Posted on Thursday, September 22nd, 2016 by Corey Atad
I strongly suspect Mr. Robot’s second season finale is going to be divisive. The episode itself was actually quite straightforward—hardly the mindtrip we got last week, which sent some viewers into a tizzy over whether the show might just be too much for them. The trouble the Mr. Robot has run into, rather, is that its first season was merely the beginning of something larger, and now that we’re piecing together that larger story, the smaller moments can come across as less consequential. This is what drives complaints that “nothing is happening” on the show, or that it’s too self-indulgent, or even that it’s lost sight of the plot. Read More »
Posted on Thursday, September 15th, 2016 by Corey Atad
“You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”
So begins one of the most important, influential video games ever made. Infocom’s Zork was birthed in an MIT lab in the late 1970s. It was released to the public as a series of text-based adventure games in the early ’80s, and went on to shape much of the structure present in modern adventure and exploration games. Its enigmatic opening remains, perhaps, the greatest beginning to a video game ever made. Poor grammar aside, Zork’s opening lines invite the player into a new universe built almost entirely by the player’s own imagination. Where modern games max out on polygons and rendering detail and atmospheric effects to present a cinematic vision for gamers, Zork stands as a testament to the power of simple text on a screen, as well as to the underlying structures that make games work. Give the play a place to explore; set boundaries; create obstacles; leverage frustration. As you progress and fail and progress some more in search of a path to the end, the biggest question the game leave you with is, “what am I not seeing?”
It’s fitting that Elliot asks himself the same thing near the end of “Python Part 1,” the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot’s similarly enigmatic, confounding, sometimes frustrating second season. Elliot—and not just Elliot—is searching through a dark, unknowable space, the boundaries of which keep expanding and expanding as the search carries on. At some point there might be an end, or an escape, or even just a door to some better place of the imagination. Our “hero” is caught in the second stages of an adventure. He’s left the field, entered the house, found the door to a mysterious cellar, venture down and discovered the Great Underground Empire.
But what are we not seeing? Read More »
Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 by Corey Atad
Sometimes TV gives you a sustained heart attack. I’m talking about the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones, the opening sequence of the Lost pilot, and Breaking Bad’s “Crawl Space.” All are examples of TV episodes that come down to sustained, heart-stopping sequences. Intense moments that keep you fixed in place. Mr. Robot has certainly had moments of shock, and sequences that have kept us on the edge of our seats, but nothing like what “Hidden Process” has given us. After a season’s worth of revving up, and only three hours left, Mr. Robot has kicked things into high gear, and the result is the first episode that left me breathless.
The episode ended and I let out and took a deep breath back in. I needed it. The recharge. I was still shaking for minutes after. I’m probably still shaking as I type this. Mr. Robot has done great intercut sequences this season. It’s done long takes, often multiple times each episode. It’s had amazing, intense music cues. But here, all in one episode, Sam Esmail, his writers, and his crew, have performed something almost virtuosic—thirty minutes of symphonic interplay between several plots at once, interweaving tension and information, all leading to a single shot that demands attention and forces you not to blink. Read More »
Posted on Wednesday, August 31st, 2016 by Corey Atad
So we’ve officially come to it. The home stretch. The final run of Mr. Robot’s second season. After last week’s “break,” Esmail and co. have thrust us into the end game for this second act. Usually this would be the time for scene setting, for laying the table with all the pieces that will come into play during the finale. And certainly, those elements are all in this episode. The small details. The bits of mysterious, oblique exposition that only leaves more questions. These have become tropes in the age of “prestige TV.” Mr. Robot obliges, as it should, but it has a different feeling that most.
I’m going to chalk it up to the labor the show took in the first half of the season, re-building Elliot’s fractured mental state and getting a glimpse at the other characters’ lives without him in action. Now we’re out of that initial stage—Stage 1, as it were—even an episode devoted to setting up an ending feels like a massive step forward. The show had been in a self-imposed stasis for several episodes, with its characters doing little more than protect their own position in the post-5/9 world. That protection has finally hit a wall, and the characters have been forced into making some serious decisions. Read More »
Posted on Wednesday, August 24th, 2016 by Corey Atad
We’ve had a week now to come to terms with the big reveal in the last Mr. Robot. I will admit even I have continued to feel trepidation over the twist we got—not that I didn’t think it was well handled, but it might’ve been one stone throw too far. I’ve seen some propose that it might’ve been better had Sam Esmail eschewed the twist and revealed Elliot’s true state of mind right away, or at least much earlier. That thought is difficult to dismiss. Esmail effectively put us, as viewers, in an adversarial relationship with his main character. It’s part of the character’s current psychological journey, but it’s not exactly friendly to the viewer. The strength, then, of the twist’s impact can only be felt in its aftermath, but we’ve been deprived of that, too.
