BY KYLE FOWLE
There’s nothing better that we could do
Than live forever
Well, that’s all we’ve gotta do
I’m gonna take you over
I’ve got a hold on you.
–“New Sensation,” INXS
Those are the words that ring out at the top of “Eps3.1_undo.gz” as Elliot Alderson transforms into someone else. No, he’s not embodying Mr. Robot as the episode begins. In fact, Mr. Robot’s presence is nowhere to be found. Elliot hasn’t seen or felt him in weeks, and he thinks it’s because he hasn’t seen Darlene. He believes his sister is a trigger and that by avoiding her he can avoid bringing out Mr. Robot. We know that’s not true. We know more than Elliot, but we have no way to tell him that.
No, Elliot isn’t becoming Mr. Robot at the top of the episode. Rather, he’s becoming the person he thinks is necessary to save the world. He’s still shattered because of what he did, still reckoning with the idea that all of his chaos and anarchy didn’t actually achieve anything. He says that perhaps E Corp is a necessary evil, and that all of his talk about bringing them to their knees was just “dorm room philosophizing,” which I’d posit is a not-so-subtle jab at the critiques of Mr. Robot itself.
The opening sequence, set to INXS’ “New Sensation,” is the kind of raucous, funny, surreal bit of visual storytelling that the show does so well. Elliot immediately falls into a routine as the newest member of E Corp’s data recovery team. He’s abandoned the destructive rhetoric of Fsociety and is instead focused on cleaning things up from the inside.
He’s trying to join the world around him. He’s not selling out; he’s growing up, or so he says. While on the subway he sees everyone as emojis — real, Deadmau5-style emoticon helmets add a visceral, surreal touch — and what could be more in tune with this world than seeing communication as pure signifier. He catches this subway every single day, swipes his badge at E Corp, and sets about securing their files while also pitching his idea about not sending all the paper documents to a single building in New York. He knows that Stage 2 involves blowing up that building, and he’s doing what he can to prevent that from happening, including messing with UPS shipping routes.
Some of the old Elliot is still there though; he’s not a full corporate sellout, assuming there’s some gray area in there. As his pitch for spreading out the paper documents falls on deaf ears, his incompetent managers failing to see Elliot’s vision, he takes them down one by one, exposing their corruption. From selling employee data to cheating on emissions tests, Elliot knocks off one member of management after another. If that rot is still there, maybe Elliot is right; maybe his plan didn’t work, and the only way to fix things is from the inside.
The trouble is, Elliot doesn’t seem to extend that theory to himself. He’s only doing surface-level fixes for his own issues. Mr. Robot isn’t going to just slip away because Elliot is avoiding Darlene. That’s not how that works. And the void that Elliot feels inside himself isn’t going away just because he’s trying to do what he thinks is the right thing. By the time the rather cheery opening montage has concluded, and a burst of flames has signaled a new beginning, Elliot is in tears in his apartment.
“The loneliness came back.” That’s coming from something broken on the inside. Elliot is trying though. He’s working on combating that loneliness, even if he’s kind of forgotten what it was like to feel this way. He’s been torn between Mr. Robot and Elliot for so long that he forgot what it was like to just be him for a moment, never mind for days on end. In fact, he’s so thrown for a loop that he forgets it’s his birthday. Krista is the one who reminds him, as he’s once again back to his therapy sessions.
This is an episode of subtle tension, of people being pulled in all sorts of directions and not knowing how to deal with it. When Elliot sits down with Krista, it’s to address his inner demons, but it’s clear he’s confused as to their role. He’s constantly torn between the necessity and destructive nature of Mr. Robot. That’s even evident in a story Elliot tells about making a snowman with Darlene when they were kids, a sweet story that takes a dark turn when he reveals it was the same day his father pushed him out the window. “End of story” he says nonchalantly, the push and pull of Mr. Robot present as always.
The snowman’s name was Kevin McCallister because Darlene and Elliot loved Home Alone, a movie with traps and misdirects and sly moments of acting in order to keep the bad forces at bay. You try to fix it from the inside.
Elliot certainly isn’t the only one being pulled in different directions. Darlene has her own issues, her own things to fix. She wants to be close to Elliot but he’s pushing her away; the emotional push turns physical by episode’s end, just as Mr. Robot rears his ugly head again after a brief absence. She also needs to be close to Elliot in order to save her own ass. The FBI is on her to deliver something substantial. They’ve been working with her for six weeks and they’re sick of getting nothing.
