The highs and lows of the insane continue to fascinate viewers in Mr Robot, “K3rnel-pan1c.ksd”, as Elliot (Rami Malek) goes to extreme lengths to combat his own imaginary friend, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). Showrunner, Sam Esmail weaves the paranoia theme through each axillary story arc seamlessly developing new characters and fsociety consequences following the 5/9 hack. Evil-Corp can’t even protect Even Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) from her own fears as Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) invites her to dinner and makes an suspicious offer. Meanwhile, the popular psych ward theory continues to distort my own perception of the show. Three days following the 5/9 hack, did Elliot check himself into a psych ward, hence his routine centric lifestyle filled with new characters we’ve never seen before and the one that won’t go away. Is season two a complete illusion, dreamed up to put Elliot’s delusions to bed? After all when faced with panic our default setting is to control, but according to Mr Robot that is nothing more than an illusion.
We begin with a history lesson about the Fun Society arcade, “This place made him crazy, he thinks it’s cursed,” explains Romero (Ron Cephas Jones) to Mobley (Azhar Khan). This parallels the implications about Elliot’s insanity found in the opening sequence of “Eps.2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc”, except this time it’s not a matter of when, but where he lost his mind. The flashback opening scene also sets up Mobley’s own paranoia about the Alderson clan after discovering Romero’s dead body, “We just committed the crime of the century and they are trying to cover up their tracks, we are they’re tracks,” he argues while trying to convince fellow fscoiety hacktivist, Trenton (Sunita Mani) to leave town. This whole fsociety panic arc illustrates how well written this universe has been developed in the span of merely thirteen episodes. Rewind back to Mobley discovering Romero’s body, did any viewer not immediately suspect Elliot in that moment? The paranoia is real and imaginary friends are no exception to it’s side effects.
Fear. I applaud how subtly Sam Esmail uses Agent Diperio (Grace Gummer) to illustrate the government’s anxiety felt following the 5/9 hack. Both her and Mobley at different points in the episode are at Romero’s crime scene experiencing the same emotion, fear of exposure. Agent Diperio is quick to dismiss the printed FBI contact listing as information previously released to hackers across the nation, months before the 5/9 hack. Later in the episode she’s retrieving her cell phone from a vault to review the listing , acknowledging her own fear in the situation. Now let’s compare how both characters respond to these intense situations. Mobley is a fsociety liability, while Agent Diperio is following the tracks leading her to an unknown destination; the fun society arcade. Mobley chose flight when his own fear unlocked doubts in both Elliot’s leadership and sanity. In comparison to Agent Diperio’s anxiety hunting down an unknown entity, capable of ending the world, she chose to fight. The episode concludes with her stumbling over to Coney Island and discovering the secret fscoiety hideout, ironically hiding in plain sight. Then again she is an unknown entity in her own right, casually stumbling her way to discovering what happen between Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) and Elliot Alderson that night in the Fun Society arcade. Agent Diperio is not a delusion, but legitimate threat hunting down the man beneathe the fsociety mask.
“Do you play chess, I’ve been looking for a good adversary, you wanna play?” asks Ray (Craig Robinson) after having a heart to heart with Elliot about dealing with the ghosts, who continue to haunt their sub-consciences. Pause. This is my favorite line in the episode, because it sets up their ongoing dynamic perfectly for the remainder of the season. Play. At the same time, Ray walks away to retrieve the chess board, revealing Mr. Robot standing behind him; Elliot’s true opponent in life. Meanwhile Ray is finally able to have a breakthrough in forming a working relationship with Elliot after disclosing his own daily routine of talking to his wife every morning over breakfast. Granted she died over five years ago, it’s still some common ground he can share with Elliot. Alarm bells go off in my mind under the all too convenient way Ray recovers Elliot’s thrown out journal after revealing too much of himself during church group. Then during their final scene together in his office, he is almost treating Elliot like a patient. I couldn’t help, but wonder where Krista has been over these last two episodes? Elliot is in desperate need for a therapy session, from someone not with suspicious motivations. I do appreciate how significantly “K3rnel-pan1c.ksd” distinguishes Ray’s role this season from Vera last year. “You and me are a lot more alike than you think, Elliot,” explains Ray, hinting that they understand one another, much like the Tyrell and Elliot dynamic last year. I miss Vera, but during a second season it’s important to include character foils that are different, so it doesn’t feel like the writers are just trying to recycle old dynamics. Ray is not Vera 2.0, he is a new adversary all together, resetting the chess board for a brand new game.
How can anyone play a new game, when the casualties lost during the last battle still haunt us? Angela continues to say her Rebirth mantras in the mirror, yet nothing prepares her for having dinner with Phillip Price this episode. Especially since he invites two other E-Corp associates to the same meal that evening. “They were both in the room with Colby, when they made a grave error, covering up a leak in your hometown…ordinary men, capable of extraordinary things,” explains Phillip Price during one final drink with Angela. He then hands off a disk containing enough evidence of their white collar crimes to lock them up for life. “You’re panicking right now, it’s a big decision you’re about to make, because the lives of those two men will be destroyed, but the minute you remove emotion from this, you’ll be fine,” Phllip Price explains before walking away. He has given Angela everything she wanted last season, yet crippling fear washes over face as she remains seated at the dinner table. She cannot trust Phillip Price, because he represents everything she has fought against, yet he continues to give her things no one else ever has. In “K3rnel-pan1c.ksd” both Elliot and Angela makes deals with the devils, because at this time it’s their only option against “the fall.”
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