BY SEAN T. COLLINS
Tyrell’s a lumberjack, and he’s okay. He sleeps all night and he works all day.
It was only a matter of, ahem, time before a show as temporally fixated as Mr. Robot did another flashback episode. This one, the third installment of the show’s third season (“eps3.2_1egacy.so”), is basically the “*Record scratch* *Freeze frame* Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation” meme in television form. It stretches from the 5/9 hack at the climax of Season One to the aftermath of the shooting that ended Season Two. The machine for this particular act of time travel is none other than Tyrell Wellick, the rogue E Corp executive framed for the hack whose whereabouts (and existence) were a mystery through much of the preceding season. Details aside, three things about Wellick are quite clear: He’s on the run from the law, in love with Elliot Alderson, and out of his goddamn mind.
So (*VHS rewind effect*) here’s what happened. As we knew, on the night of the 5/9 hack, Tyrell crashed the party, showing up at fsociety headquarters to confront Elliot and demand to become a part of…whatever it was he was doing. Elliot, or rather his radical Mr. Robot persona, showed Wellick the destruction of E Corp’s credit records in action—then did indeed grab a gun and shoot him, as the Elliot side of Elliot had long feared. The gun, however, jammed. This led the increasingly unhinged Wellick—hardly a stable Mabel at the best of times and now sent irrevocably off his rocker by his murder of his E Corp rival Scott Knowles’s wife Sharon and his subsequent firing from the company—to believe he’d literally been anointed by God to join Elliot in the work to come.
According to Wellick, that work could only be accomplished with his help. E Corp would swiftly move to recreate their lost data by compiling their hard-copy backups, he argues, and Elliot would need his inside knowledge of that process to plan the next stage of the revolution. Faced with that inconvenient truth, not even Mr. Robot can pull the trigger. What’s more, he thinks of another use for Tyrell: he’s “the perfect kind of crazy who can protect me from me.”
The dynamic duo are in the middle of plotting “Stage 2” when they’re interrupted by Irving, the Dark Army fixer played by Bobby Cannavale, and a couple of masked DA enforcers. He informs them that the FBI is on to Wellick’s involvement, and he’s well on his way to becoming the world’s most wanted man. Spiriting Tyrell away to a secluded cabin in the woods on property owned by his boss Whiterose, Irving instructs Elliot to take Tyrell’s SUV and park it in a lot in Manhattan, which is where he woke up several days later with no memory of the intervening events way back in the Season One finale.
We then find out what Wellick, Whiterose, and Irving were up to while Elliot spent time in prison after local cops grabbed him from hacking his therapist Krista’s shitty ex-boyfriend and stealing his dog. After passing a loyalty test administered by the great Wallace Shawn (!!!), sporting a luxurious mustache and doing bump after bump of cocaine (apparently that’s another powder he’s not resistant to), he whiles away the hours chopping wood, growing a beard, watching his infant son’s babycam, and reading in the tabloids about how his wife Joanna, whom he refuses to contact for fear that it’ll hurt them both, is cucking and divorcing him.
Irving plays babysitter for all of the 5/9 hack’s mad geniuses. He takes time away from his front business as a used-car salesman to coach Tyrell through his isolation, instruct Dark Army/fsociety go-between Cisco not to become too attached to his girlfriend and intelligence asset Darlene, and oversee the protection Elliot received in prison from laid-back assassin Leon (Joey Bada$$, reprising his role from last season by crowing about how much fun it is to kill neo-Nazis and arguing that Elliot really needs to get laid). In his off hours he drinks from his collection of insulated novelty mugs, watches Big Brother, and works on his novel, Beach Towel.
And oh yeah, Whiterose orders his fake-news anchor to back the Trump campaign.
Hey, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, an fiction has to run to keep up. You can be churlish if you want and say this is creator Sam Esmail letting America off the hook for an evil entirely of its own making, the same way Russia conspiracists pin the blame on Putin rather than the entirety of post-war American history. I say it’s a good gag, so why the hell not?
Things come to a head for Tyrell when he finally gets fed up with country life and flies the coop, to the tune of Cypress Hill’s “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” for some unknown but totally delightful reason. He gets nabbed by the first local cop he comes across, and in an in incredibly unpleasant scene he breaks his own thumb in order to slip out of the cuffs to escape. He needn’t have bothered: Rescue arrives in the unlikely form of FBI Agent Santiago, Dom DiPierro’s disapproving boss, on the Dark Army payroll all along. (You’ve gotta wonder what he thinks of Dom’s big conspiracy wall.) He blows the cop’s brains out and returns Tyrell to Irving’s tender loving care, until such time as he can be reunited with Elliot.
That reunion proves bittersweet and short-lived. Tyrell, of course, has no idea that Elliot has a split personality, so when his idol insists (as he did during the Season Two finale) that Wellick doesn’t even exist, he’s baffled and frightened. Worse still, he’s hurt. This is the man he loves, the man who made him like unto God! Now he’s gotta shoot the guy to prevent him from screwing up his own Stage 2? Rough night. Fortunately, Angela’s there to explain Elliot’s condition to him. And the moment he comes to after the Dark Army’s surgeon saves his life, he grins at Tyrell, with Mr. Robot back in control.
So yeah, it’s a wild ride! And aside from the unusual time-jumping, it’s one of the most narratively straightforward episodes of Mr. Robot since Season One. It just gets you from point A to point B, is all, even if it had to backtrack a bit to do so. It satisfies a narrative itch, nothing more.
Primarily, it’s a showcase for Martin Wallström as Wellick. The character and performance alike have their diehard partisans and their dismissive detractors. For my money, when you add Tyrell’s mental, moral, and professional collapse to his fixation on doing right by both his family and the man of his dreams, you get a whole different sort of sociopath from either the Patrick Bateman one-percenter murderers or the Phillip Price/Whiterose puppetmasters. Wallström lacks the golfball-sized convex eyes of his castmates Rami Malek, Portia Doubleday, and Carly Chaikin, but man those things are blue, and the person behind them seems to be in almost agonizing psychological pain at all times.
That’s the key to Tyrell Wellick, really. Despite being one of the ostensible archvillains of the piece, he’s more emotionally open and expressive than any of the fsociety “good guys”—Elliot, Angela, Darlene, Cisco, even Mr. Robot himself. He’s the only one who embodies the sense of dislocation and terror on a permanent basis that characters like Elliot and Darlene can only access during acute breakdowns. In a weird way, he’s the heart of the show, and that heart is warped as hell. In that light, the standard-issue storytelling of the episode can be forgiven, even if you suspect it’s part of a slight creative retrenchment in the face of the vituperative reaction to the show’s fearless fuck-you of a second season. A character this peculiar can take all the time to fill in the blanks he needs.