S02E05 started where we left off and gloriously enticed us into the mind of Elliot Alderson – when he’s sat at a terminal, nothing else matters – the cinema lights go down and he’s in his own little binary world.
Comic panel split screens, so brilliantly employed in ‘24’ helped us see and feel Elliot’s own quad-split screen. I don’t have to tell you that someone typing on a computer holding our interest is an artform. Here the camera flew passed Elliot and cut betwixt tri and quad split screens but that’s where the visual, stylistic and storytelling flair we’ve become accustomed in Season 2.0 ended.
I didn’t love S02E05 a quarter as much as normal, but not to put a dampner on it, let’s concentrate on the good things first…
This was without a doubt Dominique DiPierro’s episode, unfortunately we were given a writer to match the FBI’s by-the-book, meat and potatoes attitude.
We first saw “Dom” examining Elliot’s Raspberry Pie at Steel Mountain now called “Steel Valley” (like a rebrand is gonna help – but kudos to the writer as it’s exactly what would happen in the real world)
Then, Dom and her FBI colleagues mention an upcoming trip to Beijing, where about nine seconds later, they arrive to glimpse two Chinese mask wearers on the escalator. Were these members of The Dark Army or just a Chinese version of the F_Society masks that we’ve become so used to seeing on the streets of NYC?
Speaking of masks, one of the better parts of this week’s episode was the reveal that Whiterose has an alter-ego – a softly-spoken, effeminate Minister of Chinese State Security. I say reveal – this was kinda of an anti-reveal, like when Yaphet Kotto takes his rubber mask off in Live and Let Die to reveal it’s… Yaphet Kotto!
Moving forward, it opens up as many possibilities as the alternate realities Whiterose alludes to but I can’t help thinking the reveal would have held more weight if we’d been told about the FBI’s co-operation with the Chinese more than twelve seconds beforehand!
Imagine a couple of scenes at the beginning of S02E05 showing Junior Security Ministers, so nervous when explaining away their incompetence to the back of their draconian Minister of Chinese State Security’s head that piss streams onto their shoes…
THEN and only then reveal it to be Whiterose.
Actor B.D. Wong certainly has the cohones to perform two roles, one feminine and one overtly masculine and scary as fuck.
The scenes beneath the clocks and in the bedroom between Minister Zhang (or Minister John, I didn’t quite catch it!) and Dominique were deftly handled but too ambiguous; I still think that Dom’s “fascination with the selfish brutality in the world” will lead her to defect, either to F_Society or now, The Dark Army.
What these scenes did do neatly is give us a little backstory so we cared for her before the penultimate scene. More on that in a bit…
Back in Noo Yoirk, much of the episode is spent trying to convince Angela to hack the FBI. After breaking into her apartment and installing a .dmg file on her Mac (most likely to monitor her) Darlene tries to twist her arm but Angela’s not playing ball. Finally, it is ex-boyfriend Ollie and his douchebaggery that are the catalyst.
Joanna Wellick revealed more of her strengths and weaknesses. For all her Lady Macbeth actions, ordering the ruthless (no matter how she tries to paint it) murder of Kareem, this was juxtaposed by her sweetly singing Danish lullabies to Baby Wellick Junior the Third and running outside to find Tyrell who she misses dearly.
Mirroring Angela’s dilemma we had Elliot needlessly arguing with Mr Robot whether to look and then act upon Ray’s hidden Tor site. After a genuinely moving visit to see Elliot, Angela visits Darlene’s secret hideout – she’s in on the plan…
In an obvious shout out to Alex Winter’s (Bill from Bill and Teds!) 2015 “Deep Web” documentary on the Silk Road, it’s suggested that Ray could be one of the two or three other masterminds behind the Dark Web known as Dread Pirate Roberts.
Seeing Ray’s sick “black market of evil” I hoped would start S02E05 back down Elliot’s vigilante trail (like when he busted the paedophile in the very first episode) but my hopes were short lived…
Despite the to-ing and fro-ing with Mr Robot, the “If / Then” mode was always going to come into play. If Elliot looked at Ray’s site, he’d get his head kicked in. What happened to R.T.’s face was always going to happen to Elliot’s too but it didn’t make it any easier to watch.
Finally, in the episode’s most unexpected and best scene, after trivial morning niceties, the whole of the FBI visiting cortege is gunned down by balaclava-wearing hitmen. Except our Dom, who did brilliantly to find cover, grab the gun and stay alive, and all in one continuous shot.
The question is, is this Whiterose’s doing? Or are we dealing with another unknown force?
The next time we see Agent DiPierro, will she still be crouched behind that desk or will the gunman be gone?
There were many more answers than questions this week, mostly because this was the first episode not written by Sam Esmail and boy did it show… Kyle Bradstreet’s on-the-nose writing did nothing wrong per se, but it was all rather dull breadcrumb laying.
The series suffers when Elliot and/or Mr Robot (and to a lesser extent) Darlene and Angela are not on screen. Naturally we need to further other character’s expositionary storylines but it should not push our key characters aside nor come at the expense of the director’s visual flair.
It feels like all other character’s scenes are shot by a B-Unit.
They are not. Sam Esmail directed all 12 episodes this season.
As a writer, he only seems to be able to comletely inhabit Elliot and Mr Robot’s heads. Everyone else is a little more paint-by-numbers.
Only really caring about your two main characters has a knock on effect – with our hero and anti-hero not having much to do in S02E05, as a director Esmail has became a “metteur-en-scene” – that’s French for a hired-hand. Think Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor; just about competent but no master.
Either that or Esmail’s had an Elliot-style memory lapse and forgotten who he is and how stupidly talented he is. More likely, having written and directed so much of the series, he’s just been spinning too many plates?
I realise that we can’t be treated to a grand orgy of Adderall-induced, vomit-splattered, classic film homage-fuelled montages every week but what happened to the higher meanings, the religious allegories, the literary metaphor?
Nope, this episode was just about getting our characters from A to B like the New York yellow cabs Angela used and unlike the Bentley we’ve been used to driving.
It pains me to say, but the direction in this episode felt lazy. Sorry Sam. I am.
Do you prefer this traditional storytelling or did you miss the mad dream-sequences and other-worldly hallucinations?
Do you agree that this was the weakest episode of the season or did you love it?
I guess we’ll just have to slug it out in the comments section!