film fatales #19: tallulah (sian heder, 2016)
music friday: bruce, sleater-kinney, and a promised land

mr. robot season two

Mr. Robot sneaks up on you. Last season, I got about halfway through and then it fell into the bottomless, always full pit of DVR hell. It was interesting, and Rami Malek was great, but there was always something else to watch.

Eventually, I caught up, inspired just before Season Two began, to see what all the fuss was about. I’m not sure what happened, except that maybe I just wasn’t ready for it during my first attempt. But by the time I finished binging Season One, I couldn’t wait for the new season to begin. And Mr. Robot became one of the few shows that I had to watch when it was aired.

In the season finale, a character recites the William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow”. This poem is ever present in high school and college English classes, where students grapple with the deep meanings said to reside inside the poem’s sixteen words. I am not here to explicate the poem, nor am I here to specifically place it in the context of Mr. Robot. But one thing seems crucial to me: the meanings that reside inside Mr. Robot are often just as hard for viewers to ascertain as Williams’ meanings are for students.

Or maybe it’s something as simple as writer Sam Esmail wanting to give his character something short to recite.

Mr. Robot got a lot of acclaim for its first season, in particular the ways in which the show, which was unlike other series on the USA Network, expanded that network's possibilities. (In truth, Mr. Robot is unlike most series on most networks.) Whatever constraints USA might have placed on Esmail for Season One seemed to disappear for Season Two, perhaps hiding under all the acclaim. Remarkably, Esmail rarely resorted to self-indulgence, and when he did (the “Alf” episode), it was often so fun no one cared about indulgence. But Esmail walked a thin line with what seemed to me to be conscious obfuscation. While some obsessive viewers correctly anticipated some of the more startling plot moments, others (i.e. me) were simultaneously intrigued by the mystery and frustrated by the lack of revelation. Yes, Mr. Robot specializes in big, grand revelations, and they are part of what makes the series compelling. But they are satisfying in part because Esmail has been leading us along for long stretches. (Again, for me ... others claimed to know everything before it happened.)

We haven’t yet fallen into Lost territory yet, but the potential is there.

Meanwhile, Rami Malek’s Emmy was well-deserved, and the casting in general effectively matches actors and characters. Carly Chaikin looks like Malek/Elliot’s sister, and she does great work as a bad-ass who is vulnerable on the inside (but not as much as that cliché might suggest). I don’t think Michael Cristofer has ever given a bad performance. Best of all is B.D. Wong as a mysterious character (are there any other kinds on this show?) who is both a transgender head of the “Dark Army” and the Minister of State Security for China.

Like I say, there’s nothing else like this out there right now. That novelty won’t carry the show forever, although Rami Malek might be able to pull it off. Suffice to say that, at the end of an erratic finale to an erratic season, I can’t wait for Season Three to begin.