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Television

Mr. Robot Blends Styles into a Tense Episode

After a strong premiere last week, the Aldersons were left regretting the hack whose execution and aftermath have dominated the show. Each of the characters have taken positions to further their agendas. Will Mr. Robot continue the fast pace of last week’s episode, or slow down to something more resembling season 2?

Good news, because it managed to capture the feel of both to resounding success.

Spoilers for 3×02 “eps3.1undo.gz” below

mr. robot emoji

Recap

After begging Angela for a job at E Corp last week, Elliot begins his job to start this episode. He monologues over repetitive shots of him taking medication, going to work, going corporate, and trying to prevent the Dark Army’s stage 2 plan. He comes up with a plan and brings it to numerous managers above him. Two blow him off, so he hacks them and tips off the FBI on their crimes to get them arrested.

He does finally bring his plan to a manager who listens and puts it in action. However, he keeps bringing down corrupt E Corp officials in the meantime.

Elliot’s attempts to convince himself fail, and he begins falling prey to the same loneliness that we saw in season 1, before he was aware of Mr. Robot. He goes to a therapy session with Krista and is reminded it’s his birthday. He talks a bit about Darlene and Mr. Robot, and also about missing being part of something important. He loses himself in a childhood memory of building a snowman with Darlene the day his father pushed him out a window.

Next, Joanna Wellick makes her season debut on a talk show, where we find out she and her DJ boyfriend managed to get Scott Knowles charged with his wife’s murder. She also publicly reaffirms her fidelity to Tyrell. While driving her home afterwards, her bodyguard notices a car following them.

On the radio, a news bulletin talks about a new fsociety video, which the episode transitions to. Dom makes her first appearance showing the video to Darlene, who declares it fake or the product of Dark Army. She refuses to believe Elliot made it or that he worked with Tyrell. It’s confirmed she works for them and also that the FBI doesn’t know Elliot’s role in the 5/9 hack. To convince her Elliot worked with Tyrell, Dom plays a recording of Elliot talking to Tyrell while he was in jail.

Back in Joanna’s car, her bodyguard pulls over to confront the person following them. Turns out it’s her former DJ boyfriend. He’s obviously furious about being used and threatens to tell the cops the truth. Her bodyguard hits and threatens the DJ. Before they leave, though, the DJ pulls a gun and shoots them both, killing Joanna before the bodyguard kills him.

Her body ends up with the FBI, who found it first and wants to hide her death. Dom says she still believes Darlene about the Dark Army and trusts her to help.

Speaking of, Darlene meets with Elliot to wish him a happy birthday and tell him she’s leaving. Elliot tells her he thinks she triggers Mr. Robot. Darlene admits to only helping with the E Corp hack to spend time with Elliot. He asks her to stay the night with him so he won’t be alone. Mr. Robot emerges and physically questions Darlene after catching her doing something with his computer, but she manages to push him away and leave.

At some international gathering, Price gives an address slamming China for being the only holdout preventing E Coin from becoming the dominant monetary currency and stopping global economic recovery in the process. Whiterose confronts him privately and Price threatens to ruin the Dark Army’s plans if China doesn’t cooperate. Whiterose tells him about Angela as a counter-threat.

mr. robot whiterose

Elliot has another therapy session, where she helps him bring Mr. Robot out for her to talk to. Robot avoids her questions and makes threats. He also talks about missing when he and Elliot were “whole” and blames Krista. He also talks about Darlene compromising them. When Elliot returns, he remembers none of it.

He returns home to try and find out who compromised them, not realizing Robot meant Darlene. Krista’s boyfriend, the one Elliot went to jail for hacking, waits outside his apartment with his dog. He gives it to Elliot because he hates it. When Elliot runs a program to find rootkits on his computer, we see that Darlene’s placed monitoring equipment on Elliot’s computer.

We catch up one last time on Whiterose, who says the Dark Army will execute stage 2 to ruin E Corp whether Price comes through on his plans or not. And finally, Dom shows up at the FBI safehouse used to monitor Elliot. Her partner tells her about an email Elliot sent. Turns out the partner opened a link within, which showed Elliot the location of who is spying on him. Elliot shows up at the safehouse, which is Darlene’s apartment, as the episode ends.

Review

Talk about a throwback episode. I know that’s a bit strange to say about a show just starting its second season but this episode was a deliberate callback to the style of Mr. Robot’s first season. At the same time it carried over many of the strengths of the second season to create an excellent episode blending the best of the show.

