'Mr. Robot' - The 10 Biggest Questions From "Kernel Panic"

I saw some people down on Mr. Robot's season premiere last week. While most were right back on board, it seemed like a good number were itching for something a bit more... substantial. The forward momentum, and constantly shifting ground present in the first season seemed to have been halted. Which is a somewhat ridiculous notion considering the state of things in the premiere was all almost entirely new, a recalibration of the story's status quo in the wake of the events of the finale. New characters, new locations, and even new relationships with technology.

Yet the sentiment, that the show had stalled returning to bat, made some degree of sense to me. The episode was not just a recalibration of the story, but a recalibration for the characters themselves. This week, "Kernel Panic" brought much of that recalibrating to fruition. No longer just picking up scraps of detail to figure out where the characters have been and what they're doing, the episode gave us the space to understand how they might move forward into the uncharted territory of a post-hack world.

As usual, it opens up a bevy of questions to look at within the episode. Follow along, and be mindful of spoilers, of course. Go watch the episode first!

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Is the Fun Society arcade cursed?

Romero certainly seemed to think so. I say seemed for a few reasons, but we'll get to the past tense construction in a moment. First we have to go back. Way back to the very founding of fsociety. The episode opens with a flashback to Mobley and Romero walking down the Coney Island boardwalk. Romero is telling the story of the series of events that led to him squatting at the arcade. It's a tale of one murder after another over a period of many decades. A husband killing his family. A son killing his father and then falling out of a window, while his twin brother is arrested for the crime. It's a grisly set of circumstances, and it all adds up to one thing: Fun Society is haunted. Mobley can't be bothered by these stories, because he's on a mission to recruit Romero to the group of hackers Elliot is putting together. As it turns out, he might've done well to heed Romero's warnings.

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But seriously, where is Tyrell?

The biggest hanging thread from the end of Season 1 is "what happened to Tyrell Wellick." We got only a step closer to finding out, which is to say, we still have no idea. The episode begins after the cold open with Elliot on the phone, hearing Tyrell's voice. "I think about you a lot, Elliot. I think about that night when we became gods," Tyrell says. But that's it. No details on where he might be. It's not safe yet. Meanwhile, Mr. Robot shows up to pester Elliot again, and Elliot begins to doubt whether Tyrell's voice on the other end of the line is even real, or if he's another imagined character, like the spectre of his father still controlling his life. On the television, Elliot sees Gideon was killed. The consequences of his actions laid bare before his eyes. The innocent suffering he has caused in his possibly deluded quest to "save the world," as he once told Tyrell. Whenever Tyrell comes back, there will surely be some sort of reckoning or revelation. The "god" talk is already obviously overbearing just two episodes into the new seasons, and there's still more to go in this episode alone!

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Are fsociety members being picked off, one by one?

It's a definitely possibility. A likelihood, even, and not at all surprising. This episode really centered Mobley as a major character for the first time, an interesting expansion of scope for a show that was quite focused on its core set in Season 1. We find Mobley visiting Romero's house, where he lives with his mom. Or, lived. When Mobley goes out back to see him, he finds Romero dead on the ground, a pool of blood around him, and a gunshot wound to the back of his head. An execution-style killing. It could be that it was Romero's drug dealing got him killed, but Mobley doesn't buy that. No, it's got to be that people are coming after fsociety members. Their past is catching up. Or maybe it's the curse of the arcade coming to get them.

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Why did fsociety break up?

Mobley and Darlene are still in on it, and they've recruited a bunch of youngsters who like cutting off the balls of bull statues, but fsociety is missing three of its members. We know what's going on with Elliot—well, we know why he's not there, at least—but we never heard why Romero and Trenton left. I suppose we'll never hear Romero's reasons, though I suspect they're similar to Trenton's. She left precisely because of those ball-chopping shenanigans. Silly hijinks like burning piles of money. Darlene argues that those tactics will erode consumer confidence in E Corp, but for Trenton it's small potatoes. That's not why she got into this. In Season 1 she talked about how her parents came from Iran in search of a better life in America, and all they got was endless toil and massive debt. It was all a lie, and the point was to smash that lie. Burning piles of money doesn't do that.

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Where is the Dark Army in all of this?

Our last maybe-exposure to the Dark Army was at the end of the Season 1 finale, in the post-credits scene with Whiterose meeting E Corp CEO Phillip Price at a fancy private club. What that scene meant is anyone's guess at this point, and what the Dark Army are up to now is even more of a mystery. Mobley suspects they might be the ones behind Romero's killing. He also tells Trenton that he doesn't trust Darlene or Elliot. That maybe in Elliot's crazed state, he has directed the Dark Army to clean up the tracks from the hack, which would include them. I'm not sure that level of paranoia is warranted, but then again, even Elliot doesn't seem to know or trust what he's been doing during his blackout periods, so anything is possible. Indeed, it'd be a scary revelation that Elliot is somehow an evil, murdering mastermind in his alternate personality.

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How far will Angela descend?

It may not be the sexiest storyline on the show, but for my money, Angela is the most fascinatingly inscrutable character we've got. Elliot may be complicated and mysterious, but we're in his head. We have access to his thoughts. With Angela, all we've got is her face, and Portia Doubleday uses it well. The confidence with which she walks into that restaurant to meet with Price and his associates is striking. Here she is, protesters outside the window, fully embracing the Evil in Evil Corp. At least, that's what she's doing on the surface.