The final pull in the direction of the FBI for Darlene is the reveal that Elliot was indeed working with Tyrell Wellick. Darlene has been insistent that such a thing could never happen, but when Dom plays a recording of their phone call — the one when Elliot was in prison; remember the red phone from last season? — she has no choice but to admit that her brother isn’t who she thinks he is. Or, at least, there are times when he isn’t.
As “Eps3.1_undo.gz” unfolds, it begins to look like the only person truly in control of anything is Joanna Wellick. With Darlene conflicted about Elliot, and Elliot himself unsure about how he’s dealing with Mr. Robot (or the lack thereof), Joanna seems to be the one who’s on a clear path. She’s on TV implicating Scott Knowles in his wife’s murder, putting the final nail in his coffin and executing the final part of her plan. With her dumb, bro-tastic bartender boyfriend, Derrick, doing her bidding as well, everything is in check.
That is until the dumb, bro-tastic bartender boyfriend snaps. He’s a variable that Joanna assumed she had control over — sound like someone we know? — but turns out to be much more destructive than she could have imagined. He follows her car for a few blocks before Mr. Sutherland pulls over and confronts him, telling him he’s never seeing Joanna again.
Mr. Sutherland gets back in the car. The camera brings him into focus, and then a blurry figure walks into the background of the frame. The focus shifts and we see Derrick fire a gun and hit Sutherland. Joanna, fighting for her life, goes for Sutherland’s gun to defend herself, but Derrick shoots her too. She falls back dead as Sutherland, still clinging to life, fires a round into Derrick. The camera takes in the bloody face of Joanna and Tyrell’s baby before swinging to an overhead shot and taking in the aftermath of the whole scene. The camera is the only thing in control, perhaps a mea culpa from Sam Esmail for last season’s thinly veiled prison mystery. “I’m in control now,” he’s saying. “Nobody within the show is, but I know where these pieces are supposed to be.”
In a sense, “Eps3.1_undo.gz” is divided into three sections, each focusing on the idea of control as it pertains to specific characters. We already know how Joanna’s story ends; it’s safe to say she’s dead considering we watch as her skull is cut open during the autopsy. Darlene finally caves to the FBI’s pressure and sets up something that allows them to mirror Elliot’s computer screen. They’re watching now, always watching, just like Mr. Robot, just like the eye in the 1984 club.
The episode’s third section is more internationally consequential. We see Phillip Price delivering an impassioned speech at an international forum, where he proclaims Ecoin as the new, accepted currency of 19 of the countries in attendance. There’s one holdout, he notes, and he takes them to task. He attacks China for their unwillingness to sign the accord and for their failure to address very real international market concerns.
Price is not a man you could describe as all boisterous show — he certainly has his own vicious streak — but his threats seem like nothing when he’s confronted by Minster Zhang. Zhang tells him that he doesn’t give a damn about the accord, that he’s only in this for the U.N. vote to annex the Congo. Price threatens to use his influence to change that decision should Zhang refuse to play ball. The struggle for control continues, and is left unresolved.
Well, perhaps that’s not totally true. After all, Zhang/Whiterose seems to always be in control. So, Zhang tells his assistant that he wants Stage 2 to go down on the day of the U.N. vote no matter what the outcome may be. The assistant warns that if the vote goes their way, there’s a chance that Stage 2 will ruin their chance to move the operation there — details, as always, remain sparse here. Zhang/Whiterose wants it done though, so it will be done.
With Stage 2 looming, it’s a good time for Elliot to get some semblance of control back. How much does he have though, and how much of it is due to Mr. Robot? In Krista’s office Elliot relaxes and lets Mr. Robot come out so she can confront him. Mr. Robot walks around the office, picking up books from the shelves — the spines are all red, much like the wheelbarrow, much like the phone — flirting with Krista and letting her know that she will never, ever tear them apart, and that if she does it’ll only harm Elliot.
Smash cut to the subway, where Elliot sits below a poster for a new film called “Separation Anxiety.” It stars Will Ferrell and Judi Dench, seemingly two opposing forces in the same film. Pulled in separate directions indeed.
Back at home Elliot reboots his computer. He doesn’t trust Darlene. He sends a file to “Eugene Belford.” The FBI agent monitoring Elliot searches the file and finds nothing. That’s because that’s exactly what Elliot wanted him to find. Instead, that link gives Elliot the location of the FBI’s safe house, and he shows up on their doorstep. Dom stares at a security camera as Elliot comes into the house. Is this Elliot? Is it Mr. Robot?
Nobody knows who’s in control.