Mr. Robot inverts last episode's trick and delivers a tense, thrilling experience

  USA Network

USA Network

BY ALEX MCLEVY

“Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool. . . .”—William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

What would you do if you found out a plan you had spent months—possibly years—assembling was executed in the exact opposite manner you intended? If the people you had trusted to carry out your high-minded goals instead betrayed you, using the hollowed-out husk of your strategy for their own ends, warping your goals until they were no longer recognizable? What if everything you thought you knew turned out to be based on deceptions and half-truths? Unless you’re a recovering Scientologist, this is probably little more than a thought experiment. It’s almost impossible to say how you would react, because it would require a total reorientation of your worldview. It’s not an easy thing to imagine.

Elliot has finally come to an understanding with his antagonistic alter-ego, but it took confronting Robot with the proof of the Dark Army’s betrayal. There were no paper records in the recovery center. Whiterose has no interest in Fsociety’s revolution. It was little more than a means to an end. They were happy to piggyback off the zeal of Robot’s (and later, Tyrell Wellick’s) passion for the cause, but the actual ideology behind the insurrectionary group is more or less immaterial, simply grist for the Dark Army’s mill. “You’re being played,” Elliot writes to his counterpart, and the truth is staring them both in the face. That truth is a void, a hole where the entire edifice of Robot’s master plan is supposed to be sitting, waiting to explode. He didn’t see the man behind the curtain; Robot pulled back the curtain and found another curtain. Plots within plots.

“Kill-pr0cess.par2” is the thrilling adrenaline rush of an episode that last week’s unbroken-take gimmick came close to achieving. It’s the flip side of the same coin: Instead of a faux single take, here Sam Esmail keeps cutting…and cutting…and cutting. Lancing back and forth between Elliot, Angela, Darlene, Dom, Tyrell, and more, the tension builds, every smash cut to another location mirroring the smash cuts in Elliot’s own mind. The episode strips away the bells and whistles (big twists, retroactive alterations to the entire narrative, et. al) that have so often been the laziest possible shorthand to explain Mr. Robot’s brilliance, and the result is a classically structured example of superlative television. The show simply keeps you breathless, waiting for the other shoe to drop, right until that terrific reveal where the true scope of Whiterose’s plan becomes clear. With a little help from Wellick, the Dark Army succeeds in blowing up 71 Evil Corp facilities, a death toll in the thousands accompanying the devastation, and the entire U.S. apparatus of the company laid low in a single collective moment of violence. Robot wanted the death of an unfeeling business, not the death of countless workers, just as he was.

  USA Network

USA Network

It’s too soon to tell exactly how Angela will respond, but she’s already made one harsh choice. She burned a once-beloved bridge the minute she chose to box Elliot out of the conversation. “I heard you were let go this morning,” she says, having steeled herself to make the transition into flat HR-speak. It’s a heartbreaking decision, and you can see Elliot’s sense of belief in his friend take a hit, his eyes draining of any faith in the relationship. What makes it especially sad is that Angela came so close to crying just moments earlier. “You’ve been manipulating me,” Elliot accuses, and the words land like a gut punch. Had the activists not come running into the room, who knows if the conversation might have gone differently. But Angela lets slip her motivation for joining Whiterose: She wants to bring back her mother, and Elliot’s father. Unfortunately, that sounds like insanity when you’re standing in the middle of a riot, so Elliot continues to hurl invective towards her, and she withdraws back into herself, as we’ve seen her do so many times before. But where once we cheered on Angela’s moments of steely determination (or at least maintained ambiguity about their value), here we see the dark underside of her growth. Even Elliot is expendable.

Luckily, Darlene is there to make clear she feels the exact opposite. Elliot is undoubtedly still furious, but he can at least get behind her willingness to help him apprehend Tyrell and stop the Dark Army from blowing up the building. More importantly, we’re in the same boat as Dom: We don’t know what all words were exchanged between Elliot and Darlene in front of the E Corp building, and if Dom thinks the elder Alderson sibling is hiding something, she’s almost certainly right. But Darlene is trying to remain on the side of the angels. She even goes to Angela to try and make her see the light. “This shit will haunt you,” she tells Angela, and Darlene would know. But it’s too late: They both look at their phones, and though we don’t yet see it, Angela’s world is upended once again. Her new leader lied to her; once more, she’s a patriot without a country.

