Mr. Robot recap: eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme
Much like Elliot dealing with the consistent presence of Mr. Robot, the image of his dead father and a grounding force who protects him from pain via ’90s sitcom tropes, there are essentially two recaps of tonight’s Mr. Robot. Well, there aren’t two physical recaps, much like there isn’t a physical version of Mr. Robot, but the way “eps2.5h4ndshake.sme” unfolds during its last few moments changes everything. So, rather than move through the episode as we normally would, let’s start at the end. After all, like Elliot says, sometimes it is the destination that matters.
Look, there’s no way to dance around this. After weeks of mystery and ambiguity, Mr. Robot has finally pulled the trigger on a big reveal, and from the looks of it, the fan theories were wrong but not too far off. Some have posited that Elliot has been spending this season in a psychiatric hospital, but as it turns out, he’s been in prison. It’s all explained in tonight’s final shots and it changes everything that came before. Well, it might not change the plot, but it changes our understanding of every single Elliot scene this season.
The reveal begins with a simple question from Elliot’s therapist, Krista. “Where do you think you are right now?” Everything unravels from there. A red light in Elliot’s mother’s home starts blinking, and the truth is revealed. He’s sitting in lockup with Krista, and she’s insisting it’s important for them to keep their scheduled meetings when he gets out. Of course, he may get out soon. That’s part of our shifting perspective. Suddenly, the piece of paper he’s showing Krista must be a release. But why is he being released (presuming he is), and why now? Does it have something to do with Ray and the site? Is Ray a prison guard or administrator running a horrific Tor site through a prison computer? Or was the site just a psychological stand-in for an in-prison trading system, and Ray’s actually an inmate?
These are just some of the questions raised during those final moments. Trust me, there’s plenty more and we’ll get to them soon enough. But right now, before we dive into the rest of the episode, we need to take a second to recalibrate our understanding of this world and Elliot’s place within it. Let’s work through this together, shall we?
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So, Elliot has been in prison, presumably since shortly after the Five/Nine hack, and presumably — there’s a lot of “presumably” to be used with this show — for killing Tyrell. After all, the murder of Tyrell is what Mr. Robot has been protecting Elliot from all season. That would mean he’s been coordinating the next steps in the takedown of E Corp. from the inside, fielding phone calls from Darlene and meeting with Angela. Hell, he apparently even met with Gideon! But what are those next steps, and how does everyone we’ve seen him interact with factor into the larger plan? For instance, it sure looks like there’s a lot more to Leon than we expected.
NEXT: Much ado about everything
Let’s jump back and muse on the fate of Tyrell Wellick. Is he dead? Did Elliot kill him? Is that why he’s in prison? If so, how the hell can he be released only weeks later? Did the Dark Army, with the help of Leon, somehow get Elliot exonerated? Okay, that’s too many questions, so let’s slow down.
The episode opens on the Wellicks during a moment from their past. Joanna’s opening a box of earrings while Tyrell comes down the stairs, the two of them dressed to the nines. They’re headed to a corporate event, where Tyrell mingles with Phillip Price and Joanna plays the role of the beautiful woman on his arm. Then, there’s a jarring cut to Joanna in the “present day,” standing over her baby’s stroller before a woman runs up and throws a bucket of red paint on her. “Capitalist pig!” she shouts as she runs off, leaving Joanna silently screaming as the title card pops up. Images of Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie abound.
But back to the suggestion that Tyrell is dead. Mr. Robot tells Elliot he is. In fact, he tells him the whole truth, so help me on the night we became gods. Elliot convinces him to spill everything. “I just want to accept what I did and move on,” he says. Fine, if that’s what he wants, that’s what he’ll get. Elliot says the last thing he remembers is the popcorn, and Mr. Robot fills in the gaps. “I shot him,” says Mr. Robot. “No, I shot him,” replies Elliot. I guess they’re both right.
But we can’t exactly trust Elliot and Mr. Robot to tell us, the viewers, the truth. Sure, Elliot ends the episode in a jail cell by apologizing for misleading us, saying “this will be the last time I keep things from you,” but then he says “let’s shake on it,” and we know from the beginning of the episode that handshakes and social norms aren’t exactly Elliot’s strong suit. I don’t trust him one bit. But that opening scene does seem to suggest Tyrell is dead. I mean, the whitewashed scene sees him descending the stairs like an angel from heaven. Then again, would Tyrell Wellick end up in heaven?
