BY SEAN T. COLLINS
Like a rough beast racing towards Bethlehem to be born, this week’s episode of Mr. Robot picks up where last week’s left off and doesn’t let up until it’s all over but the screaming.
“eps3.5_kill-pr0cess.par2” beings with a brief flashback to a sad, slightly morbid “going-away party” thrown in honor of young Angela Moss’s mom, back when the diagnosis of the cancer she contracted from E Corp became terminal and she decided not to fight it anymore. After some encouragement from Elliot’s all-too-familiar-looking father, Angela peels herself away from a Back to the Future cartoon (get it???) and approaches her mom to comfort her and receive comfort in turn. Behind big eyes (or “big-ass eyes,” to paraphrase Darlene on Angela later in the episode), Mrs. Moss tells her daughter they’ll meet again in another, better world. “Will you believe with me?” she asks. We then cut to the present day, where the consequences of belief are made horrifyingly plain.
From then on, our primary window into the action is Elliot, increasingly terrified that he won’t be able to stop Stage 2 now that Angela has helped the Dark Army work around his roadblocks. He’s terrified of Angela too, of course, with her maddening certainty not only that no one will die in the planned attack, but her baffling assertion that their parents won’t die either. He spends much of the episode racing to and fro from E Corp’s corporate headquarters to the secure storage facility Stage 2 is ostensibly designed to destroy, battling his now-unseen Mr. Robot personality all the while. Rather than pop up and harangue him, Mr. R now simply hijacks his body, causing him to black out for just long enough to lose precious time in his attempt to undo the Dark Army’s hack. When that fails, Mr. Robot starts using Elliot’s own body to assault him — tossing himself down stairs, bashing his head into walls, engaging in what amounts to a prolonged Marvel/Netflix series–style hallway fight where he’s his own, and only, opponent.
Meanwhile, Agent Dom DiPierro engages in a similar dash to catch Tyrell Wellick in his subterranean hideout beneath the Red Wheelbarrow BBQ joint, and Angela narrowly avoids getting robbed of her purse’s unknown but precious cargo on the subway, while Phillip Price and Whiterose meet in Donald Trump’s tacky Mar-a-Lago to toast their supposed shared triumphs over the UN and the world economy — and to mock Trump himself, in dialogue so obviously personal and petty you can’t help but enjoy it.
Eventually, Elliot and Mr. Robot reach a similar truce. Typing on a computer to communicate with his alter ego, Elliot explains to Mr. Robot that there are, in fact, no paper records at the New York facility whatsoever — that Mr. Robot has been duped by his partners for unknown reasons, and blowing the place up would be a pointless waste of human life. Reluctantly, Mr. Robot helps Elliot break into the battery room of the building, setting off the fire-suppression system and saving everyone’s life.
Until he hits the street afterwards, sees people crowding and crying around every available screen, and realizes his mistake. The New York facility was a red herring, a trap for his intellect. It was every other E Corp storage facility, the ones he’d fought so hard to keep stocked with their paper records rather than transferring them to Manhattan, that the Dark Army blows up, with countless lives caught in the blast radius.
We are now left to face the unpleasant prospect that virtually none of our protagonists orantagonists knew what the hell is going on. Elliot, obviously, was completely in the dark about the true nature of Stage 2; by thwarting what he thought were the efforts of Mr. Robot, Tyrell Wellick, and the Dark Army to consolidate all of E Corp’s paper records in a “single point of failure” building, he was in effect serving as a double agent against himself, ensuring that those records would remain on-site in the dozens and dozens of E Corp facilities the Dark Army destroyed instead. Darlene is every bit as much in the dark as her brother. Angela needed to believe her role in facilitating the Dark Army’s plan would not endanger anyone at the New York warehouse; she was right, but for disastrously wrong reasons. Tyrell’s knowledge of the real Stage 2 is debatable at this point — even after he receives Irving’s mysterious instructions and ran screaming into the arms of the FBI and NYPD to warn about the impending attack, it’s unclear whether or not he knows what form that attack would really take — but at the very least he’d been strung along about the status of his wife and son. Agent DiPierro is kept from the truth about Angela by Darlene, and kept from the truth about Wellick and the Dark Army by her traitorous boss, Agent Santiago; his panicky plea to his mother to stay indoors indicates that this unhappy accessory to Stage 2 may well have known more about its true nature than half a dozen more major players in the drama. Phillip Price thought he’d battled Whiterose to a mutually beneficial standstill right up until the point his lunch at Mar-a-Lago was interrupted by an underling informing him that thousands of his employees had just been murdered. Most importantly, even Mr. Robot was being deceived by his ostensible allies, who simply pitted him against his host personality Elliot to keep them both from uncovering the truth until it was too late. In short, with the exception of Whiterose herself and her Noo Yawk fixer Irving, none of the show’s main characters had the first clue what this show was even about.
Not to sound like a broken record, but this is why Mr. Robot is the show for this moment in time. To a degree, things are slightly less dark than they were two weeks ago when I wrote at length about the way Esmail and company have crafted both a story and a cinematic style that suit the dislocating anxiety of the age — the election-day tidal wave against Trumpism saw to that. Yet unforeseen horrors still erupt every day, from the unending drumbeat of sexual assault and abuse revelations to the Republican Congress’ latest attempt to keep the working class sick and poor on behalf of its corporate masters, perhaps the most naked such maneuver to date. Even the victories have an air of “I can’t believe this” about them, from a socialist and a trans woman defeating GOP power players in Virginia to an out lesbian winning in an Oklahoma congressional district Trump took by almost 40 points just a year ago. In my own neck of the woods, the Town of Hempstead on Long Island elected its first Democratic town supervisor since the position was created during the American Civil War.
In this atmosphere of unpredictability and instability, the final moments of the episode hit hard. We’re now so numb to American violence that mass shootings that once would have dominated the discourse for days are barely a blip in the news cycle; even the “terrorist” (read: a Muslim guy did it) murder spree in Manhattan couldn’t move the needle for much longer than a day. But a massive attack of the sort the Dark Army pull off here would be an utter catastrophe for the country, not just because of the grotesquely high body count or the loss of vital information, but because of the sense that we’re under siege. Many people would give up almost anything, including human decency, to lift that siege. Which is why Trump sold a siege mentality in the first place. I’m curious if the ultimate outcome of Stage 2 — barring time warps, of course — is simply the same fate we made for ourselves in the real world, where the only Dark Army is the one conjured in the minds of our fellow Americans.