The predominant theme of this season seems to be that control is an illusion.
Mr. Robot Season 2 Episode 3 drove that point home thoroughly, with several characters echoing versions of the same thing: There is, quite simply, no way to remain in control of a life that is, by necessity, random and chaotic.
"Kernel Panic" was, as usual, a brilliant installment of an always-brilliant series. Particularly impressive was the way the show managed to weave in time to significantly develop new characters Dom DiPierro (the FBI agent investigation the 5/9 Hack) and Ray, Elliot's new, very questionable, friend.
To start with, Romero was murdered. Romero was one of the fsociety hackers who was more outwardly suspicious about Elliot and his leadership skills (and sanity). Elliot pulled a gun on him, so Romero's doubts were fair.
We didn't get to see Romero's manner of death onscreen – Mobley found his corpse (and a bad smell) when he went to visit him at home, suggesting that Romero may have been dead for days, unbeknownst to Romero's mother, with whom he lives.
In what was likely to be the character's final alive appearance on the show (barring any other random flashbacks), Romero at least got a killer monologue prior to his send-off. The stellar opening featured a flashback to Romero taking Mobley to the abandoned arcade that would later become fsociety headquarters, telling him the blood-soaked, probably-cursed history of the place.
Mobley: What happened to the U and the N?
Romero: Oh, that? That's a story for another time.
Sadly, it looks like we may now never get the story of the U and the N falling off of the Fun Society sign, thereby giving us fsociety's name.
"Dwarf sanctuaries" and familial homicide galore – no wonder this place was abandoned. Yeesh. I'm also curious to see how Mobley initially became recruited into fsociety, given that we've now seen he recruited Romero.
The discovery of Romero's death sparked two separate arcs which will obviously continue (and eventually spiral out of control, I'm sure) throughout the season.
The first was Mobley's suspicion. When we first met Mobley last season, he was largely inconsequential and didn't voice as much opposition to Elliot's leadership as Romero did. Now, with Romero's death, Mobley is majorly paranoid, convinced that the hackers (and anyone connected to the hack, like Gideon) are being systematically assassinated by the Dark Army.
The Dark Army, you'll recall, was the super shady Chinese hacker group led by the mysterious Whiterose. It's totally possible that Dark Army is behind the deaths. As of now, it's equally possible that Mobley is unnecessarily paranoid and the killings are unrelated.
A random dude apparently working alone took responsibility for Gideon's death. Romero's murder is being actively investigated, but it may well have been a drug thing gone wrong – Romero sold drugs, a "liability" that Darlene later mentioned to Mobley when they met up on the train.
Regardless, Mobley is now clearly at the end of his rope with the Alderson siblings. When he and Darlene met with Trenton, he suggested his theory that the Dark Army was killing them off one by one. Darlene shot that down and left to confirm with Elliot that he hadn't named any of the hackers while meeting with the Dark Army, and when she was gone, Mobley voiced his distrust to Trenton.
I don't trust her or her crazy-ass brother.Mobley
Is Mobley about to spiral and FUBAR the whole operation? Seems probable. He basically thinks that Darlene and/or Elliot are out to cover their tracks by killing off the other hackers.
The second arc involved Dom's investigation.
I already really like Dom. Seeing her solitary, lonely life throughout this installment, we got a very clear sense of who she is. Her only "companion" is her Amazon Echo's Alexa app, she (like Elliot) doesn't appear to sleep, and she watches TV and engages in cybersex in the middle of the night while not sleeping.
She also suffers from social anxiety (revealed by an app ad that pops up for her). All of these details quickly paint a very clear portrait of Dom. I'm rooting for her to win, even though I'm not rooting against Elliot, per se.
Dom managed to hit upon a potentially huge lead after visiting Romero's mother to question her further about her son's death. While chatting up the joint-smoking, near-blind older woman, Dom rifled through Mrs. R's packed boxes and came up with the End of the World party flyer – the party thrown by fsociety at the arcade, during last season's finale, Mr. Robot Season 1 Episode 10, to eliminate any physical evidence left behind post-hack.
Whether this lead amounts to anything remains to be seen. As far as we know, the party managed to cover up any evidence left behind by the hackers.
But if Romero left one of the flyers lying around (a HUGE screw-up on his part), who is to say that fsociety didn't inadvertently leave behind a clue for Dom to find? They're only human, after all.
Meanwhile, Angela had the weirdest not-date ever with her boss, Evil Corp CEO Phillip Price.
I'm calling it a not-date because, ironically, Angela so clearly thought it was a date of some kind, going in. She got glammed up, duly spoke her positive self-affirmations in front of the mirror, and strutted into that restaurant like nobody's business.
Yikes. Angela is really spiraling out in the aftermath of Mr. Robot Season 1. She's gone full tilt into this whole "success, money, power" lifestyle, apparently even willing to "date" a man more than twice her age in order to climb the corporate ladder.
