Mr. Robot is finally back for its third season. In yesterday’s review, I offered some overall thoughts on where the show stands creatively, and now it’s time to get specific about the premiere, with full spoilers coming up just as soon as I borrow your Property of Josh Groban t-shirt…
“I’m the problem. This was my fault. All of it.” -Elliot
New York City is in “Power Saver Mode” for much of the premiere, suffering through an extended blackout due to the shenanigans of the show’s characters. The lights flicker on and off at various points, but they don’t come back fully until the very end of the episode, in a lovely sequence where it appears as if the bus that Angela and Mr. Robot are on is lighting each lamp as it goes past.
But for Mr. Robot itself, the lights come on far more rapidly. After a season where I was frustrated more often than not — but willing to endure that frustration for the sake of that periodic Esmail magic — by the pacing and the plotting and some of the self-indulgence, I appreciated that the premiere quickly got down to business, kept the story moving, and kept both Elliot and his alter ego interacting with most of the key players.
Admittedly, we first get a few minutes alone with Bobby Cannavale as Irving, but it doesn’t feel like throat-clearing for a few reasons. First, Cannavale is delightful as this guy with his precisely weird mustache and his precisely weird hair and his matter-of-fact nasal delivery. He’s unflappable in the same way that Mike Ehrmantraut is — just a lot more eccentric — as demonstrated throughout the episode, and particularly in the marvelous bit where he manages to foil an FBI tail through clever exploitation of their car’s OnStar system. (It’s a bit like Kirk tricking the Reliant into dropping its shields in Wrath of Khan.) And second, he’s clearly a significant player in all of this drama: he’s the one called after Tyrell shoots Elliot, he’s the one who gets Elliot and Darlene away from the FBI (even though Darlene clearly knows the feds are following her after Dom brought her in at the end of last season), and he’s there at the end when Angela brings Mr. Robot back in to attempt to undo Elliot’s recent work. He’s street-level enough to plausibly interact with Elliot and the others in a way that Whiterose simply can’t, and it’s useful to have a face for that side of things, in addition to someone new and unpredictable to shake the show out of recent patterns. Plus — like the gag with Elliot wearing Angela’s clothes — he’s fun, on a show that, due to its main character, is always at risk of going full grimdark.
But even Irving’s intro at the Red Wheelbarrow doesn’t last too long before we get into things, and establish the various alliances and wheels within wheels, with both of the important women in Elliot’s life having dual loyalties. Darlene’s at least aware of the FBI’s presence around her at all times, while Angela is working both sides: convincing Elliot that she’s still his closest ally even as she’s working with Mr. Robot, Tyrell, and Whiterose on Stage 2. Between his stunt at the underground gaming den and his negotiations with Irving, Elliot seems on the verge of being able to get Stage 2 shut down, but that’s also him being placated, and the others are still trying to work around him. They have numbers; he has talent, and it’s fascinating to realize that Mr. Robot no longer has access to all that talent, nor all the knowledge of what Elliot is up to while awake. Their war for control of that body continues, but the rules of engagement seem to have changed, and the more people that either know, like Darlene and Angela, or that are getting exposed to both sides, like Tyrell (who’s flummoxed to see Mr. Robot again after the earlier encounter with Elliot), the more the series can explore the nature and stakes of the split.
The episode’s so propulsive everywhere else, in fact, that there’s even room for a trip inside Elliot’s mind — complete with his internal monologue seemingly becoming verbal, until we realize he’s been imagining the entire sequence while still sitting at the Red Wheelbarrow — without it feeling like things are grinding to a halt. That whole rant is so hyperbolic in both the language and the imagery — much of it attempting to draw a line from Elliot’s fears about the world in this fictionalized 2015 to the very real state of things for us in 2017 — that it verges on self-parody, but that also seems to be the point of it: Elliot sometimes disappears too far inside himself and thinks too long and too hard about these huge questions while he’s missing the small and crucial details of life right in front of him.
There’s a moment early on when the nuclear power plant boss starts talking about parallel universe theory and “how many copies of ourselves exist,” which I assume will have sparked about five dozen fan theories by the time this review is published. Is this what Angela is talking about when she tells Elliot that they may be able to make it like none of this — going all the way back to the death of her mother and his father — ever happened? Does Stage 2 involve some other sci-fi conceit like time travel? Or is it all just a metaphor being tossed at a character too damaged and intense to make any sense of it?
We’ll have to wait to find out what it all means, but this was a very promising start, from Irving’s introduction to the way Daft Punk’s “Touch” carried us through the closing minutes.
What did everybody else think?
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