What Happens to Mr. Robot Without Mr. Robot?

The USA show does surprisingly well—thanks to a terrific supporting cast and a break from questions about reality and sanity.


This post contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Mr. Robot.

If someone had told me early last season that Mr. Robot could survive a single episode without Rami Malek as the brilliant, unraveling hacker Elliot Alderson, I would have rattled off several reasons why I thought that person was wrong. But Rami is the show’s anchor! He’s a perfect Elliot! He lends a crucial humanity to the show’s crushing neuroses and cynicism! But over the rest of the season, Mr. Robot wisely deepened the other characters lodged in Elliot’s orbit (especially Angela). Even the most diehard Malek fans would have to admit that Wednesday’s episode, “eps2.6_succ3ss0r.p12,” made the powerful case that Mr. Robot can be genuinely fascinating, moving, and tense without its titular dual personality.

Coming just after last week’s revelation that Elliot has been (as many had suspected) not at his mother’s house but in prison all season, the latest episode offered a much-needed return to some of the more straightforward cyber-thriller qualities that so perfectly complemented the show’s headier themes in season one. (Finally, a break from wondering what is or isn’t “real.”) The episode also finally unleashed the rest of the Mr. Robot cast, which has been less prominent this season as Elliot’s mental crisis overshadowed fsociety’s troubles in the wake of the disastrous E Corp hack (a.k.a. 5/9). The result was a fairly tight narrative that saw fsociety leak an FBI conference call confirming an illegal surveillance operation; Mobley and Trenton’s paranoia mounting; Dom’s investigation flailing; and Angela’s disillusionment growing. Oh yeah, and Darlene killing Susan Jacobs, the “Madame Executioner” E Corp general counsel, who comes home unexpectedly to find the hacker group squatting there. And possibly Cisco, her Dark Army-affiliated boyfriend.

This was as close to a Darlene episode as the show has come so far. This season has framed her as the episode’s eponymous “successor” to her brother, but it’s unclear so far how different or effective her reign has been. Her panic attacks—only referenced but never shown on screen—seem like a more minor barrier to consistent leadership than Elliot’s dissociative personality disorder. But Darlene also has the undesirable task of dealing with the aftermath of a hack Elliot orchestrated, without Elliot’s help, while being targeted by dangerous forces.

A pressure-cooker situation was almost inevitable, and Mr. Robot deployed Darlene’s bottled-up rage quickly and powerfully: Midway through the episode, Darlene told a bleeding Susan that, as a four-year-old, she watched the lawyer laugh on TV after E Corp was found not responsible for the deaths of employees, including her father. Miscalculating the conversation as a kind of parley, Susan asked what Darlene wants to do next. So Darlene pressed a stun gun to the woman’s chest and watched silently as Susan fell unconscious into the indoor swimming pool.

Darlene’s own internal darkness was alluded to in the sitcom sequence (where she suffered abuse from her mother), but Elliot’s trauma regularly supersedes his sister’s. No surprise then, that Mr. Robot took Elliot’s absence as an opportunity to give consequence to Darlene’s pain and to reinvigorate the show’s ever-compelling question of morality. Elliot is often shielded from the immediate repercussions of his actions—Mr. Robot stepped in to protect him during the vicious beating, he lost time after allegedly killing Tyrell, he’s in jail for some minor offense while the rest of fsociety tries not to drown. Darlene isn’t so lucky. After she killed Susan, she didn’t just conveniently “lose time.” She had to dispose of the body in what turned out to be a horrifyingly intimate process, at the exact animal shelter that had been the scene of an exciting liberation in season one, no less. Of course, all the dogs fsociety freed are back in their cages again. (Metaphor!)

Everyone on this show is trapped in their own cage. Elliot is in a literal one, but also in one of the mind. Darlene is in many ways trapped by her past and her destructive, but understandable convictions about justice. Mobley and Trenton, too, appear to have no way out of their current predicaments, with the FBI and Dark Army both closing in. Dom is stuck chasing down dead-end leads as part of an embattled bureau. And Angela is ensconced in a strange prison of her own making: Season two has seen the complicated pathology planted by Terry Colby taking further root, as Angela goes about her life, skittering between guilt, self-loathing, and zen-like denial.

So what better place for all those complicated feelings to collide than at a New York karaoke bar on the Fourth of July? And what better song to capture that dissonance than … Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”? “All for freedom and for pleasure / Nothing ever lasts forever,” Angela sang, in a gorgeously sad scene that jumped between a closeup of her on stage and fsociety hacking Susan’s accounts. Elliot has been broken for a long time, but “Successor” was the first Mr. Robot episode that truly showed everyone else around him is, too.