BY KYLE FOWLE
If, like myself, you assumed that season 3 of Mr. Robot had reached its nail-biting apex in last week’s single-take episode, you’re probably shocked to find that you’ve bitten those nails down to a nub after yet another week of high-stakes tension. Last week’s episode may have been the season’s creative high point, a daring and immersive experience that put us inside the anxiety coursing through Elliot and Angela, but this week’s episode, “Eps3.5_kill-process.inc,” doesn’t let up. In fact, it uses the uncomfortably intimate nature of “Eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” to further enhance the paranoia sitting at the heart of this season.
And then it all pays off in explosive fashion. But we’ll get to that.
“Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” is tricky because it doesn’t immediately transport us back to last week’s cliffhanger, with Elliot confronting Angela outside her office. Instead, we go back in time, like Huey Lewis said we would. A young Angela, perhaps 9 years old or so, sits in front of a TV watching the Back to the Future cartoon, placing us in the early 1990s. She’s alone, isolated from the rather muted party that’s taking place behind her. Isn’t it always that way when you’re a kid? When the adults have a party, you feel like you’re outside of it, like you’re missing a bunch of information about what’s happening around you.
Angela doesn’t sit alone for long. Mr. Robot, though certainly he wasn’t called that back then, sits with her. He tries to give Angela a pep talk about how she should go talk to the woman the party is for. The pieces start coming together: a red (obviously) velvet cake that says, “See you in another life!,” a woman with a haunting, sick look, and the quiet nature of the party. This is no birthday; it’s a living funeral for Angela’s mother, Emily, who we know was one of many who developed leukemia after an E Corp plant leak that they then denied, countering a class action lawsuit from the numerous victims.
This isn’t just a scene meant to convey new information, like the fact that an “anonymous benefactor” has been offering to pay for Angela’s mother’s cancer treatment, a gift that she refuses. It’s more about creating a contrast in tones. This whole season has been about people being pulled in opposite directions: Does Darlene betray the FBI or her brother? Does Angela help Elliot or Mr. Robot? Does Elliot truly want to stop Stage 2, or does he want a revolution, and Mr. Robot is just the manifestation of his true feelings?
That push-and-pull is encapsulated in the wild swings in tone of the opening scene. Angela’s feelings swing from angry to accepting. The living funeral itself is a mess of contradictions and conflicted feelings. Then there’s the way the scene is structured, which starts out in a state of domestic normalcy, shifts to something more morbid, and then climaxes with a swell of cheesy, uplifting music, the type of score that would accompany some final triumph in a sports movie about a team of scrappy underdogs besting their superior rivals from across town.
The episode cuts to Angela, mascara running down her face, as she’s confronted by Elliot, and we understand that there’s no uplifting moment, no swell of music to inspire us to do the right thing. There’s only flawed humans making flawed choices. Elliot can’t believe that Angela is okay with blowing up a building and murdering a bunch of people. Angela says that’s not the case: “No, they’re going to be fine, including your father and my mother.” More evidence that Whiterose is building/investing in something like a hadron collider that could alter reality, that could act as a flux capacitor and alter the fates of Marty McFly, Emily Moss, and Edward “Mr. Robot”Alderson.
There’s danger in that perspective though. If we work from the assumption that our reality can be altered at will, that removes us from contemplating the consequences of our actions. If anything can be changed, everything means nothing.
“Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” doesn’t need to indulge in a single-take to amplify the paranoia that last week’s episode expertly laid out. Instead, there’s a constant shift in perspective that drives this episode, and it’s every bit as tense as the previous instalment. As the episode progresses, we get three separate but connected stories: Elliot racing to stop Stage 2, Dom searching for Tyrell after getting a substantial lead, and the unfolding plan of the Dark Army involving Angela and Tyrell. The episode never lingers with each character for long, instead constantly cutting between scenes, which keeps us off guard and in that constant state of anxiety.
Elliot decides that his only option for stopping Stage 2 is to get into the E Corp recovery building that’s being targeted and get on a computer to shut the whole thing down. He calls Darlene and gives her Tyrell’s location, which is Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, and says that she needs to give that information to the FBI. Darlene does, but Dom isn’t given permission to go in with a team. Santiago says they need to wait, because Santiago is working for the Dark Army, whether willfully or under duress. He texts Irving instead, informing him that Tyrell’s location has been burned.