Phillip Price, on the other hand, had a different agenda altogether.
Instead of wooing Angela or seducing her, he was more interested in mind games. After allowing her to get to know their other two surprise dinner companions (both Evil Corp. executives), Price presented a moral quandary to Angela. He explained that the two men were part of the cover up that killed her mother (and Elliot's father), that they were white collar criminals currently guilty of insider trading – and then he handed her the evidence to send them to jail.
Angela was suspicious, as am I. What's Price's game here? Is there some kind of catch that will screw Angela over if she turns her co-workers in? If not, why would Price sacrifice two long-serving employees – just to continue "grooming" and corrupting Angela? Something's not right here, but I'm definitely intrigued.
Elsewhere, isolated in Queens, Elliot continued on his quest to keep Mr. Robot at bay, refusing to allow his alter ego control. To do that, he began abusing Adderall, refusing to allow Mr. Robot to take control by remaining awake 24/7.
This internal battle made external between Mr. Robot and Elliot is endlessly entertaining and scary, all at once, thanks to the amazing chemistry between Rami Malek and Christian Slater. Mr. Robot, capable of affecting Elliot's brain, inflicted a graphic hallucination on Elliot after he attempted to OD on Adderall – he made him hallucinate being killed via men funneling cement down his throat. Terrifying.
But Elliot persevered and gobbled back down the Adderall anyway. Initially, it appeared to work like a charm. Elliot was loud and abrasive, sure, but he was visibly happy (ecstatic, even), engaged in conversation, and interested in random shit like Seinfeld, religion, and basketball all of a sudden.
Of course, that was the story Elliot, ever the unreliable narrator, wanted to present to us, his "imaginary friend." The truth? Within six days, Elliot was glitching out like crazy, rapidly approaching a kernel panic and eventual fatal internal system error.
All tech jargon essentially meaning that Elliot was about to shut his whole body down.
If I don't listen to my imaginary friend, why the fuck should I listen to yours?Elliot
He didn't, in the end. By Day 6, he'd run out of Adderall. One epic church group meltdown monologue focused on God, organized religion, and the unfairness of the world later, Elliot was right back in Mr. Robot's clutches – and Ray's, too.
In my review of the Mr. Robot Season 2 Premiere, I wondered where the show would go with Ray, who seemed largely inconsequential. Thankfully, I was so wrong.
It's not clear what exactly Ray's deal is, but he's up to something nefarious. In this installment, we see him verbally strong-arming a beaten up man (as the man's wife and child cower in the background), trying to convince the man to get some kind of Bitcoin-operating site back up for him.
The man didn't have the technical expertise to do this – when putting the site back up, thieves stole the money each time. He knew what needed to be done (a site migration) but wasn't able to do it himself. Enter Elliot.
Ray is clearly going to rope Elliot into something sketchy and illegal. He played his cards perfectly, too. First, he opened up to Elliot about his dead wife. Then, he revealed that he speaks to his dead wife, still, relating it to the way that Elliot speaks to Mr. Robot. Ray is a master manipulator, and he's roped Elliot in.
All that said, I actually did feel for Ray. Eating breakfast "with" his deceased wife while on a dialysis machine is next level tragic. He's clearly not a 100% villainous character like last season's Fernando Vera.
Is this what will occupy Elliot's storyline this season? Working with Ray? I didn't anticipated that Elliot would remain separate from the larger fsociety/hack arc all season long, and I'm not sure how I feel about him being off on this side tangent for a significant period of time.
In all likelihood, Sam Esmail has intricately crafted this Ray/Elliot story to tie back into the larger plot. I'm hoping so, anyway.
- Still not 100% convinced that Tyrell's voice wasn't a hallucination, and neither is Elliot.
- Mobley confessed to Darlene that Mrs. Romero saw him at the house. For a moment, I thought we might see Darlene kill the old woman in order to prevent her from naming Mobley and leading the FBI back to them. Thanks to Mrs. R's cataracts and inability to see Mobley clearly, that probably (hopefully) won't be the case.
- The incompetency of those detectives on the scene of Romero's murder... wow. Between the dude sneezing all over everything, and the other guy inadvertently triggering the self-destruct sequence via a port in Romero's computer, they were just the worst.
- I loved that Mr. Robot was grossed out by Elliot gobbling down the thrown-up pills. One of the smartest things about their dichotomy is that Mr. Robot is truly like a separate entity – he can't predict Elliot's reactions and has his own, separate opinions about Elliot's choices.
- The cinematography during Elliot's Adderall spree was out of control amazing. I rewatched that sequence about five times.
- The use of Philip Glass' piece in that Elliot-throws-up-the-Adderall scene was perfection.
What did you think of "Kernel Panic"? Leave me a comment below and watch Mr. Robot online here at TV Fanatic!
Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.