The first Season of USA Network’s hacker drama Mr. Robot earned the show a strong following and widespread acclaim. I have written several times about how I believe the show to best series on television. However, three weeks and four episodes into the show’s second season, critics and audiences alike are starting to question and doubt whether Sam Esmail and team are able to duplicate the magic of the show’s stellar first season.
Prominent television critic, Alan Sepinwall, pleaded with the show to cut down on episode times, while outlets like Esquire and Vox are asking if the season will actually go somewhere and questioning if the show’s stylistic elements outweigh the content enough to save itself from it’s slow, plodding pace.
In addition to these critiques, viewers have been below benchmarks and gradually dwindling. This is especially poignant when considering that at this point last season, the show averaged 1.7 million viewers compared to just .83 million this season (per TV by the Numbers).
But I’m here to tell you to stop freaking about Mr. Robot’s second season for a few reasons.
Listen, I understand the concern that after nearly four hours of screen time, it seems as if very little has actually progressed. But last season, Elliot, Darlene, Angela, and Tyrell were all very connected, by employment or proximity. In the fall out from the “5/9 hack” (the apex of the first season), however, Mr. Robot’s plotline has splintered, resulting in the four main protagonists operating on different playing fields – and this is without taking into account the additional players added like Grace Gummer’s Dom or Craig Robinson’s Ray. This separation certainly will change as the show progresses, while I do have my doubts as to whether this will be sooner rather than later. Yet, after last Wednesday’s episode, “eps2.2_init_1.asec” (technically the fourth of the season since the premier was counted as two episodes), it appears Elliot is leaving behind his life of solitude and rejoin F Society, meaning he and Darlene will be spending more time together. This will allow the viewer to learn about the fallout from the hack, and what Elliot has been blocking from himself through Mr. Robot, tying up some of this season’s loose ends.
I also get people raising issue with the long episodes with seemingly very little payoff for the added time. Scintillating camera work, beautiful and robust scenes, and virtuoso acting can only keep viewers interested for so long, and Esmail may have crossed the line as to how long that actually may be. But here’s the thing, he seems to understand that criticism too. Before last Wednesday’s episode, Mr. Robot’s auteur tweeted the following:
There’s nothing like some good self-deprecating humor to let your critics know you hear them loud and clear.
The number one reason everybody needs to stop freaking out about Mr. Robot’s second season – other than the basic fact that Esmail and co. earned our patience after coming out of nowhere in 2015 and earning six Emmy Nominations – is that he knows exactly where he’s going with this story. Before USA Network ordered the show to pilot and subsequently began re-branding their entire network behind last year’s surprise hit, Mr. Robot was made to be a stand-alone feature film. However, Esmail’s script grew to be too large and so the decision was made to turn Mr. Robot into a television series.
The reason that the show’s origin is important is because Esmail knows the arc of the story. Following the first season’s finale, he told Variety,
“I initially thought of this as a feature, so I knew how it was all going to unfold. I don’t know every detail, I don’t pretend to, but I certainly know the big plot points ahead, and also know the series ending, if we’re lucky enough to get that far. I’m definitely thinking it’s either four or five seasons.”
If this were not the case, I would be much more inclined to worry about where this show is going. But since Esmail knows his destination, I have faith that the eventual payoff will far outweigh the plodding pace of the early going this season. And if you are asking if the surprise success of season one has led to Esmail trying to slow down the money train, he has explicitly said that he has no desire to do this. He told former Grantlander Andy Greenwald:
“I am in a rush to get to the ending. I know what the ending is. It is still the ending from the feature that I had in mind because I think it’s cool and I think it works and I think it’s going to complete Elliot’s journey and we’re building towards that and I never want to drag that out.”
After all, the qualities that make Mr. Robot so special are still present. It was never sustainable for the show to continue the pedal-to-the-medal pacing it exhibited in the first season. Either way, Esmail warned viewers to expect a deeper focus on Elliot’s mental health going forward:
“I want people to want to know who is Eliot is. His backstory, his past, his family, his mom, his relationship with Darlene before this break happened… Wanting to know more about Elliot is the big question people should have going into next season… The show is about Elliot coming to terms with this disorder and the realization of that… For me, it is this inner conflict that Elliot is going to have with Mr. Robot, with his alter ego that’s going to be the heart of the story in the next seasons.”
Quote from The Andy Greenwald Podcast, September 3, 2015
So, rather than worrying about Mr. Robot‘s slow pace and where the second season is going, we should all be more concerned that before we know it, there won’t be any of it left to enjoy. My advice to you is to sit back and enjoy every second of this masterpiece before it’s too late.
Oh, and from Sam Esmail’s fiance – it looks like the action will be picking up this Wednesday, 8/4, anyway. I’ll see you there, friend.