Read More »
Posted on Wednesday, August 17th, 2016 by Corey Atad
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!
Read More »
Posted on Thursday, August 11th, 2016 by Corey Atad
Let’s talk for a moment about expectation. In other eras, television was all about expectation — that is, the expectation that each week, without fail, we’d get a familiar set of characters performing a familiar set of tasks in a familiar way with familiar tone and even familiar dialogue. Expectation; delivery. TV still serves that function. Even highly serialized shows will often stick to a kind of format. We know what we’re going to get, and we’re happy to get it.
There’s another kind of expectation: expecting the unexpected. We expect that a show will shock us. At least once per season a favorite character will die, or a major revelation will occur, or a sudden event will reshape the format of the show going forward. Preferably this will happen several times per season, or, if you’re Scandal, it’ll happen several times per episode. As audiences, we become numb to it.
During the first season of Mr. Robot, obvious cinematic references, and a constantly shifting understanding of the show’s end goal kept us on our toes. Twists came, but we expected twists to come. “You knew, didn’t you?” Elliot asks when he learns the true identity of Mr. Robot. We’ve become so savvy as viewers that even show needs to recognize we’re ahead of the game, if only to assure us it’s in good hands. Read More »
Posted on Thursday, August 4th, 2016 by Corey Atad
We got there, folks. Finally, things are happening on Mr. Robot. The definition of “happening” can be a little loose in this case, but if it was incident you were looking for, this is the episode that finally delivered—and with the promise of more to come! Personally, I was happy with the pace Sam Esmail was taking this season. It let us delve directly into Elliot’s psychology, and the psychology of the other characters, without letting the forward momentum of “plot” or “action” distracting us. It was a bold, patience-testing choice for many, but it fit right into what I’ve felt the show needs to do going forward: ignore TV convention.
TV is built on incident. It always has been. Whether it’s the episodic format requiring fully rounded and easily solved plots each week, or the longer serialized, soap operatic structure full of big moments and cliffhangers that keep us invested in hours upon hours of labyrinthine story, TV has always demanded THINGS! HAPPENING! Mr. Robot has never been that kind of show. Not exactly. In Season 1, things sure did happen, and with frequency. But it was also a show that devoted much of its fourth episode—fourth!—to a wild drug withdrawal trip through our protagonist’s subconscious.
In Season 2, Esmail has effectively doubled down on the idea that his series owes no allegiance to standard TV construction, instead mimicking a structure more familiar from film, only elongated. The effectiveness of this can be debated, but I believe this episode, the fifth hour of the second season, proves Esmail canny at the very least. The slow build toward Elliot asserting and gaining some level of control over his own psyche makes the confluence of consequences at the end of the episode that much more dramatic. Control, so hard earned; so easily shattered.
But what exactly happened in Season 2, Episode 5, “Logic Bomb”? What questions were answered, and what mysteries lay open for us to lose ourselves in? Follow along for more, and, as always, spoilers abound, folks. Read More »
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There’s no question Mr. Robot’s second season has started off slow. It has engendered complaints. Impatience. The truth is, this is common for TV series in a new season. Mad Men, for example, frequently got complaints during the first few episodes of each season, with people claiming it had finally lost its luster, or that nothing interesting was happening. Of course, once each season was over, the long game had become clear. More than just setup, those early episodes set the tone, established the overriding mission of the season, and helped give shape to the movement that would become apparent episodes later.
It’s immediately clear to me that Mr. Robot is doing something similar in its second season. The first season put pedal to the metal, catching up with Elliot and company mid-plot. Season 2 thus far has done something of a reset. Where the show has always been an interior exploration, the first three episodes of Season 2 have prized interiority above all. It’s hard to tell exactly what that’s all for, but it would be a mistake to assume it’s about plot. Plot can be handled easily and quickly, but defining a perspective, both of character and style, takes more work, especially when it represents a sharp change from what came before.
The season’s fourth episode, “Init1,” appears to begin the “payoff,” such as there will be one. Its style has begun to coalesce into something more coherent and emotionally compelling. Its plotting finally appears to signal some forward momentum after a period of forced stasis. And, just as we’d hope from this show, it creates more and more mysteries, more questions to be answered.
Let’s take a look at some of those questions, shall we? And remember, spoilers are to come, so you best have watched the episode in question. Read More »
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! Read More »