BY HOAI-TRAN BUI
(We’re going to kickstart our weekly discussion of USA’s Mr. Robot season 3 by answering one simple question: who had the biggest mental breakdown in this week’s episode?)
Following up last week’s dour episode, Mr. Robot takes a trip down the cinematic rabbit hole. “Don’t Delete Me” has Elliot (Rami Malek) once again grappling with his guilt, but this time it’s not limited to the thousands of people who died in the E Corp explosions, but over Trenton and Mobley being framed for them. His ensuing depression results in him taking a subtle step back from reality — the entire episode is once again deeply embedded in his POV, shot in the widescreen 1.85:1 format.
It lends to the surreal quality of the episode, as Elliot wanders through New York cleaning up loose ends and trying to atone to Trenton and Mobley’s families. But their rejection of his efforts only sends him down a deeper spiral that finds him sitting alone at a deserted beach on Coney Island, with a bag of meth pills in hand. It’s a dark image for an episode that turns out to be one of the season’s most hopeful yet.
This Week’s Breakdown: Angela
I guess this one depends on whether you think Mobley’s brother Mohammed was real or not. I’m going believe that he did exist, though his filling in of the “pure soul guides our wayward hero back to the light” trope did come at stunningly convenient time for Elliot, who spends much of the episode contemplating suicide.
In that case — though we saw a flashback of the birth of Mr. Robot in an unsettling scene of young Elliot watching his father collapse at the movie theater — Angela (Portia Doubleday) takes the cake this week. But there’s a ray of hope for Angela, who has been in a delusional funk for weeks since the attacks happened. This breakdown is actually a positive one, with Elliot, who had been avoiding his best friend since she helped enact Stage 2, finally breaking through her mental barrier. They never see each other as Elliot calmly recounts their favorite childhood game on the other side of her door while Angela slides down in despair, but it’s enough. She cries as he reminisces about their “wishing game,” finally answering him when he asks what she would always say to him at the end of their game: “No matter what happens, everything will be okay.” The pop music swells at this emotional climax — the stellar needle drop of this episode is the funky Robbi Rob song “In Time” from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures — and Angela is broken out of her numb shell.
This emotional zenith is the final cherry on top of the episode’s many allusions to time travel and alternate dimensions, which showrunner Sam Esmail has been cryptically teasing as well. With one episode left before the season finale, could Mr. Robot break the world go full sci-fi? Who knows.
‘Something I Gotta Do’
“Deletion. When you make that decision, there’s always that moment of hesitation. Yes or no. Yes means ridding the world of Mr. Robot and myself forever. That includes you.”
“Don’t Delete Me” offers a lethargic, introspective break from some of this season’s more action-packed episodes, playing out Elliot’s suicidal contemplations in an out-of-body cinematic display. The credits rolling to a movie logo of Mr. Robot‘s title was proof enough that though we spend the episode embedded in Elliot’s mind, he’s not quite there himself. He robotically goes about the city “wiping down” his presence. Visiting Mobley and Trenton’s families to pay their respects, dropping off his dog at his neighbor’s house. Finally, after a particularly fragile encounter with Trenton’s parents and brother, he makes his way to Coney Island, sitting at the barren beach with a bag of pills. But he never get to do that horrible, unspoken deed — he’s interrupted by Trenton’s little brother, the precocious and stubborn Mohammed.
Rami Malek may have showcased some of his latent comedic potential here: He spends the next few minutes baffled and stuttering at Mohammed’s refusal to leave his side, in an endearing performance that almost gets a chuckle out of me. But Elliot is eager to get rid of the boy, who keeps badgering him in a way that preteen boys can only do. “There’s something I gotta do,” Elliot monotonously repeats, only to be ignored by Mohammed, who insists he take him to the movies. And here’s where the episode takes on that surreal atmosphere that its cinematic presentation keeps promising.
Back to the Movies
The day that Elliot takes Mohammed to the movies happens to be October 21, 2015, the illustrious Back to the Futureday. It’s jarring to see the two of them stroll up to a small theater surrounded by Doc and Marty cosplayers — the theater itself is reminiscent of something you’d find on the set of Back to the Future. Elliot is suddenly excited to see the movie despite Mohammed’s protestations that he wants to see The Martian, and the two of them sit down at the theater in a scene that plays out in a eerily similar fashion to the opening scene of young Elliot creating Mr. Robot. Here is where you can question whether Mohammed exists or not — his empty seat is an exact parallel to Mr. Robot’s empty seat next to little Elliot in the flashback — but either way, it’s a bright prognosis of Elliot’s mental state. Either he dreamed up a young boy who blocked his suicidal attempts, or the universe intervened and Mohammed approached him of his own volition. He’s a heartening little plot device who acts as a nice litmus test of whether you believe in fate or an innate sense of self-preservation.
The episode never lets up on that surreal atmosphere. The passerby milling about in ’50s costumes and wild white wigs, the empty lounge except for two men kissing and a disgruntled Lorraine cosplayer, the friendly Jewish ice cream truck driver playing “War of the Worlds” on his radio — they all lend to that dreamlike quality that feels like watching a particularly trippy French New Wave movie. Even when he takes Mohammed home and the boy gives him a lollipop (“because you said you were sick”) and Elliot cries, it all feels so distant from the dark and broody Mr. Robot that we’ve come to know.
“That’s the thing about deletion, it’s never permanent,” Elliot says, ending the episode on one of the show’s most hopeful notes we’ve seen. Though the “Don’t Delete Me” goes in some dark places, its undercurrent of hope and redemption makes it one of my favorite episodes of the season. Maybe, like the Lorraine cosplayer says at the movie theater, the show is “about how one mistake can change the world.” But this episode seems to respond, it’s also about how those mistakes can be fixed.