'Mr. Robot' - The 10 Biggest Questions From "Handshake"

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.

Mr. Robot - Season 2

What’s up with Angela?

Angela. My girl. You are my favorite character on Mr. Robot, but I still can't figure you out. What are you playing at? Who are you playing? What do you want? Do you even know what you want? Here's what I know about Angela — and what Angela knows about Angela, it turns out — she's crazy smart. Probably the smartest person in the room at any given time. Her only pitfall is that her knowledge is sometimes lacking. No matter, like any truly intelligent person, her greatest skill is adaptability. She adapted to fsociety's needs to do the hack, and she's also adapting well to E Corp's needs to "change" them from within. That is, if changing them is her true goal. Angela gets herself transferred to the risk management department — a lateral move, as Price points out, but it's what she wants. She quickly shows herself out of her depths by sitting in on an executive briefing meeting, and speaking up with a suggestion to give her access to all the company's risk case files. Her new boss sees right through the gambit, but at the same time, it's hard to imagine Angela isn't smart enough to have known she'd fail. So what is she doing? What's up with Angela? I can't wait to find out. In the meantime, though, she'd better watch her back. Dom is on the case!

Mr Robot 5

What’s up with prison?

Prison! There have been theories floating all season that Elliot was actually in prison or a mental institution. The institution theory had the most proponents. I thought it was a possibility, but I preferred not to entertain it, happy to let the show take me where it takes me. But it's not a mental institution. It's a prison. And there's a big difference. Whereas it'd be relatively easy for Elliot to be placed in an asylum, getting him put him jail takes, you know, an arrest and a trial and lawyers and all that. So what was Elliot's crime? Or rather, what was he put in jail for? And what kind of crime could allow for him to be released so quickly? Or is the Dark Army behind that, too? Wow, we're already getting ahead of ourselves...

Mr Robot - Craig Robinson as Ray

What’s up with Ray?

Alright, so Ray was another prisoner? I'd say, more likely, a guard. It makes sense. He and his other guard friends, running some kind of illegal operation. Maybe it's a darknet site, or maybe that was imagined, too. But it's clear they have no qualms beating people up and putting them in solitary confinement to get them to cooperate. But still there are other questions to be asked. Like, why did Ray let Elliot use the computer again? Or how about, was he actually arrested by the FBI? It's all up in the air. Such is the nature of the twist we got in "Handshake." Everything we saw with Elliot this season was filtered through a false reality, to make it more palpable, though it never truly was.

Mr Robot - Tyrell

What’s up with Tyrell?

Or, more accurately, where the hell is Tyrell? Mr. Robot suggested to Elliot that he shot Tyrell. But we haven't seen a body yet, and if TV has taught us anything, it's that unless we see the body, we can never really trust that a character is dead. I don't believe it. There's more to come. The bigger question is, what is Tyrell up to? In his absence he must be off doing something important. I hope. Look, I just don't want him to be dead. Is it too much to ask for him to come back soon?

Mr. Robot - Season 2

What’s up with Leon?

Leon! Baby! He finished watching Seinfeld and turned into a badass, knife-wielding assassin. It's always the ones you least suspect. It turns out Leon is working for the Dark Army, protecting Elliot in jail. Watching him. Making sure he doesn't get raped by white supremacist scum. Elliot's very own guardian angel. But is that it? Has he made his grand exit from our story? It's not hard to imagine his association with Whiterose comes back into play sometime in the future.

Mr Robot 1

What’s up with Elliot?

Alright, so let's get to the important part of it all. Elliot himself. He's been going through some serious stuff, in case you haven't noticed. A battle of wills to control his own psyche, and layers of hallucinatory coping mechanisms to survive in the world he's found himself occupying. It's clear he couldn't handle jail as is. He had to make it something less extreme, at least on the surface. But now that facade is gone. His partnership with Mr. Robot has become, shall we say, productive. He's got everything going for him except purpose. That's why he needs out of there. He needs to finish what he started. Bring down E Corp. Hold their feet to the fire. Save the world.

Mr Robot Init 1 recap

What’s up with this show?

So, Sam Esmail strung us along for half a season or more. He showed us a false reality. Again. And once again, through Elliot's voiceover, he shows that he knew people would be onto him. As if speaking directly to the audience through Elliot, Esmail has him say, "Please don't be mad at me too long. This will be the last time I keep things from you. I promise." I don't believe that promise, but it's a serious tightrope to walk, pulling the rug out from under us two seasons in a row. It'd be tempting to call Mr. Robot out for just being a bag of tricks, and I'm sure many will, but the thing I find most interesting is how this season Elliot used his hallucinations on purpose. Whereas last year he accused us of knowing more than him, this season he did it deliberately. A literal illusion of control. The question going forward is, will the next five episodes give more meaning to what we were just put through, or will these first seven episodes be little more than a self-contained arc to get Elliot back in the game on a TV show's pace? While the latter is always possible, and not necessarily a bad thing, I'm hoping for the former. I trust that Esmail knows what he's doing.

Mr Robot 5

Stray Thoughts

  • So Angela knew it was Elliot and Darlene doing the hack all along, because she remembered the fsociety mask from the old horror movie they made her watch as kids. Of course. Of course they made her watch that movie. Classic Elliot and Darlene.
  • Do we think Ray actually was running a darknet site, or was that just a metaphor for some prison trade running?
  • If Dom is onto Angela, how soon does she start having her followed and discover Darlene and the others?
  • Now that Elliot is getting out, what exactly does he have in store for E Corp? What is the follow-through?
  • I hope Angela ate that shrimp cocktail. It looked delicious.