This week “Mr. Robot” picked up right after the cataclysmic E Corp attack, the worst terrorist strike in the United States, we were told, resulting in perhaps more than 4,000 deaths. Elliot wept, like many of the people around him, but for viewers the toll of the Dark Army assault was mostly abstract.
Or at least it was until we saw the execution of our own innocents, when Trenton and Mobley, two of the most blameless characters in this story, were cruelly murdered as Dark Army patsies.
Their deaths made viewers feel the human cost of all the keystrokes and power struggles, and were the most wrenching aspects of an emotionally brutal episode that found people breaking down all over the place.
Elliot cracked up under the possibility that he was somehow behind the attack, leaving Mr. Robot to get schooled by Irving in the realities of one-percenter omnipotence. Wellick finally found out his family has been decimated, his wife dead and his son in foster care, his collapse all the more haunting for being depicted mostly in silence. Phillip Price learned that he had been destroyed by Whiterose as an object lesson.
Angela did whatever it is Angela is doing now. I said last week she might be the craziest on a show full of crazy, and her behavior on Wednesday did little to refute that assessment. She watched and rewound attack footage in a nutty effort to visualize the undoing of all the destruction, apparently deranged by all the death she helped to cause. (Angela is threatening to tip over into caricature, but maybe they’ll sort her out before the season is over.)
Viewers, too, were implicated, lulled by the sitcom trivia and Joey Badass’s languid performance into overlooking the fact that Leon is a stone killer. That was easier to do when he was dispatching Nazis — we know where that knife has been — but assassins also assassinate guiltless roomies when it suits their agenda.
Whatever our sympathies, we knew it wasn’t a great sign when Leon showed up at the end of last season, asking “Frederick” and “Tanya” for the time at their Arizona big-box employer. But we also were teased by Trenton’s claim that she knew how to undo the 5/9 hack, perhaps promising some future return to the main story. At the very least, I’m guessing most viewers, like Leon, had their fingers crossed that the Dark Army would treat those guys all right.
In retrospect, the clues that they probably wouldn’t have been there for awhile. We knew Trenton’s family were from Iran, and that Iran is where Whiterose wants the public to think fsociety is based. We knew Leon was nearby. We knew Trenton and Mobley were accomplished hackers, and thus plausible fsociety scapegoats. But they could only serve that purpose if they were dead — they knew too much — and they were also the most narratively expendable remaining members of the original crew.
Sure enough, Wellick fingered Trenton and Mobley to the F.B.I., setting up the old tense crosscutting-between-two-timelines trick that ended with them starring in an incriminating suicide pact scenario, complete with an Iranian flag. Official case closed (though Dom’s pursuit of Whiterose figures to continue one way or another). Frank Cody’s fans will no doubt take comfort in the fact that they can resume blaming Muslims for terrorism.
I said earlier that Trenton and Mobely were blameless, which isn’t totally true — they were instrumental in the original hack. Then once people like Romero (randomly) and Susan Jacobs started dying and the F.B.I. got close, they looked for a way out.
But like nearly everyone else involved in 5/9 and its aftermath, they learned that their lives no longer belonged to them. Theirs was only the most lethal reckoning this week, which also saw Angela denying the reality she helped to create, Mr. Robot confronting his chump status and even Phillip Price, who wants to be the most powerful person in any room, getting cut off at the knees. For now, anyway, Whiterose has gotten away with everything, as Dom noted, and plans to move his operations to Congo, and perhaps find new worlds to conquer.
The lesson, as usual on this show, is that control is an illusion, a mirage that lasts precisely as long as the world’s true masters allow it to.
“Your revolution was only allowed to happen because it was bought and paid for by people like them,” Irving told Mr. Robot, nodding toward heedless elites partying on a Manhattan rooftop. “Face it: No matter how hard you try, that’s always the end result.”
• I assume Santiago’s chats with his mom are intended to humanize him, and whatever leverage the Dark Army has on him could involve her as well. But while Omar Metwally gives a convincing portrayal of a cornered rat — this week rebuking underlings and taking out his anxiety and perhaps some grudge to be named later on Wellick — I’m getting a little tired of this particular mystery. An explanation to how he really connects to all of this feels overdue.
• Raise your hand if you still have the “Knight Rider” theme stuck in your head. If you didn’t before, you do now. (You’re welcome.)