We’ve had a week now to come to terms with the big reveal in the last Mr. Robot. I will admit even I have continued to feel trepidation over the twist we got—not that I didn’t think it was well handled, but it might’ve been one stone throw too far. I’ve seen some propose that it might’ve been better had Sam Esmail eschewed the twist and revealed Elliot’s true state of mind right away, or at least much earlier. That thought is difficult to dismiss. Esmail effectively put us, as viewers, in an adversarial relationship with his main character. It’s part of the character’s current psychological journey, but it’s not exactly friendly to the viewer. The strength, then, of the twist’s impact can only be felt in its aftermath, but we’ve been deprived of that, too.
This week, in a first for the series, we got no Elliot at all. Not a single scene. Instead of picking up right where last week’s dizzying entry left off, we got a bit of a reprieve. A bit of mercy. Some time to collect ourselves. Only, Mr. Robot’s version of mercy is amping up the tension to an unbearable degree. There’s no question we’re in the home stretch of the season, now, and while Elliot may be the main character, he’s also one main character among many. As it turns out, not only are those other characters fully capable of carrying the show on their own, their trials are the heart of the show this season. While Elliot has been off in fantasy land, dealing with his internal problems, his family and friends are off dealing with the very external consequences of their actions.
“Successor” also happens to be one of the best episode the series has produced, which is no knock on Elliot, really. Over the course of the series so far, Esmail has managed to build a stable of characters who feel real. They may have been sidelined relative to the attention Elliot has received, but small moments of character have bled through, and now is when that pays off. Their plight feels immediate. Dangerous. We’ve already lost one of the fsociety team. To lose another would be painful, and it’s a testament to the show that we would feel that way. Meanwhile, Darlene and Angela continue to get fleshed out, revealing layers as interesting as those we’ve gotten from Elliot. That’s a feature, not a bug. As the world of Mr. Robot continues to expand, the characters we can focus on grows, and the stakes only get higher.
Given the tighter focus of this week’s episode, I think it’d be a good idea to tighten our focus as well. Let’s examine the people we care about on Mr. Robot, and how this episode showed it to us. As always, BEWARE SPOILERS!
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again. Angela may well be my favorite character on the show. She’s perhaps the most inscrutable of our protagonists—a mystery, whose motivation is as compelling as it is unclear. One thing that’s becoming more and more evident, though, is the way Angela thrives off a certain kind of validation. It’s not so much that she wants to be told she’s doing a good job, as that the job she’s doing is important. This may be why she can so easily straddle the various lines of trying to take down E Corp legally, helping fsociety, and trying to climb the corporate ladder all at the same time. It’s not compartmentalizing, really. It’s more that each action brings her similar validation of her own strength and importance in the world. The allure is undeniable for most, but Angela’s will to go out and get it is clearly pushing her further ahead than most would dare.
We get to see this quality in Angela come to the fore in a scene at a karaoke bar. There she is, on a date with the guy she met at the bar last episode. But she’s distracted—we’ll get to the cause of her distraction a bit later—and she ends up walking away from the table to grab a drink from the bar. There, she bumps into a friend of the family who comments on how her father must be taking it that she’s now working for the corporation that killed her mother. He throws in some crass vulgarity toward her as well. After initially turning to leave, Angela turns back around and gives him a piece of her mind. Demeaning his career as “just” a plumber, and talking about her six-figure salary at the world’s largest conglomerate. “And I’m just getting started,” she says.
On the one hand, this is Angela in full badass mode, taking down a condescending, sexist prick. Then again, she can’t seem to deny to herself that he has a point. Crudely delivered, of course, but a point nonetheless. While the extent of her desire for subterfuge at E Corp isn’t known to us, it’s clear that she’s uneasy with her position inside the beast. One point of validation bumps up against the other, and she finds herself split in two. We see this play out in the cross-cut hacking scene later on, where she pulls a Carey Mulligan and sings Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” in a striking close-up. Later she propositions an older gentleman played by Mark Moses—Duck Phillips from Mad Men! As we later learn, the original date she was on was an FBI plant, and he was actually a little hurt that Angela didn’t seem to fall for him. He guesses she’s into older men. Whatever her relationship with ol’ Duck, we’ll likely find out. The casting alone suggests that much.