Dark Army -- and sure enough, just as Dom was about to bring them in, a motorcycle with two Dark Army ninjas pulled up and filled the restaurant with lead.

Mr. Robot: What is stage 2?

In keeping with Mr. Robot's penchant for withholding information (which has admittedly gotten frustrating as it's employed more and more), we don't know how successful the gunman was. Dom made it out alive, but Darlene and Cisco are still unaccounted for. Could they both be dead? I don't see why not. Darlene practically admitted that she wasn't of much use anymore, and Cisco's lasted a lot longer than I ever expected.

The other likely option is that Darlene survived and Cisco didn't. Darlene being a critical character gives her a tad more probability to make it to Season 3, if standard rules of television apply. But what we've seen with Mr. Robot is that regular rules do not apply here. The flip side to that is even if Darlene survived, her connection to Cisco and familiarity with the Dark Army essentially means she'll be dead eventually.

But let me throw one more option out there for you: If Elliot is indeed behind the mysterious "Phase Two" that Whiterose is working on (like Whiterose said in the last episode), wouldn't Darlene's safety be a priority so as not to upset Elliot? Or if Mr. Robot was actually behind Phase Two, maybe he didn't care about the safety of Darlene and gave instructions to move forward with the plan no matter the consequences. (Remember, Mr. Robot isn't actually Darlene's dad, he's more an alter-ego of Elliot.) What I'm saying here is that we can't possibly know what's going on, which is the draw of this wackadoodle show.

Stephanie Corneliussen, Mr. Robot

Stephanie Corneliussen, Mr. Robot

Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Meanwhile, Elliot was aggressively coerced, shall we say, into tracing the phone calls that Joanna was receiving. She thought Tyrell was sending her messages (though it was just some gross mouth breathing) to show he was alive, while Elliot was convinced that Tyrell was actually dead. There's no way that Tyrell is dead -- remember, Mr. Robot only said he shot Tyrell, he didn't say he killed him -- and I often want to reach into the TV and scream in Elliot's face, "He's alive, you idiot!"

And somewhere deep in Elliot's subconscious, I think he knows it. Not only was Tyrell alive in his '90s sitcom dreamscape, but when Elliot got the call on Joanna's phone and heard breathing, Mr. Robot disappeared. Why? Because Elliot was getting closer to the truth, the truth that Mr. Robot was keeping from Elliot in order to proceed with the next part of his plan.

Elliot did eventually track the location of the call to a house somewhere in New York City, to which Joanna's driver said, "Trust me, he wouldn't be calling from that house." And just like that, we have even more questions about Tyrell. Whose house is it? Why would it be impossible for him to be calling from there? Elliot didn't seem to recognize the location of the house, so I'm not going to wrack my brain figuring it out because it's likely a location we haven't seen yet.

Mr. Robot: Did Darlene go too far?

And in the final, most meaningful scene for Elliot, he met up with Angela. I know I keep saying this, but it's my understanding that Angela isn't a fan favorite and what she did -- or was about to do -- won't make her any more likable. Upset with where she was and how she had to live, she decided to give herself up and admit her part in the recent hack against the FBI. She promised to not tell the feds about everyone else, but come on, girl. That's not how it works. You don't admit to planting the femtocell in FBI territory and get off with a stern warning, they'll grill her until she spills.

The only thing that may save her are those mysterious figures who appeared after she said goodbye to Elliot (with a kiss!!!). Are they Dark Army? Or did the feds already get to her, and she was working for them? I couldn't have been the only one to notice those giant ads behind both Elliot and Angela on the subway, the ones that were advertising listening devices. Was Angela wearing a wire and trying to get Elliot to say something? Do you see what this show has done to me? It's made me all paranoid!

As unfortunate as Angela's actions were, she did have one sage piece of wisdom. She said she couldn't beat them (them being Evil Corp, and possibly the FBI), so she was giving up. Power doesn't change hands easily, particularly when those who hold it are so entrenched in it. Perhaps it's a lesson that Elliot needs to learn as his plan comes crumbling down around him while the authorities edge closer and the evil powers that be continue to pull the strings.

Or maybe Darlene is the wise one, and knows Elliot is the one to beat them. I'm going with that.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on USA.