‘Mr. Robot’ Season 2: Elliot Reboots Himself

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Photo: Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Opting to cash in on a little of that enthusiastic goodwill he accumulated from Mr. Robot’s fascinating, often exciting, always imaginative first season, show creator Sam Esmail places a large bet in the two-part second-season premiere on Wednesday night: He gives us a Mr. Robot that’s almost as paralyzed as the world economy that Rami Malek’s Elliot crashed in the first-season finale. Esmail dares you not to be confused, and sometimes a little bored.

Remember that world-economy threat from last season? Well, the show picks up right where that left off… sort of. The season premiere spends a lot of time showing us Elliot’s current life, which includes sleeping a lot, writing in his journal in pencil, watching neighborhood basketball games, and no going online! For the sake of… what? his sanity? his master plan? — you figure it out — Elliot has gone “ordinary analog.” Even he sneers at other people who attempt a “normal” life, “with their NCIS’s and Lexapro.” And he’s maintaining an outwardly chill affect, while still getting regular visits from the apparition of Mr. Robot/his father (Christian Slater), an aspect of Elliot’s own personality, capable of causing great agitation.

Related: 5 Mysteries to Follow in Your ‘Mr. Robot’ Binge

The new season of Mr. Robot could not arrive at a better — or at least more opportune — time in our culture. Its themes of corporate manipulation of the public; the public’s mistrust of both big business and government; the anarchic, even nihilistic, impulses that are let loose when people feel they have no control over their immediate needs and their long-term destinies — all of these Mr. Robot elements find real-world parallels in the current political campaign, and in the recent outbreaks of terroristic violence.

Yet as much as we can admire, even love, Mr. Robot, let’s not hype ourselves into thinking it’s not capable, in the midst of its ambition and daring, of making a few missteps. Chief among them in the opening two hours are the dolorous tone and intentionally repetitious — yet somehow, also artfully confusing —storytelling. The idea behind the latter is to convey the purposeful monotony of Elliot’s new life right now, but when that monotony extends even to scenes without Elliot, it can make me itchy for more range of feeling. I’m thinking of the glimpses of E Corp executives whose panic is tamped down into corporate droning, and how perpetually stunned Allsafe Security CEO Gideon (Michel Gill) seems. As for hacker group fsociety — well, no spoilers from me.

I didn’t realize how much I missed characters who spoke above a murmur and showed something besides enigmatic poker faces until Grace Gummer popped up in the second hour as Dominique “Dom” DiPierro, an FBI agent investigating the hack at E Corp. Fast-talking, wise-cracking, quick-thinking Dom has yet to fully immerse herself in Robot-world, but Esmail’s introduction of the character is terrific. The other new guest star, Craig Robinson, gets a more muted intro, but it’s nevertheless a good one that leaves you intrigued and wanting more of him.

I do wonder what a new viewer, coming to Mr. Robot for the first time, would make of all this, and whether the tone and pacing would be a turn-off. But as I said at the start, Mr. Robot and creator Esmail have earned this quirky, almost mild and studious, way to commence the second season; for fans, trust in the show has been established.

Catch up with Season 1 of Mr. Robot with our handy video recap:

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.