What showrunner Sam Esmail did so well, and latched onto so quickly in the first season of the now critically-acclaimed “Mr. Robot,” was tapping into the pervasiveness of Elliot Alderson’s loneliness. Whether it was major shifts in the focus of the camera — conversations happening on the edges of the screen, prolonged shots to make your squirm — or the blank, yet strained and torn, while still oblivious performance by Rami Malek, the hacker drama aimed to be more than just the sum of it parts in a genre that already suffered from a history of misunderstandings and mockings.
And when we return to the post-Five/Nine world of the two-hour season premiere, it’s no surprise we find Elliot and friends disconnected, going through the motions operating in what seems separate homes without any discernible way to bridge them.
Elliot has shifted into the bleak and dreary place (one somehow sadder than his old Chinatown apartment) he now calls home, a place where former bosses turn to scared attacks in order to save themselves and imaginary dads raise imaginary guns at their troubled children. We watch fsociety attack a smart home of Evil Corp’s legal counsel, Susan Jacobs (Sandrine Holt), to provide a place to celebrate the newfound hacker family’s successful castration of Wall Street’s bull while Darlene sobs in the bathroom. And we see Angela end her day of work — darker and colder as an Evil Corp PR manager — in her living room, reciting positive affirmations at the perfect level of volume so as to not wake the stranger from a bar in her bed.
It’s the question that escapes Angela’s one-night stand (“Are you alone?”) or the musical stylings of Phil Collins’ “Take Me Home” as $5.9 million burns on streets of New York that epitomize Esmail’s playbook. We know nobody in this show can confidently answer “No,” to that man’s question. And we know how those lyrics — ‘Cause I don’t remember / Take, take me home’ — pierce straight through the central characters of the show.
And in that way, Esmail doesn’t skip a beat in returning to the heart of the show. These characters all searching for a home they can’t remember — or only thought they had, but never knew. Elliot recites the words of his “regimen” and acts accordingly to find comfort in his new life in this new home, but the words he writes in order to quiet his mind betray him. “Control is an illusion,” but he’s writing and believing those words to control his delusions. Darlene feigns composure as she tries to lead fsociety; Angela’s new steely demeanor seems worryingly unshakable despite her attempts at surrounding herself in positive mantra.
And as we inch toward beginning to unravel the central cliffhanger of the first season — Elliot in his new home as Tyrell reappears to wish our friend a tired good night — Esmail suggests nowhere, as hidden and unknown as the man on the other side of that red phone. The home is never whole in “Mr. Robot”; the masks we use to make ourselves believe we’re home or that we don’t need it will never work. Because if these places of intimacy and safety — these homes — are permeable to the ills of the world that Elliot sees all around us, if refuge doesn’t exist, then surely the last defense is defeated.