Mr. Robot Handshake recap

Oh boy, oh boy. Where to even begin? Let’s spiral around the issue at hand this week. That strikes me as the only way to make some sense of what’s going on in “Handshake.” Beware spoilers!

I want to talk about something that struck me while watching this episode, before the twist shook everything up. I want to talk about audience intelligence. I’d like to start with what is maybe a pretty controversial assumption: audiences are smart. It’s true, even with all the lowest common denominator entertainment out there, and the unwillingness of most people to sit down for anything a little too outside the mainstream. Sure, your mom probably watches 7 hours of NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles every day, but the intelligence of the audience has little connection with the intelligence of the art. NCIS may be a silly show, but I’ll bet your mom can figure out every intricacy of the mystery plot within the first five minutes.

Audiences these days are smart. They’re clever. This poses a problem for a show like Mr. Robot, which aspires to wow its audience with cerebral ideas and twists. It’s very difficult to fool a modern audience. We know all the tricks of the storytelling trade. For show creators like Sam Esmail, navigating the twists is hard enough. It’s an even bigger ask for him to construct those twists in a way the audience won’t find insulting, or tiring, or cheap.

Tonight’s episode bumped right up against that line, and for some the line may have been crossed. The show had flirted with that line last season, but it was also fresher back then, more acceptable. What we saw in “Handshake” was a real risk, and one that could very well alienate much of the audience. It also marks the beginning of the end for this season — this chapter in the Mr. Robot story.

The twist tonight opens up a slew of questions. Questions that I can hardly wrap my mind around, but of course I’ll endeavor to break the big ones down here. Before I get to those questions, though, there were other plots in the episode to get to, with their own mysteries. Join me, won’t you?

Mr Robot - Joanna

What’s up with Joanna?

Last time we saw Joanna, she was having innocent people paralyzed and executed in the most cold-blooded fashion. This week we saw a more… human? side of our favorite Swede. Tyrell is still missing, and Joanna is left to take care of her baby while getting buckets of pig’s blood thrown on her by an apoplectic public. I guess having her 30-year-old boy toy choke her out in bed takes away some of the pain, but even from that she puts herself at a remove. Derek, the man candy, tries getting her to come out for his birthday party, threatening to leave her if she doesn’t show up. She doesn’t show up. But she does wait for him at his apartment, and when he finds her up there and starts getting upset, she gives him a gift. Papers of divorce from Tyrell. Wait, what? That’s it? She’s given up on him? So what about her murdering ways? What about her obviously incredible ambitions? Honestly, this episode gives no clues as to her plans, but I cannot imagine that the great Joanna Wellick would simply let bygones be bygones. It’s not her style.

Mr. Robot - Season 2

What’s up with fsociety?

Other than the completion of the FBI hack, we didn’t get that much fsociety in this episode, but what we did see has left open that all-important question: what the heck is up with fsociety? So they hacked E Corp, and they’ve hacked the FBI to make sure nobody is on they’re not being watched. But what now? Other than dropping brass bull testicles from the ceiling of the House of Representatives, of course. We got a maybe glimpse. In doing their FBI hack, the team seems to have discovered some new information. Aside from smirking faces, it’s hard to know what exactly they found, but I have to imagine we’ll be learning soon enough. It’s also very likely that fsociety have become pawns of the Dark Army, and that they’re simply waiting to be manipulated in the “right” direction.

Mr. Robot - Season 2

What’s up with Price?

Price is an odd fellow, ain’t he? Seemingly all-powerful, totally in control, and yet flailing at the same time. It’s that illusion of control we talked about. He can’t completely control Angela, for example, but he can play games with her. Get her to do the things he wants, even when she seems able to refuse him. He can’t get bills through Congress with the snap of a finger, but he can maintain the supremacy of E Corp, even advance it, by making E Coins the standard currency in the new post-hack era. But what does he want? Power, obviously. But like, to what end? He’s a character with a hidden life, and it would be wonderful if we could start peeling back the layers.

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