I loved the first season of Mr. Robot, its first season quickly had me hooked, so immediately afterwards I jumped to Season 2. I liked it quite a bit, however it doesn’t quite work as well as the first season. In fact I’ve noticed that for most people, season 2 is easily the worst of the 4 seasons. It had some visible flaws, but I liked it overall.
Early disclosure: this review will contain spoilers for season 1, so I’m now more free to talk specifics. Season 2 starts off fairly soon after the end of the previous season. Elliot is now isolated away by himself as he’s coming to terms with his mental state (i.e. Mr. Robot being an personality of himself). Then there’s plenty of other multiple plotlines happening including Angela at her new job at E Corp, the members of fsociety after the hack, the FBI investigating, and plenty more. The writing is still mostly solid and I was invested throughout, even with its slower moments. It is a darker season for the show and continues its delving into interesting ideas. It shows that there’s plenty of story left to be told in further seasons after the end of the first season. It was also quite interesting to watch how the world reacts to the big hack at the end of the last season. The first season was pretty straightforward. With season 2, it feels like there’s so much going on while not much is actually happening, if that makes any sense. I’ll dedicate Elliot’s story for a whole paragraph because there’s a lot to get into there. The rest of the plotlines are a bit all over the place, and they don’t always progress a considerable amount. Some bits are interesting like the worldbuilding, for example we get to learn more about Whiterose and The Dark Army. At the same time other aspects aren’t so great, especially when it comes to focus. For example, the show even spends so much time with Tyrell Wellick’s wife. They easily could’ve reduced the amount of screentime on that plotline, and having watched the whole show, I still don’t know why it was as prominent as it was. Even that one plotline aside, they all feel restrained and held back. Not only are there so many storylines and characters in this season, but they are mostly separated from each other, which didn’t do the season any favours. In season 1 their stories are interwoven, and they are always interacting with each other. All these storylines being separate made the season feel disjointed. Something clear is that this is a season of mystery building, with many questions floating around. What happened to Elliot’s 3-day blackout? Where is Tyrell Wellick? What is this phase 2 that’s being talked about? It really does seem determined to not give the audience answers right away, like show creator Sam Esmail deliberately held back a lot of the answers towards the end of the season. So you’d think that Season 2 would hopefully reveal something significant by the end. Unfortunately without getting into it too much, there’s not a lot of answers you get. There’s maybe one reveal that matters, the rest of the reveals were underwhelming, predictable, we don’t care about them, or we still don’t know the answers yet. A lot of the show spent more time asking new questions than giving answers to questions that we had from the last season. It does get the vibe of stalling, especially considering how well tuned the rest of the seasons are.
A large reason of why there’s issues with this season is how they handled Elliot’s plotline. Elliot is keeping himself isolated while he deals with his multiple personality issue with Mr. Robot, and there’s a mental battle between the two as the former is trying to get rid of the latter. Something to note is that neither of them are in this season as much as they were in the first season. Elliot and Robot are far too removed from the rest of the cast for far too long. Keeping the main characters separated from the rest of the cast for the first half of the season created a new dynamic status quo that I was happy to roll with for the first 2-3 episodes, but after that you really feel the greatly reduced pace of the narrative. This particular story arc takes place over 7 episodes, over half of the season. Now there is a twist that does explain things, but it does link into something from season 1 which is so inconsequential to the overall story. It actually feels something of a waste of time looking back at it. I don’t think it’s necessarily bad. This plotline is meant to be more of a character study for both characters. I really liked their interactions, and I enjoyed some of the interactions he made with some of the introduced supporting characters. However it just wasn’t handled the best.
Something that hadn’t changed between the seasons of Mr. Robot was that the acting remains great as always. Rami Malek is once again excellent as Elliot Alderson, and gets plenty of time to shine. Christian Slater is also again really good as Mr. Robot, there’s a mental battle between him and Elliot and that’s really the driving force for the first half of the season (if there is one). Some characters from season 1 gets to have more to do in this season. Darlene Alderson played by Carly Chaikin (recently revealed as Elliot’s brother towards the end of the last season) is now the leader of fsociety now that Elliot isolated himself. Angela Moss played by Portia Doubleday has a more interesting role as she now finds herself working at E Corp. Two new characters who were briefly in the last season also get more presence here. One of them is Phillip Price played by Michael Cristofer, the CEO of E Corp. The other is played by BD Wong, who is Whiterose, the leader of the shadowy hacking group the Dark Army, who also happens to be China’s Minister of State Security. Both characters and performances are great and scene-stealing, and Whiterose is a particularly intriguing character. A new character to this series is Grace Gummer as Dominique DiPierro, an FBI agent investigating the E Corp hack. This plotline gives the perspective from the FBI, which is to be expected but DiPerro’s character and her performance makes it feel more than just an obligatory procedural. Gummer does a great job at making her character feel as isolated from the rest of society as Elliot, just on the other side of the law. Additionally, there’s other supporting characters who shine even with less screentime, mainly Joey Badass and Craig Robinson during Elliot’s plotline.
Mr. Robot is still fantastic on a technical level, it’s shot incredibly well and has a very distinct style and a unique look. The score from Mac Quayle is still amazing and the sound design is effective. The editing choices continue to be great, it even goes further psychological, especially now that it’s established that Elliot is an unreliable narrator. The film really takes advantage of this greatly to result in some fantastic sequences. Speaking of unreliable narrator, the narration from Elliot to us, his imaginary friend, is here again, and once again it’s handled well.
Mr. Robot Season 2 for sure has some issues, mainly with the writing. The attempt to slow the story down and ask more questions, whether it be to stall or to genuinely build intrigue, doesn’t quite work effectively. With that said, the acting and characters are fantastic, on a technical level it is perfect, and as someone who was hooked on the first season, I was interested to see where the story would go next. Out of the 4 seasons it’s my least favourite but it’s still really good, and no doubt if I rewatched it would probably have a better opinion of it. If you really liked the first season, you’d probably be able to get through it even if you have issues. However if you just got through the first season of the show, and you’re not hooked yet and hope that season 2 will be the point where it clicks for you, unfortunately you might have to wait till season 3 for that.