This newest episode of Mr. Robot was hyped last week as a commercial-free, groundbreaking episode. It’s also the halfway point of what has been a damn good season. Lots of people predicted the “groundbreaking” aspect of the episode meant an episode filmed in a single shot, and turns out they were right. Other shows and movies have made strong use of the technique, but how would an entire hour (well, 45 minutes) turn out?
Predictably awesome. One thing Mr. Robot always does well is wow with visual creativity.
Spoilers for 3×05 “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00” below
The episode begins with Elliot in an elevator at E Corp. Darlene calls, worried because she hasn’t been able to reach him all weekend. Turns out it is Monday! The day Stage 2 is supposed to happen. Elliot can’t remember anything since before Mr. Robot’s last emergence. His cubicle neighbor says the protests outside the building are especially restless.
Elliot can’t log on to his work computer and he uses his neighbor’s to check activity on his account. He finds out the Dark Army tried to begin Stage 2 and Elliot’s work stopped them. HR arrives with security to fire Elliot after Angela’s call in the previous episode. He needs to avoid them until he can get on another computer and find out the Dark Army’s next step.
While hurrying off, he finds out from his boss that a proposal to digitize all E Corp’s paper records was approved. He also gets another call from Darlene, who is downstairs and tells him to meet her downstairs. Elliot flees to another floor where he poses as IT to kick someone off his computer and parses out the Dark Army’s activity. He then crashes a meeting to hide from security, but is seen while entering another elevator.
Elliot descends to the lobby where security awaits him and escorts him outside. He makes a call to the records building to tell them about the plan to destroy it. Darlene approaches and tells him about working for the FBI. Understandably, he freaks out. She tells him about following Robot to his meeting with Angela, and Elliot remembers waking up briefly and seeing her with Tyrell.
Now aware of Angela’s double cross, he knows he has to stop her.
Soon after, the protests outside the E Corp building explode when someone cracks a guard in the head with a bottle. Protesters rush the building and begin destroying things indiscriminately. The camera follows a group of protesters up to the floor where Angela hides in her office. She gets a call from Irving telling her to retrieve a package at reception. Inside are hardware and instructions for a hack Elliot is supposed to carry out. The riot is a distraction for him.
Angela, knowing she can’t trust Elliot, sneaks to the designated server room and attempts to carry the hack out herself. Security sees the package and wants to question her, but a protester attacks him. She reaches the room and begins the hack, but another employee catches her again. She’s really bad at this. Another protester breaks into the room, creating a distraction for Angela to finish the hack.
Or at least she hopes so.
Afterwards, she disguises herself with an fsociety mask dropped during the rioting and sneaks past other rioters to an elevator. She calls Irving to report success. He’s confused about why she hacked the server rather than Elliot. He also questions whether she actually pulled it off. When Angela tells him about the woman who saw her, Irving promises to “take care of it”. He also says the building they will blow up has been evacuated.
She hands the package over to a courier, who turns out to be the same hazmat-wearing, sandwich-eating guy from Tyrell’s warehouse. I love this guy. He hands her his takeout bag. What’s inside? We don’t know, but whatever it is shakes Angela deeply.
Elliot waits for her outside her office, asking if she has anything to tell him. And fade to black.
Damn it. I need more.
Okay, let’s be honest; this was not all one shot. Too many obvious transition moments happened and as deftly as they tried with them, it was clear they broke the single shot. Does it really matter? Hell no. In an already outstanding season of Mr. Robot, this was almost certainly the best one yet and one of the plain coolest episodes of anything I’ve ever watched.
Maybe I’ve been repetitive with bringing this up, but arguably Mr. Robot’s biggest strength is its ability to create tension. Time and time again the show thrives in episodes like this, built upon the rise to a specific moment. For as many great shows as there have been since Breaking Bad ended, Mr. Robot is its successor in this regard. Nothing since Breaking Bad leaves me on the edge of my seat with wide eyes and clenched fists like Mr. Robot does.
The single shot took this skill to an even higher level. The effect was two-fold. I was constantly enraptured not only by the events happening on screen, but the awe of how the episode transitioned from character to character and event to event. There were so many moments where I wished I could rewind and watch again. The transition to the CNN shot, the way Mr. Robot pops up out of nowhere in the elevator, the top-down angle showing Angela in the server room and the street below…time and time again I was left stunned at the cinematography.
And it wasn’t just the single shot that dropped my jaw time throughout this episode. The degradation of the E Corp building throughout the riot was incredible. Blunt symbolism to be sure, but still a very effective one. Seeing the building fall into chaos also added to the rising action of the episode and created a very real sense of danger for Elliot and Angela. The closeness of the camera, the rapidly deteriorating environment around them, and a few well-timed surprises made for an incredibly exciting episode.
It also made for one that might have been a bit confusing to follow? At first glance it might seem a relatively straightforward episode for Mr. Robot where not much happened. Elliot arrives confused at work, dodges security while trying to stop the Stage 2 hack, and is caught, and then Angela does something to help it along. Mr. Robot used the single setting to focus on its core trio and the risk towards them, and it was awesome to just sit back and enjoy a dose of concentrated story for once.
A lot happened in the background, though, and a lot of it easy to miss. I sure did.
Is this a positive or a negative? I guess it depends on the viewer. For those who love to dig into Mr. Robot and figure things out, we’ll worship this episode. We’ll watch it numerous times to catch all the little details of the visuals and plot. Others less engaged in the show will think the episode’s cool but end up wondering when all this stuff happened when future episodes move on as if everyone knows already.
Then again, I suppose that’s not a new issue with Mr. Robot.
What exactly did Angela do? Did she mess it up? What was in the bag? Why would the Dark Army want Elliot to carry out this execution, knowing how unreliable he is? Did Elliot manage to reach the server room and undo whatever Angela did? However straightforward the episode was, Mr. Robot still left viewers with a lot of questions. Good questions in my opinion, but questions all the same.
I’m sure we’ll get some awesome answers in time. Those answers will probably create more questions and might end up unsatisfying, but until we reach that point I’m going to enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is.
- Elliot picking on the old lady and getting showed up was amazing. Way to stereotype, Elliot. That woman probably doesn’t work at E Corp unless she knows her shit. Always go for the frat boy dancing. Yes, I just stereotyped.
- I’m also very happy Elliot mistakenly called out his cubicle partner and got him to admit his sexual conquests were bullshit. What an annoying idiot.
- The Dark Army guy in the hazmat suit eating sandwiches cracks me up. He’s always wearing the same thing and always eating those sandwiches. I’m increasingly convinced he’s the real key to everything.
- The music in this episode was AMAZING.
- Elliot was betrayed by the only two people in his life he was close to. He might head down a depressing path the rest of this season. Well, more depressing than usual.
- Darlene feels increasingly destined for tragedy. I hope she makes it. She, Elliot, and Angela are the heart of the show and I can’t imagine moving on from any of them.
- If you’re wondering what the man in the elevator said, he said “Every beginning is difficult. Beginning is simple.”