Peter Kramer/USA Network
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August 04, 2016 at 03:51 PM EDT

The sleeper has awakened. The dark knight rises again. Superman, reborn! Elliot Alderson is hacking again, and damn, if it doesn’t feel good.

We meet him where we left him, sitting at Ray’s computer, working on a scheme to get into the digital mind of the FBI. He talks us through it. Identify and target flaws. Build malware and prepare an attack. Create a reverse shell for a two-stage exploit. Write the script. Launch the attack. If he succeeds, Elliot will own every phone of every FBI agent camped out in E Corp. HQ. He’ll also control E Corp.’s computer network, too.

“I live for this sh-t,” he says.

It might kill him, too.

Honestly, he sounds kinda smug and scary, likening “zero day” vulnerabilities to Christmas presents for him to unwrap and malware to a “programmatic expression of my will.” You know who thinks thoughts like these? Terrorists, megalomaniacal mad men, and comic book super-villains, that’s who. Believe me, I know… I mean, I’m just guessing. But bad guys are always good guys in their own narrative, and right now, Elliot’s having that moment in every superhero origin story when the chosen one delights in newly received power. Or in Elliot’s case, recovered power. It usually comes right before learning the lesson that with great power comes great responsibility.

Before episode’s end, Elliot will experience that, too. Painfully.

The work reminds him of his first hack, the Washington Township Library. Harmless, yes? Who did it hurt, prying into the checkout records of members, peeking at their literary tastes? It was just the snooping of a curious, socially challenged child and a simple test of his developing power. Just a ghost in the machine, haunting the thought life of his town. The reward was magnificent — a simulation of God-like omniscience — and it got him hooked for bigger challenges and riskier curiosities, too.

He loses himself in his work. It’s just him and the computer in the dark of his mind. The screen fragments into split screens, Elliot in one, the computer monitor in another. While Elliot goes on about logic bombs — “malicious code designed to explode under circumstances I have designed” — we see words like “HEAD” and “metadata” and “magic_headers.” The split screens and the phrases speak to the complex program of compartmentalization and rationalization Elliot is running on himself. The objectives: Keep Mr. Robot boxed up and under control. Stay narrowly focused on his private mission, saving Darlene and his fsociety friends. Ignore everything else, like his conscience, that itchy part of his brain that tells him Ray is bad, that his benefactor and employer is all kinds of wrong. What evil lurks in the dark part of his secret website?  

Elliot doesn’t want to know. Yet. For now, he models the everyman strategy for living in moral compromise. Keep your head down. Focus on the survival. Rationalize and deny them. Soon, though, his story will remind us of another tale about curiosity and responsibility, Pandora’s Box. He’ll represent the sneaky peeker, of course, the Jeffrey Beaumont of Blue Velvet who can’t resist a dangerous mystery, who justifies his questionable interest with dubious, high-minded heroism. But he could also represent the content of that box, too. Is he catastrophe or is he hope? Is he both?

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The lights go on. Elliot is pulled out of his head. Lonestar — Ray’s thuggish partner, the brutal yin to his gracious yang — looms next to the desk. He fixes Elliot with his Big Brother’s glare, a mix of distrust and don’t-you-be-f—ing-with-me designed to keep him obedient and on-point. Elliot’s supposed to be repairing Ray’s busted website. How’s that coming? Elliot says something that may or may not be true. He needs the previous system admin, Rat Tail, to transfer an encrypted database. Lonestar balks. Elliot doesn’t flinch. “I’ll talk to Ray, see what’s what,” fumes the goon, stomping away, trailing pout.

The lights dim. Elliot puts the no-peaky blinders back on and gets back to his clandestine labor. Sam Esmail’s camera pulls back and frame starts to shrink toward the bottom of the screen. It creates the effect of putting Elliot in an increasingly tight box, then into a very tight spot — a metaphor for the predicament that would befall him and many others in this episode. 

NEXT: Was “logic-b0mb.hc” the bomb?

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