One giant 90-minute episode into its second season, Mr. Robot feels more confident than ever and much, much less stable. Tensions are high: fsociety is engaged in the important work of castrating a golden bull, Angela's joining the dark side, and Elliot is every bit as suspicious of us as we are of him. We can't watch his control "loop" without hunting for cues as to whether anything is real. There are no familiar interiors. Our characters have scattered. Darlene is crying. Things are fragmented and weird and bleak.

As a sort of consolation prize for this ambient paranoia, the new season is full of terrific cinematic touches that offer some compensatory contiguity and cohesion. One of my favorite sequences begins with Elliot reaching into a filthy popcorn machine right before the title card pops up. The words "Mr. Robot" bridge two of Elliot's most important memory gaps, carrying us from Tyrell Wellick to the aftermath of the concussion that probably caused Elliot's neurological issues. It's possible we've just witnessed Mr. Robot's (desperately understated) origin story. It's such a clever transition.

That sequence moves from the popcorn (there's still a gun in there, right?) to a comfortingly straightforward EKG — the rhythms of the heart, so linear and clean. But then we get to the murkier question of Elliot's mind, and it's no coincidence that the shape of the popcorn kernels (our last memory of Elliot with Tyrell Wellick before he blacks out) resembles the shapes of the brain scans and the camo pattern on Elliot's composition notebook. All these things add up to a smudgy portrait of Elliot's brain.

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)

Popcorn, of course, automatically makes us think of going to the movies. The popcorn at the beginning signals, among other things, that we are in intense dialogue with film this season — and that film history is as good a way to scan for what's happening onscreen as anything else.

In fact, this season of Mr. Robot is playing with movie references like never before.

It's no secret that Mr. Robot's first season is heavily indebted to Fight Club. (Writer and director Sam Esmail cites other influences too, including Taxi Driver, all of Kubrick, and Girls.) That upset some people who found the Mr. Robot turn blatantly derivative. To others, the blatancy of that choice was the most interesting thing about it: Despite borrowing one of the most famous plot twists in recent memory, Mr. Robot seemed confident and at ease, totally and mysteriously immune to the anxiety of influence.

Rewatching Season 1, it's clear that the show's loud borrowings are just another way into its intelligent use of programming metaphors: Borrowing liberally is kind of what hacking is. Elliot gives a whole speech about it in "eps1.6_v1ew-s0urce.flv":

I remember when I was a kid I got into web design by ripping off sites I liked. All you had to do was view source on your browser and there it was, the code. You could copy paste it, modify it a little, put your name on it, and like that it was your site. View source.

So what is Mr. Robot's second season View Sourcing?

My sense is that it's shifting from American Psycho (another film Esmail cites as an influence) to ... Psycho.

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(Screenshot/Movieclips.com/Psycho)

Here's Norman Bates coming into the Bates Motel:

(Screenshot/Movieclips.com/Psycho)

And here's Elliot coming into his "mother's" house:

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Here's Norman Bates with the painting that conceals the peephole through which he'll watch Marion:

(Screenshot/Movieclips.com/Psycho)

And here's Elliot, our spiritual Peeping Tom, who's feeling badly about how he treated Krista in "eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt". "She's just like everyone else — too afraid to peek over the walls to see what she might see," he says, as the camera zooms in on the lone figure on the left. "Not me. I look."

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These are gentle echoes, to be sure. Still, the introduction of Elliot's mother suggests there might be some thematic changes going forward. If last season was indebted to Fight Club, it introduced a filial dimension to the problem of provoking worldwide anarchy. As Hamlet knows, there's nothing like a dead dad to torment a son out of spiritual paralysis into agency. Elliot likes borrowing scripts. That's the script. This season is all about shutting that agency down, and there's a script for that too: Unstable son conjures up repressive mothers. Psycho. When his therapist, Krista, asks "why her?" "She's the strictest person I know," Elliot tells her. Mothers are not particularly safe people in this episode (I'm nervous every time Joanna is onscreen).

Even the unusual overhead shots that set mark Elliot's loops can be interpreted as nods to Psycho:

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Remember when Detective Argobast dies in Psycho? Yup, overhead shot (Cody Hamman has an interesting reading of that scene):

(Screenshot/Movieclips.com/Psycho)

And Mrs. Alderson, whether she's real or imagined, seems to share a hairstyle and a predilection for sitting and staring with Mrs. Bates.

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)

Did you notice that every time Elliot pops in to see what she's watching, the caption onscreen is the same? Poor President Obama is always addressing a concerned nation, LIVE. That insistence on LIVE worries me. Here's what Mrs. Alderson is watching in the morning:

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In the afternoon:

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Later that day:

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This might just be a joke lampooning our redundant 24-hour news cycle, but it seems a touch too exact to be just parody. Either Elliot's loop is somehow affecting the TV broadcasts, or something screwy's going on with Mrs. Alderson.

Finally, there's a temperamental affinity between Psycho's Norman and Mr. Robot's Elliot that could easily grow stronger. Elliot's much smarter, but if someone made one of those "Who Said It?" quizzes, it would be hard to tell them apart:

No one really runs away from anything. It's like a private trap that holds us in like a prison. You know what I think? I think that we're all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and we claw, but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.

That's Norman, but Elliot could have easily said this, right?

Regardless of where all this is headed, Elliot's struggle for control is incredibly moving. So is the addition of the journals, which offer a new point of entry into his mental state, and his failure to keep them private from us. His journal entry after his confrontation with Christian Slater is wrenching, and so is the brutal context in which we first see Rami Malek smile.

It worries me, finally, that Leon's outfit mimics the same camo design we saw on Elliot's notebook, brain scans, and in the popcorn. It doesn't bode well for his existence. But maybe (in Leon's words) "that's the show's point. That shit is just pointless, you know? Life, love, and the meanings therein. I tell you, the human condition is a straight-up tragedy, cuz."

(Screenshot/USA/Mr. Robot)