NEXT: Where we left off
Alright, enough with Elliot for now. He’s too complicated. Let’s get to Angela.
After Elliot and Mr. Robot have their chat about Tyrell, the episode cuts to Angela in the middle of her hack. It’s where we left off last week, with Dom confronting her at her desk. Angela plays it cool, even as Dom asks what she was doing on the restricted floor. Angela uses the gross encounter with Agent Thomas as an out, saying they were making plans to go out for lunch. Hey, it’s not a total lie!
“Your story fascinates me,” says Dom. She’s not buying anything Angela’s selling, but that’s okay. Angela completes the hack, even after having to go back into the servers and do more than what was asked of her. She’s in this now, and she remains one of the season’s most fascinating characters. What’s her endgame here? She has a lot of control and a ton of smarts, but what she really wants — from Elliot, Darlene, or E Corp. — is still a mystery.
Here’s the thing: Everyone underestimates Angela. Darlene tells her she “was never the target” and starts in with some nonsense before Angela cuts her off. She knew about her and Elliot, and about the Five/Nine hack. Even if she didn’t admit it to herself, she knew early on. She remembered the masks from the creepy movie they watched as kids. “Fine,” says Darlene, trying to make amends, “no more smoke screens.” Then she exhales her cigarette smoke. Yeah, there’s always a smoke screen. This is Mr. Robot.
If Angela has an equal who’s not Darlene, it’s Dom. She’s another powerful woman whom everyone keeps underestimating. She checks the security footage and Angela’s computer, even though she knows she won’t find any evidence of wrongdoing. But it does reveal the hack, and that’s enough for now. Elliot, Darlene, and just about everyone else think they’re above the law, but Dom is no slouch. All signs point to her being a key player as the season rolls towards its end.
NEXT: Curiouser and curiouser
Alright, it’s been a bit since we checked in on Elliot. After Angela cruises the streets and hears about the trash piling up in the city — all while The Cramps’ “Garbageman” plays in the background — Elliot is brought back into Ray’s office after his time spent locked in the basement. Ray tells Elliot to set the site back up, and he agrees, if only to keep himself safe.
Yes, we’ll unpack all of this in a second along with what the prison reveal means for this whole scene, but let’s keep going with the traditional recap. We need some semblance of order here, folks!
Next thing you know, the light shifts and it’s morning. Elliot has moved the site and traffic is pouring in, almost double the traffic from before. Ray’s henchman is thrilled, but Ray knows better. He sends the man out of the office to have a game of chess alone with Elliot.
“How long do I have?” he says. He knows what Elliot did. Sure enough, Elliot tells us. He made the site more publicly available, and an anonymous tip to the FBI has brought the Feds to Ray’s doorstep. What’s fascinating, outside of not knowing whether any of this is real, is that Ray shows real remorse. He says his wife started the site, but it grew too fast and out of her control, so they decided to just not look at what was being sold. Turning a blind eye only works for so long, though.
Deep down, they knew what the site was being used for, and it bothered Ray more than it bothered her. “I feared the worst, so I didn’t look.” That’s Ray talking about the site, but it could just as well describe Elliot using Mr. Robot to block out his time in prison and his murder (maybe?) of Tyrell Wellick.
“When you see a good move, you look for a better one.” Elliot quotes a famous chess champion, and perhaps it’s his only move to get out of prison?
Okay, let’s suss this out a bit more. The big question is, who is Ray? Personally, I’d hypothesize that he’s a corrupt prison guard who was bringing all sorts of things into the prison for the inmates, like some sort of underground exchange. When the previous “computer” guy messed up, Elliot was brought on, but he found a way to rat on Ray and his operation — hence the presence of the intimidating white guys at the end of the episode. They’re pissed they can’t get their shipments anymore. Of course, Ray could also be an inmate. Or the site could be real and not a stand-in for more physical trade, and Ray was using a prison computer to run the whole thing.
