At the end of Mr. Robot's first season, main character and transcendent hacker Elliot, with the help of his former nemesis Tyrell Wellick, threw the world into all-out chaos by erasing all existing records of debt. All of them—all of the crippling debt corporate America had saddled the general public with, in the form of student loans, mortgage payments, and every other possible lien you can think of, was entirely wiped away.
The first season finale of Mr. Robot found itself in a world mid-revolution. The 99% stormed the streets, the 1% was blowing their brains out on live television, and the total redistribution of wealth—and therefore, the total dissolution of classes—appeared to be underway.
But in season two, which premieres tonight, and which kicks off one month after fsociety's earth-shattering hack, nothing seems to have changed. "Why does it feel like they're still winning?" Darlene asks in the first half of tonight's two-part premiere. "That what we did made it worse, not better? You know I'm right."
And she is. Sure, E Corp is in a tailspin and their standing as the most powerful entity in the world—a presupposition built on credit—has taken a hit, but the company's outward appearance masks the bleak reality that the men who run E Corp are still very much in control. They're still in $5,000 suits, having backroom board meetings and sneezing at $5.9 million like it's a Snickers bar. They're still pushing around the U.S. government. As a conniving character once said on another hit TV show, "Chaos is a ladder," and these men have always been on much higher rungs than the rest of us. fsociety thought they started a revolution, but they really just made the gulf between the 1% and everyone else that much wider.
The moment that Mr. Robot season two starts at feels very similar to the end of The Big Short. In that movie, as the housing market collapses, as people lose their life savings, Mark Baum's partner tells him, "They're fucking crooks. But at least we're going to see some of them go to jail...the party's over." Seconds later, Ryan Gosling says in a voiceover: "Banks took the money the American people gave them and they used it to pay themselves huge bonuses and lobbied to Congress to kill big reform. And then they blamed immigrants and poor people. And this time even teachers. And when it was all said and done, only one banker went to jail."
The Big Short is explicitly based on a true story—Mr. Robot is implicitly not, but that doesn't mean its story doesn't depict the real world we (struggle to) live in. The bleakness of Mr. Robot's second season comes partially from Elliot's realization that he's losing more and more control over his psyche, but mostly from the message that the bad guys are winning, and that they will always be winning. Change doesn't come that easy, if it comes at all.
This is a show about a hacker with a personality disorder, yes, but it's also about how modern society's majority is currently powerless in the face of a hungry, amoral minority. So many of us, in 2016 especially, are demanding change—economic relief, the retraining of police officers, a systemic correction that finally and properly recognizes that Black Lives Matter—but a smaller, much stronger faction is resisting that call. Because for them, the world is fine as it is. The idea of a magic hacker leveling the economic playing field is a fantasy I'm sure many of us have had. Sadly, it's also nothing more than a fantasy in Mr. Robot. At least so far.
In the season finale of Mr. Robot last year, in the wake of Elliot's hack, Angela asks the CEO of E Corp a simple question: "Why do you seem so confident?" He answers, with supreme confidence, "People did this. Aliens didn't invade our planet, Zeus didn't come out of the heavens and destroy us, and zombies haven't risen from the dead. No, whoever's behind this, they're just people, like you and me. Except, of course, I have the full weight of the biggest conglomerate in the world behind me. You'll come to realize that when you have that, matters like this, they tend to crack under that weight."
fsociety is cracking in season two. And in the real world, it's hard to argue with Mr. Robot that we've been suffocating under "that weight" for a very, very long time.