BY EMMA DIBDIN
“I think they are both incredibly unstable people” says Whiterose's lackey a few minutes into Mr. Robot's Season 3 premiere. This might be the most generous understatement ever applied to Elliot Alderson and Tyrell Wellick. We don't get a whole lot of new information on the ever-elusive Tyrell in this week's episode—watch this space, Martin Wallström fans—but "Power Saver Mode" is doing something new with Elliot's instability now that the two sides of his personality have entirely split.
Elliot can't see Mr. Robot himself any more, and that's both unsettling to him and a big change for the show, which has always leaned heavily on the interaction between Rami Malek and Christian Slater. But other characters can now tell the difference between the two, which gives Slater the chance to play full scenes opposite other cast members for the first time. It also means that Elliot's condition can now be used against him, by Angela, of all people. That revelation is the devastating final blow in an episode laced with dread.
The world remains in quiet chaos following the 5/9 hack, and "Power Saver Mode" finds New York totally without power, our characters forcibly disconnected from technology and meeting by candlelight. It's an evocative backdrop for Elliot's latest existential crisis: having survived the shooting, he wants nothing more than to undo the damage he's done and make it out of this thing alive. And he's right, because Whiterose finally reveals that her ultimate plan is for Elliot to serve his purpose, then "die for us, just like his father."
The spine-tingling highlight of this episode comes with the aborted rekindling of Elliot and Angela's romance, which seemed to finally begin at the end of last season when they kissed on the subway. He tries to kiss her, but she rejects him. In voiceover, Elliot muses, "This is what Angela does. She doesn't love the people who love her; she loves the people who don't. This is her power saver mode." My favorite part of Sam Esmail's writing has always been the way he re-purposes the language of coding and tech to describe human emotions, and this might be the most beautiful example yet. By loving only people who will never love her back, Angela protects herself from real intimacy and maintains her own power.
But Angela's not just in power saver mode. She's no longer just Elliot's sweet, idealistic childhood friend; she's a disciple of Whiterose now, and the fervor in her voice ("She opened my eyes...") makes it clear this is her only priority. Elliot is collateral damage. He asks Angela to keep an eye on him, let him know if he becomes Mr. Robot, because if anyone can tell, it's her. She can tell, and that's how she's able to conspire with Mr. Robot against Elliot, actively working to make sure that Elliot fails in his attempts to stop the hack from doing any more damage.
Angela sees in Whiterose a chance to take back everything—not just 5/9, but the death of her mother and Elliot's father. Does that mean that Mr. Robot is moving further into the realm of science fiction? Is Whiterose's obsession with time laying the groundwork for a segue into actual time travel? Why else does Angela think there's a real chance for her mom's death to be undone?
On the subject of time travel, let's talk about That Monologue, the one in which Elliot barrels down a chaotic New York street and reflects on this broken world he's created. His revolutionary hack "didn't get rid of the invisible hand, it turned it into a fist that punched us in the dick," he snarls in voiceover, calling out his own emo rebel philosophizing from seasons past. "Fuck society? Yeah, well I fucked society, all right."
There's an essential problem facing Mr. Robot, a very dark show about a very dark world: it takes place in 2015, which means its fictional timeline is always competing with the mind-bogglingly grim reality in which it's airing. But Esmail (who is as politically outspoken as you'd expect in real life) is not going to pass up the opportunity to use Donald Trump in his alt-reality horror story. And so, Elliot wonders, as we cut to a montage of 2017 horrors (Trump, Pence, Brexit, the wall), what could happen now that he's set this dark future into motion? Imagine a world in which we have all "bought in on our worst selves," in which we have elected leaders that embody our most craven, corrupt, egotistical impulses. Just. Imagine.
- I am FURIOUS on Irving's behalf about that milkshake nonsense. What does qualify as a visit? If he's a loyal enough customer to have earned his free milkshake, just give him his gosh-darned free milkshake! Also, THIRTEEN DOLLARS for a milkshake? Even in NYC, that's insane (is this post-5/9 inflation?).
- Did we already know Mr. Alderson was unknowingly working for the Dark Army during his time at E-Corp? I'm going to say no. This throws a huge spanner in Angela's justice plan, since Mr. Alderson died for the Dark Army, not for E-Corp.
- Now that we know for sure that Tyrell is real and not another alternative personality... does Tyrell know the difference between Elliot and Mr. Robot? It doesn't seem like it from their interaction here, where Tyrell awkwardly apologizes for having to shoot him, but it's still unclear.
- Also, Tyrell was clearly devastated by the possibility that Elliot might die (and let's not forget the "I love him" phone call from the finale), but if he didn't want Elliot to die, couldn't he have shot him, I don't know, anywhere other than the stomach?
- Elliot going back to his old apartment made me unreasonably happy. I really felt the absence of that location last year.
- A whole season on from her last anxiety attack in a bathroom, Darlene is now hanging on by a thread, and Carly Chaikin is incredibly good at conveying her pure, desperate panic. If she hasn't already flipped (as in become an FBI informant), she will soon.
- "It's times like this I really wish I had an inner mute button." Elliot drily mocking the douchebags around him is always deeply entertaining, and everyone in that hacker space truly seemed like the worst.
- I won't pretend to understand the move Irving pulled where he called that car company and had their pursuers forcibly slowed down, but it was extremely cool. Also, the man appreciates some good BBQ. 10/10, would hang out with Irving over just about anybody else in this show.