While watching this week’s episode, I noticed two specific things: every subplot was focused on some kind of connection formed between two people, and Elliot, fittingly, had hardly any screentime at all. There’s a lot that can be said about the way he bookends the episode, from his repressed grief over Shayla to his cathartic final confession to Krista – he is not coping well at all after losing the most genuine relationship in his largely isolated life. As much as I loved both of those scenes, I’m fascinated by the choice to let everyone else take the spotlight.
A quick overview: we saw Tyrell and Sharon’s ultimately lethal cat-and-mouse games, Angela’s resentful yet necessary alliance with Terry Colby to take down E Corp, and Mr. Robot and Darlene’s separate efforts to persuade Romero and Trenton back into fsociety. There were other interactions between more supporting characters, but these storylines were where “eps1.6_view-source.flv” chose to invest its strongest emotional beats. Nearly all of the listed situations play out under the conceit of one character needing something from another and the resulting interplay as their opposite counterpart responds either negatively or positively. What made this concept so compelling and insightful was seeing everyone’s methods in dealing with each other – despite the show already regularly portraying what people do when cornered and desperate, this was somehow their freshest take on such an idea yet. Here’s my personal ranking of these individual threads:
4. Tyrell Wellick stands out as the person who’s gone from a self-assured manipulator to someone frantically trying every available option to claw his way to the top; in fact, the stress of this is so great that he ends up literally murdering Sharon on impulse. (Good job, buddy.) Everything about the scene was exquisitely chilling, particularly the use of FKA Twigs’ “Two Weeks” as the music and how it abruptly cut out when Tyrell came back to himself and realized what he’d done. While we knew Tyrell was less stable than he appeared, this was pretty extreme, and given that he’s pretty much a mess right now I don’t see how he can possibly keep his cool enough to get away with this. He becomes more erratic towards his coworkers every week, which doesn’t bode well for his chances.
3. In contrast, Mr. Robot – despite billing himself as “crazy” and unpredictable in order to bully Romero back onto the team – apparently has more self-control than ever. All of his outbursts and over- the-top actions are carefully orchestrated to intimidate and ensure people are so afraid of him they’ll do as he says to avoid the risk of him lashing out. If his crew is falling apart, he’ll forcefully steer them back on track. It makes for fundamentally dysfunctional relationships, which is exactly what he’s looking for. “Dysfunctional” gets more people under his thumb, ready to get back to work. My favorite part of the scene was when Robot stated that Romero promised to see their project through to the end, and he’s not allowed to take that back. It was a very specific reminder of Robot pushing Elliot off the railing and commenting “You didn’t commit to the sacred pact you’d formed.” We still don’t know what’s motivating fsociety’s leader, but he becomes less and less trustworthy every week.
2. In Angela’s conversations with Terry Colby, we gradually learn that if Tyrell and Robot’s connections are about control, then hers are about the calculated use of empathy. Angela hates having to work with Colby – in her mind, he’s one of the men responsible for her mother’s death, but he’s also the key to getting justice. And, even as he sneers at her and seems to have the upper hand, she knows exactly how to hit him in his weak spots with chilling accuracy. She threatens him with the lost respect of his colleagues and guilt-trips him with the painful ripple effect his decisions have had on her life; her scenes reminded me very much of my post from last week. Angela is shaping up to be one of the strongest schemers on this chessboard. She knows how to use her own painful experiences to needle someone; all of her big moments this episode are essentially her saying “I hope you understand how quietly terrible my life is, how much it’s your fault, and how you definitely don’t want to be like me..” All of Angela’s power lies in her resilience; instead of breaking under pressure, she absorbs upsetting information and carefully decides how to use it going forward. Colby initially treats her like she’s nothing. It doesn’t take him long to realize how wrong he is.
1. Darlene’s scene with Trenton was, interestingly, the healthiest link of the episode. It works very well with who we know these characters to be – Darlene has always been the most straightforward person of the series, and Trenton is charmingly down-to-earth despite the company she keeps. These are two people who truly believe in what they’re doing: not with the ruthless abuses of Mr. Robot or the bitter self- destructiveness of Elliot, but with the healthy righteousness of idealists who are disappointed in the world and believe people deserve better. They’re not perfect, but they are oddly uplifting to watch in the middle of everyone else’s hopes regularly being crushed. Darlene doesn’t win back Trenton’s help through coercion, only sincere expressions of how much it matters that they work together.
If this is show about an anxious misanthrope’s fraught alliances, then it seems “eps1.6_view-source.flv” is a subtle blueprint for what is necessary to make progress. Mr. Robot’s brutality can only end in someone snapping, Tyrell has become too overwhelmed by his own ambition to win, Angela’s talents are too ambiguous to clearly define where she’ll end up, and poor Elliot, of course, is too deeply entrenched in his own grief and fear to healthily relate to anyone. Darlene and Trenton, however, have hit on a dynamic that could let them make it out to the other side, as opposed to going down in flames. Though they may not seem as involved in the central plot as others, I’m eagerly awaiting their next appearance as a duo.