If this is a sign of season 3’s coming quality, Sam Esmail has one hell of a season of television to give us.

So much of this episode was a downright copy of season 1 of Mr. Robot. Specifically, it clearly took great inspiration from the first hour introducing us to Elliot Alderson. He feels the same loneliness. The shot of him crying over his loneliness was clearly meant to copy a similar shot from the first episode. Elliot is stuck in the same unsatisfying monotony which originally led to the emergence of his other personality. He’s working for E Corp again, albeit this time directly rather than as a client through Allsafe. He even has his dog back.

It’s yet another regression by a young man trying desperately to deal with his psychological issues, only made worse by the constant reminder of the damage he has done. Elliot wants so desperately to make things right. This episode followed up on last week’s examination of the damage done. Elliot tries so hard to convince himself his work at E Corp works, that it changes things, but reality smacks him across the face the second he steps outside.

mr. robot dj

Now he’s right back to where he was the first time we see him; taking pills, isolated, grinding through a job he hates and again feeling like he doesn’t matter. The emoji head sequence was likely the beginning of the same spite towards social media culture he rants about in the show’s first episode. We are likely seeing how Mr. Robot ended up emerging to begin with. While we arguably saw the first emergence last year in the flashback to Elliot and Darlene watching their horror flick, and we know why he planned the hack, we never saw the circumstances driving Elliot to it.

Now we are, and I wonder what this new unsatisfying loneliness will lead Elliot to do. Mr. Robot emerged for a reason, and we’re seeing it in action now. For all the conflict between Elliot and Robot, they have always needed each other. They’re the same person, after all. One can’t survive without the other. Elliot feels completely alone and unimportant, lost to society. Mr. Robot made him feel relevant. With Elliot back to a routine, miserable life, the Mr. Robot side of his personality suffers and creates sorrow.

The scene of Robot in the therapist’s office made clear how both struggle in separate ways.

As reminiscent as this episode was of Mr. Robot’s premiere, though, it also struck many of the same chords played by the Adderall episode in season 2. Much like that episode, this one used a repetitive routine to great effect as Elliot tried to convince us and himself he was living the right way. Like that montage, this one started out happy and gradually fell apart as Elliot came to terms with his unhappiness.

Many Mr. Robot fans hoped the show would find a blend between the styles of the first two seasons. Through two episodes it has done so in spectacular fashion. The brisk, engaging plot has returned without sacrificing the deeper character examination of the second season.

This episode in particular felt like a huge leap forward in quality for the show. I’m trying not to overreact, but this felt as good as Mr. Robot has ever been. Maybe better. Every positive about the show shined through, without almost any flaws. The therapist scene was one of the best in the show’s history. Darlene featured heavily again as she struggles between saving her own ass and her loyalty to Elliot. The FBI continues to try and bust fsociety, all the while unaware of the larger Dark Army plot. The intrigue between Price and Whiterose returned and even escalated. Plot, character, and impeccable style.

This week Mr. Robot had it all. I hope Esmail and company keep it up. Honestly, it almost seems unfair to hope the rest of the season will be as good as this episode was.

mr. robot robot and krista

Assorted Thoughts

  • Biggest complaint has to be Joanna’s death. It just feels so abrupt and unsatisfying. She has been set up to be so important, with so many plots in work, and now all of them end suddenly. Was her importance really just to get the murder charges dropped on Tyrell? I’d hate to see her fridged this way. Unfortunately, that looks like where we’re heading.
  • Between Joanna’s death, her autopsy, and Mr. Robot’s frightening appearances, Mr. Robot had quite the mix of visceral and psychological horror this week. The nature of the show allows it to flip the fright switch from time to time, and usually to great effect. This week was certainly a strong demonstration of the show’s skill with scares.
  • Rami Malek does a fantastic job mixing Christian Slater’s mannerisms with his own when we see him as Mr. Robot. Dude’s a terrific actor.
  • While not quite a complaint, I hope the supporting characters receive more focus in coming episodes. These first two episodes have been understandably Elliot-heavy, but one of the best things season 2 did was flesh out everyone around him and make me care about them. Darlene has received attention, but I want to see more of Angela, Dom, and hopefully Trenton and Mobley.
  • Who, speaking of, I might need to accept the deaths of if they don’t appear soon. They were told Dark Army would kill them if they ran, and we last saw them with Leon. I would be very disappointed if he killed them off-screen.

Images Courtesy of USA Network

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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