‘Kernel Panic’ is proof of why Mr. Robot works so well: its ambitious social criticism is rooted in how fragile and insecure human beings can be. The season’s theme of the illusion of control keeps on being relevant as Ray tells Elliot that life is not about fighting until you make it, but just about fighting.
Mr. Robot has been praised for its realism in many topics, from the accuracy of its hacking to the brilliant portrayal of mental illness. The show has become so relevant to our current times that there’s even been some debate on the potential effects its storyline could have in our world. I will admit I was quite wary of the way Sam Esmail would handle this revolution and I was even expecting Season 2 to almost be the TV version of V for Vendetta. So far, it doesn’t seem like it. Just as the premiere showed, starting a global revolution like this one is not only hard, but it also has dreadful, unforeseeable consequences. In the season 1 finale, a man shot himself on camera, last week, Giddeon was shot in a bar, and in ‘Kernel Panic’, skeptic fsociety member Romero has been killed.
Fsociety does not only struggle to coordinate without its leader, but it’s also now being persecuted by the FBI, which also introduces us to Agent Dominique. Even though we already saw something from her in the premiere, ‘Kernel Panic’ doesn’t shy away from showing her at her most vulnerable. Mr. Robot has always been great at showing a character’s raw vulnerabilities: Dominique struggles with loneliness and social anxiety, and Angela parallels last season’s Tyrell when she reassures herself in front of a mirror before going to work for Ecorp. This is how Mr. Robot has us hooked: by not being afraid to give us characters that are flawed, real and therefore relatable.
What can we say about Elliot at this point? No matter how used we are to his dissociate disorder by now, it never stops being painful and working wonderfully. Elliot’s sad attempt at regaining control from Mr. Robot with the use of Adderall was both reminiscent to last season’s “living a normal life” sequence from ‘Debug’ and the morphine withdrawal from ‘Daemons’. In fact, I’d say ‘Kernel Panic”s montage was even better. Even if Mr. Robot is gone during these manic episodes, it becomes clear that Elliot has even less control of his life, leading to an “internal fatal error”. However, it’s also interesting to note that we actually got to see some glimpses of what Elliot could be like when he’s not censoring himself (akka, being Mr. Robot). After his anti-religion speech during the church group therapy he realizes he has actually said all that out loud, which contrasts with the first episode of the series when he censored himself when giving his “fuck society” speech to Krista.
New character Ray could have a more important role than what was previously assumed from the first episode. We learn that Ray lost his wife, which made him realize that life is not about falling and standing back up, but about constantly stumbling and gasping for air. It’s tough, but it’s probably the reality check Elliot needed from what I can only hope will be his new friend. Even if the season has started a bit slow with some uneven pacing, the narrative is starting to find its footing in ‘Kernel Panic’, an episode that starts showing glimpses of what made Mr. Robot so great and unpredictable.