BY MATT MILLER
From news to late-night to dramas and animation, TV has struggled to adapt in Trump's America. The likes of Jimmy Fallon have found themselves woefully unequipped to properly joke about the reality star turned world leader. Cable news has become a parody of a parody of itself. Dramas find themselves awkwardly incorporating Trumpian rhetoric and ideas as watered down entertainment. And even South Park, the bold geniuses of parody, failed to craft an original take on this absurdist moment in U.S. history. And who could blame any of them, really? (Well, maybe we can blame Fallon.)
Even someone intravenously connected to a news drip has trouble keeping up with Trump's daily word vomit. If he's not unceremoniously canning a key member of his administration, he's being a dick to a war widow or dealing with a humanitarian crisis by jump shooting paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans.
And, ahead of the show's return, it was unclear how Mr. Robot would fare after 13 months that had fundamentally changed our country. In its first two seasons, Mr. Robot used the social-political climate of the time as a framework to its plot. It began as a response to Occupy Wall Street, which grew into a commentary on global cyber security, international corporate influence, and the dominant force of tech companies and megabanks. To keep the show grounded in reality, it peppered in relevant clips of President Obama discussing cyber security, the one percent, and corporations. This was enough, as, in the eyes of Mr. Robot, these forces are more powerful than the president himself—they, not the government, are the real enemy. The government is just a helpless enabler.
In the first two episodes of Season Three, Trump has only been a small nuisance—an idiotic voice acting big for the cameras, while the people with actual brains and power work behind the scenes. In the season premiere, over a Fox News clip of Trump speaking, Elliot posed the question: “What if we choose weakness over strength?”
By Episode Three, we have an answer to that question. In the parallel reality of Mr. Robot, Donald Trump is exactly what we imagine him to be: a stupid, inept puppet whose tiny hands are controlled by strings held by terrifying forces. It turns out that the Dark Army, Mr. Robot's shadowy international cyber terrorist group, worked to place Trump in power. In Episode Three, Dark Army leader Whiterose has a conversation about controlling the media narrative of world events with popular pundit Frank Cody, while Trump spews his bullshit about being the "greatest jobs president" from a nearby TV. They're going to manipulate the story of fSociety and the world's most-wanted man Tyrell Wellick. But Whiterose has another job for the cable news talking head. "I may have a potential candidate for president I want you to back," Whiterose says, turning toward the TV.
"Look, the country is desperate right now, but you can't be serious," Frank says. "I mean the guy is a buffoon. He's completely divorced from reality. How would you control him?"
"If you pull the right strings, a puppet will dance any way you desire," Whiterose responds.
And that's all the commentary Mr. Robot needs—all at once addressing the public pageantry of politics, the chilling behind-the-scenes forces, and the manipulative power of the media.