Either way, Ray is no more — not dead, but not a problem anymore — which nearly causes Elliot to be sexually assaulted. Near the end of the episode, before the whole prison twist is revealed, some white-supremacist-looking guys confront Elliot on the basketball court. They’re pissed off about Ray getting busted, and they want to make Elliot pay.
Later, they jump him in a back alley. They punch him in the face, and we see flashes of Mr. Robot appearing to be punched as well. Reality is cracking. Then, one guy turns Elliot around with the intention of raping him — but Leon saves the day. He stabs all of them, violently shoving a knife into the would-be rapist’s anus in one of the most shocking moments I’ve ever seen on network TV. He then drops a bomb that, once again, changes everything: “You’re gonna get a letter on Tuesday. Do what it says. When you see Whiterose, make sure to say I did you good.”
So Leon, Seinfeld enthusiast, is apparently a member of the Dark Army who’s been keeping an eye on Elliot in prison? Would that mean the “letter” he mentions will help Elliot get out of prison? Or is the letter his actual release, the one we think we see Krista holding in that final scene?
No matter. It seems the Dark Army has substantial influence and that they’re responsible for getting Elliot out of prison. Hopefully, we’ll learn soon why he was in there in the first place, and how exactly the Dark Army managed to get him out.
NEXT: Use your illusion
We’re 2,000 words into this recap and it still feels like we haven’t covered that much. It’s really a testament to Mr. Robot‘s complexity and beautiful storytelling each and every week. Look, if you’re not digging this season, that’s fine, but in an age where there’s so much complacent TV designed for instant gratification and not much else, the patience and ambition Sam Esmail brings to Mr. Robot has to be admired.
On any other show, the prison reveal would have happened at the end of the season, changing everything that came before it. And it would have been predicted by a number of viewers looking for clues. Esmail knows this and stays two steps ahead, pulling the big reveal in episode 7. And he spends most of the episode using Elliot as a pacifier for audience resentment. Elliot knows we’re sick of twists and we all think we’re smart enough to see what’s coming. But guess what? No one cares. Art doesn’t cater specifically to you; you have to let go.
Elliot knows this better than anyone. He embraces Mr. Robot by the end of the episode. He understands it’s not only a part of him, but also a part of him that gets sh-t done. Mr. Robot (kind of) started a revolution. Mr. Robot (kind of) brought down E Corp. Mr. Robot protected Elliot from pain and maybe got him out of a jam in prison. Maybe he’s not so bad. Maybe he’s more Elliot than Elliot is.
If Elliot and Esmail are thinking ahead, so is Angela. She convinces Price to move her to the Risk Management division after she manages to get a contingency dropped in her father’s class-action lawsuit. Again, she’s in control and she knows it.
That known control is what makes her final scene in this episode so fascinating. Basically, she sits in on an upper-management meeting within the Risk Management division. After about 30 seconds, she proposes putting together a summary of old cases — including the Washington Township one that, you know, is all about her mother’s death — in order to look for patterns. It’s a bold move, and the boss quickly shoots it down. He knows Angela, and he’s not about to let her have access to those files. Hell, he didn’t even want her in the role in the first place, and as he states, Price doesn’t seem to care what happens to her. He’s probably still feeling jilted by her refusal to celebrate his birthday with him. Powerful, privileged men never cease to shrivel into whiny man-babies when they’re faced with powerful women.
The thing is, Angela must know this move won’t work, right? I mean, she’s one of the smartest people on the show, and up until this point she’s played her cards perfectly. There’s no way she goes with such a bold move in that meeting unless it results in the outcome she desires. She’s thinking ahead of everyone around her. I still don’t know what her endgame is, but I’m damn sure she’s playing hard.
So, “eps2.5h4ndshake.sme” leaves us in a very Mr. Robot place: everything is clearer, which means everything is also more confusing. George Orwell once wrote that “the great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” That seems to describe our weekly dance with Elliot. What are Elliot’s real aims, as opposed to his declared ones? What can his time in prison, now that we know he’s been in prison, illuminate about his struggle and the state of the outside world?
The essential question is: Where does Mr. Robot go from here? I don’t know, but I’m damn excited to be along for the ride.