The Tale End Of Mr. Robot
Ranking the stories within stories as we approach the finale.
Mr. Robot doesn't intend the stories various players tell each other across Episode 10 as the episode's main focus. If anything, the viewer's meant to tune them out to a degree, as Elliot does when Sutherland starts sharing about his knuckle-shuffling former client -- to do the aural equivalent of staring straight ahead and hoping objects on the periphery reveal themselves.
The backstories and exposition also provide a respite of sorts from the humming tension of the hour's central thriller plotting, which is not unpleasant -- quite the opposite; it's process-y, but also elliptical in the best ways, as when Sutherland clenches that Tyrell "wouldn't be calling from that house" but doesn't tell us anything else. But I can't think of a scene that isn't shot to suggest it's being observed: the focus on the (literal) plant in the hospital waiting room, the remove the camera places Elliot and Angela at from us on the train,
the God's-eye shot of Elliot's apartment as he wonders in VO what Mr. Robot needed there (another explicit reference IMO to The Conversation), Terry Colby's stilted questions of Price that read to me as though he'd been wired up and sent in to get Price to commit treason out loud. Despite the usual tweaked framing of shots to make the characters seem small, insignificant,
the figurative walls continue to close in at a brisk pace, with Dom and the Dark Army arriving upon Cisco and Darlene at the same time, Tyrell's fate about to become clear (...maybe? it's Mr. Robot, after all), and Angela finally admitting that her play failed, as -- she says, and I don't entirely disagree -- all plays are destined to in this post-5/9 world.
But what about these other conversations, the stories within the story? What do they mean to do, and how well do they do it? From most to least effective:
"the standard of which was set by God"
We may yet find out that Colby had a wire on for that opening conversation with Price, and my primary reason for thinking so is the way Price answers Colby's need to know why he wants the Congo handed over to the Chinese: I think Price thinks Colby's wired. The way he handles Colby's book is simultaneously the awkwardness of a "big" person no longer accustomed to "small" interpersonal moments; and a patting-down of the item for a bug.
Too, Price's description of his own motivations rings a bit false -- not that this isn't in fact his raison d'evil, asking if he's the most powerful person in the room and making sure between rooms that he can say "yes," but that men for whom abstract power is the goal don't tend to think or speak about it in this way. Michael Cristofer plays Price perfectly and the production dresses him and his set perfectly, but if that speech to Colby isn't a deliberate misdirect to whichever law-enforcement agency might be listening, it doesn't quite work.
Princess Darlene in peril
I like the presentation of the story a lot -- Darlene, not tall enough to ride the Cyclone, gets lost in the crowd at Coney Island, then kidnapped by an old lady with smeary lipstick and brought back to a fairy-tale bedroom where she's the only child, the favorite; when she wakes up the next morning, it isn't just a dream, but soon enough the cops come and return her to her life in Elliot's shadow -- but I don't know about the story itself. That it's intercut with Elliot hacking a Pringles can into an antenna (and dumping the Pringles themselves in the trash; sacrilege!) while Darlene herself sits in a waiting room, I like; I like Carly Chaikin's delivery, because she puts some little verbal eye-rolls at herself into it; it has truth in it about siblings, and the story/-ies they form within the larger story of a family of origin.
But by letting the old woman get Darlene all the way home, and keep her overnight, it goes a little too far. Here again is information we already have -- that she's always dwelt in Elliot's shadow, and is conflicted about that fact -- and though the story is a subtle mirror of Joanna's (but Darlene is without power or influence, and gets no "gift," literal or metaphorical; disillusionment, vs. Joanna's mad hope), it's odd that we'd never have heard it before. Just the bit about getting lost in the crowd and loving it did the work here; Sam Esmail could have taken off from that idea in a more credible direction.
"to fuck that woman and bring me her earrings"
Joanna Wellick has grown on me this season, and especially Stephanie Corneliussen's performance; her rendition of this off-puttingly cracked woman "behind" the man is committed (as it were). But we've already got any information her spin down memory lane might have given us -- she's bonkers; she's in denial; she has no boundaries and she ran Tyrell -- so a twisted story about sending Tyrell to fuck a redhead for her fugazi accessories adds nothing. Yeah, Elliot hasn't necessarily plumbed the depths of her weirdness thanks to his incarceration, but all he really needs to know in the situation is that maybe he doesn't know for sure what became of Tyrell.