  USA Network

USA Network

Dom hasn’t gotten much in the way of character development this season, but what this episode gives her is a fantastic scene of pressure-coooker intensity. If she has suspicions about her boss and his complicity in the Dark Army, she’s playing them close to the vest, but her refusal to sit around and wait for proof of Tyrell at Red Wheelbarrow BBQ speaks louder than any hunch. She and her partner disobey Santiago, and her descent into the smoke-filled basement of the restaurant is nerve jangling, the best moment she’s yet gotten this season, one that feels like a clever reworking of the climactic scene from Silence Of The Lambs. But Tyrell is no Buffalo Bill, and Dom’s real enemies are elsewhere. Indeed, they’re giving her orders to stand down.

Poor Tyrell. Irving isn’t the only one who owes the former E Corp executive an “I’m sorry.” He was used and abused, the knowledge of his wife’s death kept from him. What will be interesting to see is what, exactly, the instructions he was handed by Irving contained. Is he now aware that he was a pawn, the dream of his wife and child reuniting with him in another country a fairy tale offered to keep him focused on the work? Or is his unexpected race down the street, ending with his being cuffed while yelling, “You have to stop the attack!” all still part of the Dark Army’s machinations? Wellick has always needed a god in human form to follow, even when he had planned to become one himself. It’s impossible to say how far he’s willing to go, and for who, to keep his dreams alive.

  USA Network

USA Network

But it all comes back to Elliot. The kill process of the episode’s title isn’t the one Elliot first suspects: the need to shut down the Dark Army’s bypass of his code and prevent the destruction of the recovery center. But neither is it Robot’s attempts to prevent Elliot from achieving that goal, despite the latter’s musings about the way they seem to be canceling each other out—for every step forward one makes, the other slams their body against a wall, their head against a pipe. No, the kill process is the one that finally shuts down the season-and-a-half-long struggle between Elliot and Robot. It took forcing a conversation between them, a return to their interactions that the show has spent all of season three avoiding. After the constant bickering and frustrating conflicts of season two, it’s been hard not having any opportunities for Elliot and his other self to actually communicate. The program they were running, the one that prevented just this sort of interaction, has been halted. Elliot ended it when he typed that first note, leading to a roomful of destroyed computers, and it culminated with them again on the same side, at least for now. The two of them stopped the explosion of the building. Elliot has needed a new cause, and Robot just learned his own has been sold out in the name of business and death. Perhaps a new revolution is about to begin.

Stray observations:

  • Darlene gets two of the episode’s best tension-breaking lines of dialogue tonight. First, to the girl scouts: “Wrong fuckin’ day, girls.” Second, to Angela, staring through her front door’s peephole at Darlene: “I can see your big-ass eye.”
  • The opening flashback, to a party where Angela’s mom is celebrating her choice to cease treatment and pass on, is indeed a weird vibe for a party. But Mr. Alderson’s request that Angela push Elliot at a later date suggests Angela may be trying to justify her actions through a long-held promise to Elliot’s father. Plus, we learn her mother had a mysterious benefactor.
  • Since Whiterose and Price have their tête-à-tête at Mar-A-Lago, it looks like the show is going to keep leaning into this Trump thing. At least this episode has the two men calling out what an embarrassment the guy is, with Price even getting a genuine guffaw from Whiterose (!) through some off-color slang regarding the tightness of Trump’s swimsuit. I suspect next time they meet, Price won’t be quite so gregarious.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if Angela’s zealous faith survives the realization of the violence in which she’s complicit. All episode, she’s speaking like the devout believer that none of this matters, at long as Whiterose gets what she wants. “No one’s gonna die,” she tells the women on the subway. “We need to let today happen,” she tells Elliot. And she instructs Darlene to go ahead and turn her in.
  • If anything, it’s a mark of the return of her mother’s promise: “This isn’t the end—there’s another world out there for both of us.”
  • The glitching and time-loss that progressively deteriorated was great, almost as fun as watching Rami Malek throw himself into walls.
  • Back To The Future returns, albeit this time in cartoon form.

https://www.avclub.com/mr-robot-inverts-last-episodes-trick-and-delivers-a-te-1820488223