Underneath, it's far more complicated. She's giving herself pep talks in the mirror, she's nervous about presenting ideas to her boss, and she still can't let go of her past fixation on justice for her mother's death. At that dinner, once they're gone, Price reveals that the two men they dined with were in the room with Terry Colby when it the decisions were made that led to her mother dying. He gives her a disc with evidence that the men have engaged in insider trading that will put them away for years. "These men, their lives will be destroyed," Price says, "but the minute you remove emotion from this you'll do just fine." Angela, in an effort to affect change from the inside, is dangerously close to becoming that which she most despised. The scary part is that she may enjoy it.

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How gross can this show get?

Pretty gross! Look, I can handle a lot of things on screen, but watching cement get poured through a funnel down Elliot's throat made me gag. And it only got worse when, after reveal that was all a dream, we see Elliot throwing up the tens of Adderall pills he'd tried to overdose on earlier, and then pick them out of his own vomit and swallow them once more. I can take a lot, but this was a little much. Then again, as a representation of the wild depths of Elliot's mental state, this was as good a show as any. Of course, it's all done in an attempt to OD Mr. Robot out of his mind. To be free of that constant menace; the part of himself he cannot control and tries to control him. It doesn't work, but we'll get there.

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Do we need to be scared of Dom?

Just two episodes in, and only a few scant scenes, and already Grace Gummer's FBI agent Dom is one of my favorite characters on the show. It helps that Gummer is a wonderful actress, of course, but in this episode, showrunner Sam Esmail gives us a look at her lonely private life. She wastes away her time at home, getting up too early, masturbating to IM cybersex, talking to her only "friend," Alexa, the Amazon Echo bot that controls her music and looks up information when asked. It's a sad existence marked by the stark contrast with her outward personality on the job. The job is where her meaning lies, and in it she's equal measures cruel and sweet, and jauntily so either way. Going back to see Romero's mom after an initial visit to the crime scene, Dom discovers a poster for the end of the world party fsociety threw at the end of Season 1. The episode ends with Dom going to find the arcade and seeing that broken Fun Society sign. It's all starting to come together, which leaves open the question, do Elliot and the other fsociety need to be as scared of Dom as they are of the Dark Army? Time will tell.

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Does the show believe its own bull?

Episode 4 of last season seemed to hit the wall of surreality the show was willing to dive into. This episode went even further, depicting Elliot's happy Adderall daze with delightful wackiness, including multiple Elliots, steps that light up, and a manic look in Elliot's eye unlike anything we've seen from him until now. Of course, it all comes crashing back down into darkness as the lack of sleep starts getting to him. It all bursts forth at a church group meeting where Elliot goes on a screed against organized religion. It's the kind of holier-than-thou, Fight Club-y bullshit many have criticized the show for, but the show is smarter than that. Even Elliot realizes that, whether true or not, speaking the bullshit is both unhelpful and insensitive. "Please tell me I didn't say all of that out loud." Even without Mr. Robot standing over his shoulder, Elliot's destructive tendencies, his unprompted anger, it's all there just waiting for opportunities to pour out and damage those around him.

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Who is Ray?

Craig Robinson sounded like an unlikely addition to the cast, but Esmail clearly saw something in him. His performance as Ray in this episode is just astounding. He's warm, funny, terrifying, and totally mysterious all at once. Early in the episode we see him seated at a table talking to someone who isn't there. Remind us of anyone we know? Later he is seated at another table, talking to someone who this time is there: another man, is face severely beaten, with his crying wife and child watching them. Ray is threatening the man to do... something, apparently to fix some failing computer system? But what kind of enterprise is Ray involved in that requires this kind of menacing behavior and access to genius computer techs? Finally, Ray shows up at the coffeeshop to see Elliot and return the journal he left at the church group. He tells Elliot about his dead wife, and how one day he just started talking to her out loud. And that he kept doing that. He recognizes the connection he and Elliot share and offers to help him.

Ray's advice is not to shut Mr. Robot out, but to make him a part of his being. To accept him and deal with that side of himself as something he'll never fully control. He refers to the old adage that if you fall, you need to get back up, but dismisses that. "The whole thing is a fall," he says, "It can't help but be. A perpetual state of grasping in the dark. It's not about getting up. It's about stumbling. Stumbling in the right direction. It's the only true way to move forward." Words to live by? For Elliot they might just do the trick.

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Stray Thoughts

  • Once again, great music in this episode. "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me," by Dusty Springfield, "Highwayman," by Johnny Cash, "Just Say The Word," by Jerry Townes.
  • The opening credits were extra cool this episode, giving us classic New York flyover shots set to Dusty Springfield. A slow, atmospheric choice, no doubt benefited by the extended running time of the episode.
  • More music-related stuff: the score in this episode was particularly good, with certain moments, particularly after Ray's threatening meeting, sounding very reminiscent of Carter Burwell's score for Blood Simple. Composer Mac Quayle is doing excellent work this season so far, pushing the expectations for what a score on this show should sound like.
  • Finally, that restaurant Angela went to is called Fidelio's. The name of a Beethoven opera about a woman who rescues her husband from a political prison, and also a reference to Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. How very Esmail.