If 'Believing It's Real Makes It So,' Why Won't Mr. Robot Do Either?
The show is perfectly capable of suspenseful plotting -- and one poorly cut scene isn't going to get Esmail & Co. out of trying it.
You know what the real problem is with the conversation between Angela and Agent Crap E. Pickuplines? Because it's not the lack of credibility. The lack of credibility does exist; I just don't believe that silences that long and staring that so obviously communicates "busted" would escape the notice of a dim grade-schooler, never mind trained law-enforcement personnel. I don't buy that it would take Angela that long to parry his attentions, or come up with some bitchy crack about taking a dump, or that the guy would just stand there and wait for her to pull it together...or for that matter that a guy who probably had to take a class on stalking behaviors at Quantico would roll out that carpet of creeper lines, at least not sober. So, yes, that scene is a problem.
But the problem with it isn't that it's a poorly constructed and edited suspense scene. It's that the show has just demonstrated that it's capable of that very same construction and assembly as part of the same plot! My notes for Darlene's bewigged hotel-room con read, "Darlene's 11 over here :)"; I bought it, and I loved it. Later, as Angela's setting the equipment, Darlene tells her to remember to wipe everything down, and Angela leaves the frame and lets you think for a few seconds that she's not going to bother with that, before she ducks back in with an anti-static cloth and carefully cleans off her fingerprints. It's not legendary storytelling, but as a super-fan of The Sting and the Ocean'ses and Sneakers, it worked for me.
So why not cut the other scene tighter? Why not give Angela the agency there? If she's going to get almost kind-of busted but then get out of the sitch, why not do it faster -- or, for that matter, not bother with it? Why is Sam Esmail so reluctant to confront that sort of plotting when it's demonstrably possible for him to do?
The larger problem, I probably need not note, is that reluctance. In fact, forget "reluctance" -- "aversion." The show practically stripped its own gears throwing itself into event overdrive in the back half of last week's episode, then declines to deal in any meaningful way with any of that for 17 full minutes, which it instead devotes to a visually and aurally clever but ultimately useless sitcom parody. I appreciated the commitment, right down to the change in music cues when it came time for the Very Important Lesson moment, but my God, man, we already learned this lesson! Several times! And what do we finally get when it ends? Craig Robinson, dutifully droning on about his sick dog in the basement. It's another eon before Dom finally appears so that she and the section chief can tell us what the attack meant instead of showing us.
We end on a lengthy flashback that illuminates the origin of the Mr. Robot name, a flashback containing no pertinent information we couldn't already have concluded and lasting three times as long as it needs to even for what it "does." Whiterose and the Wellicks remain entirely offstage for the episode. It's almost trolling at this point, the extent of the stalling, and coincidentally, Angela's deer-in-the-headlights response to Agent Creepeaux and the larger "she's not ready"/"we have no choice" conversation going on around her involvement reflect what seems like Esmail's compulsive avoidance of verifiable happenings in meatspace. But Angela can manage, and evidently so can Esmail...except when he can't. Is he sabotaging himself with that scene? Did he and the editors just freeze up, choke?
Because, as ever, the frustration of Mr. Robot isn't that not much happens. It's that so much could.