While all of this is going on — while Elliot heads to the E Corp building, Dom decides to “get lunch” at Red Wheelbarrow, and Tyrell learns that the Dark Army may be turning its back on him — Whiterose and Philip Price are celebrating their victory at Mar-a-Lago. They get in a couple shots at Donald Trump and his gaudy style choices and his unbearable stupidity — which, as much as there’s truth there, feels like the show hitting an easy target — before retreating into silence. They have nothing to say to each other. These are people who can only converse when it involves notions of power and influence. Cocktail chat is a waste of time. Whiterose doesn’t waste time.
Whiterose doesn’t waste any time getting Irving to deliver instructions to Tyrell — “nothing’s changed,” she says after being informed that the FBI knows about Red Wheelbarrow BBQ — which kicks off a lengthy stretch of “Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” that’s stunning in its execution. The rapid cuts between scenes convey the sense of urgency driving Elliot, Tyrell, and Dom as they race against different clocks. Elliot is trying to stop Stage 2, Tyrell is trying to save his own life, and Dom is trying to find Tyrell despite the obstruction from Santiago.
It’s a thrilling set of scenes. Elliot’s hinges on a single interesting idea, and one the season’s been exploring all along: Is Mr. Robot a welcome part of Elliot? How much of Mr. Robot is Elliot? Throughout Elliot’s attempts to stop Stage 2, Mr. Robot invades, causing Elliot to lose time. He removes Elliot from the E Corp building in 15 minutes of lost time. He trashes an entire computer lab in five minutes of lost time. He even engages with Elliot via word processing, telling him to get out of the building before they both end up dead.
“Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” feels like the episode the whole season has been building toward. It’s a collapse of everything these characters understand about themselves and their roles in the world, in the Dark Army, in the revolution, and in each other’s lives. When Angela makes her way home on the subway after escaping E Corp, she sits across from two older ladies. Above them hangs a poster for Repulsion, a new play based on Roman Polanski’s film.
There are layers in this moment, as everything collapses. Perspectives shift and change and refuse to clarify. Repulsion is a claustrophobic, horrific exploration of threats both real and imagined, and how the difference doesn’t matter when it comes to trauma. Kaitlin Doubleday is listed as the actress set to reprise the role played by Catherine Deneuve in the film. Kaitlin Doubleday is the sister of Portia Doubleday, who plays Angela on Mr. Robot. What’s real and what’s fabricated? Nobody knows. Everything everyone thought was stable is suddenly unstable. Season 3 is a paranoid thriller in the style of say, Blowout, The Manchurian Candidate, or, yes, Repulsion.
Even the presence of Mr. Robot is unstable and ever-changing. Just when we think that Mr. Robot is definitively an evil force, he helps Elliot stop the Dark Army from blowing up the New York E Corp recovery building. Now, did he do it because he knows there are no documents in the building, or because Elliot regained some semblance of control over his actions? A question for another day.
For now, all we know is that for a brief moment, the wants of Elliot and Mr. Robot align, and that’s really saying something when you consider that only moments earlier Mr. Robot is flinging Elliot into every surface imaginable, bouncing his head off of walls and pipes. It’s a scene that’s a brief bit of comedy amongst all the anxiousness, especially when an E Corp employee witnesses what Elliot is doing to himself and just keeps walking.
This is not time for laughing though, even if such a chuckle is welcome. Rather, “Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” builds to a few reveals that, as mentioned above, not only change everything we understand about this season, but also the perspectives of the characters in the story. The ground moves beneath them, and you can see Dom, Tyrell, Elliot, Angela, and Darlene struggling to regain their balance.
There’s Tyrell, who it would seem is told to kill himself by handcuffing himself to a bed while Red Wheelbarrow BBQ burns down. There’s Dom, who scopes out the restaurant and discovers Tyrell’s bunker after the fire, but loses out on Tyrell, only to then stumble upon him when he bursts out into the heart of New York City screaming about the Dark Army’s impending attack.
Then there’s Elliot. He gets his moment of triumph, convincing Mr. Robot to let him stop the Dark Army from blowing up the E Corp recovery building in New York City. Elliot has regained his balance, but as ever, it’s a fleeting moment.
As Elliot walks into the streets thinking the danger is behind him, he sees people staring at their phones. Many cry, some look shocked. He wanders over to a store where a number of people crowd around a TV. He sees the headlines: 71 E Corp buildings targeted in a terrorist attack. Thousands presumed dead.
Elliot stopped a single attack, but he didn’t stop Stage 2. He was never going to stop Stage 2. He’s been a pawn in this all along, just like everyone else. That’s why Tyrell flees. That’s why Elliot looks so stricken. Soon enough, Angela will be reckoning with her role as a pawn too.
Elliot, Darlene, Tyrell, Angela, and Mr. Robot once thought they were in control of their revolution. “eps3.5_kill-process.inc” reveals that, perhaps, they never were.