This review will contain some spoilers for what happened during the two-hour premiere.
Mr. Robot's two-hour second season premiere focused on a couple of major themes: the nihilistic attitudes that brought Elliot (Rami Malek) and his hacker collective (fsociety) together in the first place and the fear brought on by self-realization over what they had done last season.
After launching the biggest hack on a financial institution the country has ever seen — now being referred to as the 5/9 hack — the team is in a state of disarray. Elliot has moved out of the city and is living on the outskirts of town with his mother, staying in his childhood bedroom and, most importantly, refraining from using any kind of technology. His sister, Darlene (Carly Chaikin), has taken on a new leadership role within the hacktivist organization, using her newfound respect to build their army of miscreant engineers and unleash new attacks around the city. Elliot's best friend, Angela (Portia Doubleday), is working for E-Corp, stuck in a job she hates and living a lifestyle that leaves her feeling empty, but collecting more money than she ever thought possible, joining the elite group of Manhattanites she always aspired to be.
The three main characters are heading in vastly different directions, but they're all guided by one common aspect: guilt. And it's a feeling the premiere plays heavily upon, referencing the events of the first season time and time again and juxtaposing the almost naive ideologies of the team going into the hack and the understanding that their actions have undebatable and dire consequences for themselves and the world at large.
If the first season felt like it focused on what a group of likeminded individuals with extraordinary abilities and unlimited access to the country's biggest conglomerate could do if they put their mission before anything else, the second season is shaping up to ask if it was really worth it and if they did the right thing?
Each of the three main characters is plagued with doubt. They don't know who they really are, they don't know what they're supposed to be doing and they can't talk to anyone about what's happening for multiple reasons. So in order to continue functioning, they do the one thing they can: find escapes. For Elliot, that involves having breakfast, lunch and dinner his new friend Leon (Joey Bada$$) and living a life of monotonous repetition, doing the exact same thing at the exact same time everyday.
Elliot's taken on the biggest change of the bunch, deciding to remove himself completely from the connected world and refusing to use as much as a cellphone in his daily life. It's a big decision for him to leave behind the only world he ever knew, and more importantly, relinquishing 100 percent control of his environment in the pursuit of a more normal life that doesn't operate on binary terms. What may seem like a big change for anyone, deciding to give up the one aspect of life that you define yourself by, is even bigger for Elliot who's slowly losing control of every aspect of his life, including his mental stability.
If Darlene is scared of what she's doing with fsociety and the trouble she could get into, and Angela is afraid of the financially elite zombie she's turning into, Elliot is scared of something much more cerebral and dangerous: his mind. Last season, Elliot operated under the assumption that he was in control of his entire life and as long as he stuck within the constraints he had set up for himself, no one could take that control away. This picturesque lifestyle he had set up for himself could only last for so long, and when he discovered that the man who had been leading him down the rabbit hole all the way to the execution of the 5/9 hack was a figment of his imagination based on his dead father, his world came crashing down. Now, Elliot is hyper aware of his deepening psychosis and most of the premiere focused on him trying to exorcise his demon.
Elliot is terrified of what's happening to him
It's one aspect of the show that creator Sam Esmail and the writing team totally nail. Unlike last season, which found Elliot trying to run away from his mental illness and living in a state of denial, he's now working on basic therapeutic techniques to try and overcome it, including repetitive journaling. Elliot is terrified of what's happening to him and his deepening psychosis. He's terrified of not being able to remember who he's talked to or the things he's done, and in an attempt to try and keep it together, he's started journaling, jotting down every single thing he does and every conversation he has with Mr. Robot.
Esmail and the team do more than just pit Elliot against his psychosis; they have him embrace the fact that he has it and, while portraying a character trying to get a grasp on his life again and return to some form of normality, never shy aware from how terrifying living in a constant state of psychosis is. Elliot's mental illness doesn't feel like a last-minute addition to make the show feel more edgy, but is used to show how tiring and terrifying living in that paranoid state can be, while also never once implying that it's a hopeless cause. Elliot is a better character because he believes that he's not his psychosis, but rather, that his psychosis is just another part of him that he needs to learn to deal with. He's returned to therapy, he's going to a church group, he's trying to be more social and he's taking a break from the connected world all in an attempt to better his mental state.
That level of responsibility and self-realization is the defining theme of the premiere and it makes the show feel like it's grown tenfold since it's been off the air. One of the problems the first season had was that there was always a fear of getting caught by authorities — which hasn't gone away this season — but there was never any big questions over whether what they were doing was wrong. In many ways, the first season of Mr. Robot felt pubescent in comparison to this season so far, which has spent far more time already addressing the moral concerns of the panic and anger they've unleashed on the public.
It's their decision to take responsibility for their actions and to face their demons, both Darlene and Elliot especially, that makes the characters more relatable and humble. If they were slightly egomaniacal in the first season, they've been put in their place since the attack. There are still questions looming over what exactly happened during the 72-hour blackout Elliot suffered following the execution of the hack and why he and Darlene aren't speaking, but as they become solemnly more aware of the dangerous situation they're in and how much responsibility they wield for the slow decay of modern society in New York City, those questions are being answered.
I was worried that Mr. Robot would be a one-hit wonder and that its sophomore season wouldn't be able to hold a candlelight to the first, but if the rest of the season is on par with last night's two-hour premiere, the new season may even eclipse the first.
Oh, right. One last thing. Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström)? The last scene we saw featured the aspiring E-Corp CTO sitting in front of Elliot's computer as the 5/9 hack went live and Elliot standing behind him, reaching into the popcorn machine where we know there's a gun hidden. One of the biggest questions Elliot has for Mr. Robot is what happened to Tyrell and it's a question that his subconscious refuses to answer. It's shaping up to be one of the stronger plot lines this season and it feels like all of Elliot's questions about what happened to him during his blackout could be answered through finding Tyrell. But it also feels like Elliot discovering where Tyrell is — and, more importantly, what's happened to him — could be the character's final undoing.