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‘Mr. Robot’ Season 2 premiere review: Bleakly good as ever

The USA Network series

The USA Network series "Mr. Robot" stars Rami Malek, left, and Christian Slater. Photo Credit: USA Network / Peter Kramer

THE SERIES “Mr. Robot”

WHEN | WHERE Season premiere Wednesday at 10:01 p.m. on USA

GRADE A

WHAT IT’S ABOUT The president (that would be Barack Obama) confirms on TV that fsociety — the mysterious hacker group that we know hides out in Coney Island — was behind the cyber attack on E Corp, which brought the entire world to its financial knees. Elliot (Rami Malek) and his alter-ego, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) have gone into seclusion in Brooklyn. His childhood pal Angela (Portia Doubleday) has gone over to the enemy side, working for the Big E. It looks like the famous Whiterose (BD Wong) may have, too. The mysterious, murderous Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) has disappeared. Elliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is trying to lead the revolution from a secret location — a smart house she hacked.

Meanwhile, lots of newcomers join this two-parter and the season including: Craig Robinson, whose character, Ray, tries to befriend Elliot; also Joey Bada$$ — as Leon, Elliot’s bestie who explains the meaning of life via “Seinfeld” episodes; and Grace Gummer joins as Dominique “Dom” DiPierro, an FBI field agent investigating the E Corp hack.

MY SAY Hey, save the world, suffer the consequences.

And suffer Elliot does. Things have fallen apart. The center hasn’t held. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. And that (with apologies to Yeats) is your handy dystopic guide to the second-season opener of the possibly most acclaimed new series of 2015.

This second season opener isn’t so much a “reset” — a glib, overused tech term anyway — as reversal, to an even darker Elliot, and a far more sinister reality (whatever “reality” means, exactly, in this context) than “Mr. Robot” began with 10 episodes ago. There’s no Feel the Bern afterglow here, no sense of accomplishment either. E Corp was hacked but it remains standing. The revolutionaries have scattered. Darlene is effectively the Trotsky of this revolution to Elliot’s Lenin: They’re all in exile at the moment, figuring the next move, or even if there is a next move.

Elliot is mostly just preoccupied with trying to preserve his own sanity. His conscious self is in a pitched battle to eliminate his alter-ego, and to do this, he keeps a daily journal in which he occasionally lapses into Bart Simpson-at-the-blackboard scrawls: “I AM in control . . . I AM in control . . .” Angela, likewise, listens to self-help audios to prop up her own fragile new facade: “I AM confident . . . I AM confident . . .”

No they are NOT . . . No they are NOT . . .

Missing from this opener is technology. It’s a striking omission, remarkable too — almost as if series’ lead and star had gone missing, without explanation. Elliot doesn’t so much as glance at a screen because he’s too busy hanging with Leon, or looking inward trying to separate the “mask” — his word — from his true self, if there is such a thing. His struggle is bitter but also heroic, leaving no time to sort through lines of code.

If all this sounds bleak, that’s absolutely the intent. But it’s far from dispiriting or unengaging. Showrunner and creator Sam Esmail is setting up the second season for a deeper exploration of his themes and preoccupations — the isolating effects of technology, and the dark, dark side of the digital revolution. He’s a Kafka in the director’s chair, who sees alienation where everyone else sees a Facebook “like.” It’s as compelling and timely a vision as there is in a primetime series at the moment, and darkness is the price of admission.

Darkness, in fact, is the requisite.

BOTTOM LINE Terrific two-part opener that pushes Elliot — also you — into the black night of his soul.

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