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?
“Metadata: the story behind the data,” Elliot intones as he rustles through Darlene’s apartment underneath the FBI’s stakeout. “Getting information is one thing, but how it was created, where and by whom, can often be illuminating.”
“Metadata,” Mr. Robot’s snap back to reality after last week’s intimate Tyrell-centric detour, is all about that illumination, but not particularly about what happens after revelations come to light. The entire episode is like the moment right before you release your breath, your lungs sucking in more and more air until your heart is pounding in your ears and the edges of your sight becomes fuzzy. But in the process of illumination —whether it’s about Angela, Santiago, that dreaded Stage 2 — sometimes things become less clear.
Complain as I did about last week’s episode spinning its wheels, “Metadata” truly feels like all set-up and little else. Sam Esmail delivers a tightly plotted episode without any of the signature stylistic flourishes we’ve seen in the past few episodes. But if “Metadata” still feels frustratingly incomplete, that’s probably because it is. There’s only so long you can hold your breath.
This Week’s Breakdown: Darlene Alderson
Darlene is beset from all sides once again this week, and it’s begun to wear on her. Her guilt — at crashing the economy, at betraying her brother, at killing Susan Jacobs, at losing Cisco — culminates in an encounter with a random pickpocket, a jittery pink-haired girl upon whom Darlene unleashes all of her sorrows.
But that brief moment of catharsis is quickly cut short when Darlene arrives at her FBI-bugged apartment to find her brother Elliot there waiting for her. The two of them warily circling each other until Elliot finally lets her in on his solitary battle against the Dark Army, compounding her guilt at betraying him to the FBI. It all comes to a head when she follows Mr. Robot at Elliot’s behest and discovers Angela’s duplicity against Elliot. Shocked, she flees — leaving behind for Elliot only a Polaroid of the two of them as kids with their dad.
Carly Chiakin’s quietly fraying performance as Darlene has been one of the standouts of this season. Her abrasive riot grrl act could easily wear on viewers (it definitely did in season 1), but Chiakin has been adding layers of complexity to Darlene — vulnerable, on edge, and likely suffering from PTSD. In a show where characters swing from wildly erratic to coldly emotionless, Chiakin is somewhere in-between, uncertain of how to process her guilt and desire for emotional connection. It’s a delightfully introspective performance that allows Chiakin to flex her acting chops beyond the standoffish archetype she has inhabited until now
An Angela in Disguise
Speaking of cold performances, I’m not sure what to make of Portia Doubleday’s increasingly icy turn as Angela. Her arc has been one of the most compelling on Mr. Robot, but she seems to uncomfortably wear the facade of master manipulator — and her cracks are beginning to show. Seeing her spar with Bobby Cannavale’s delightfully nonchalant Irving (I may start rating episodes based on how much I see Irving, because there wasn’t nearly enough of him this week), is awkward and clumsy, but it feels intentional — Angela trying to assert her small slice of power, Irving not caring about anything but his barbecue ribs.
So much for all the time spent with Martin Wellstrom’s Tyrell last episode, however. He feels flatter and more malleable than ever, resorting to raging about his new safe house after Angela reveals the results of Elliot’s sabotage to him. He throws out some histrionic accusations about how his image of Elliot had fallen from a god to a cockroach, causing Mr. Robot to lose control and attack him, Angela watching blankly. But her facade slips once again when Elliot begins flickering between personalities, and she’s forced to soothe and inject the discombobulated Elliot with a sedative. But this unexpected switch does more than simply threaten Angela’s carefully laid plans, she’s visibly rattled at the prospect of Elliot discovering her betrayal.
As the pieces start to settle in place for our main characters, the FBI is still being sent on a wild goose chase for fsociety by the Dark Army. A stooge is arrested to appease the intrepid Dom, who can’t be persuaded otherwise even by her partner Santiago (Omar Metwally) — who we learned last week was a double agent for the Dark Army.
I wonder what the series intends for Dom, who even finds herself at the mercy of an unhinged Darlene, toying with Dom as she demands information. She’s been presented as capable, empathetic, noble — but always one step behind Elliot and two steps behind the Dark Army. But Mr. Robot treats Dom as more of a periphery hindrance than an essential character — even her betrayal by her partner barely leaves enough of a ripple to alarm the audience. It is fascinating to see Darlene and Dom as two sides of a duplicitous coin however, both wholly alone after a betrayal that one is painfully aware of, and a betrayal that the other remains ignorant of.
It feels like most of the action of this episode takes place behind-the-scenes, with our characters caught in stasis until the penny inevitably drops. Stage 2, Elliot’s discovery of Angela and Mr. Robot’s plans, Darlene’s involvement with the FBI. But amid this swirling mess of intersecting betrayals and foiled plots is the vainglorious, the magnificent Irving. Cannavale maintains a jovial aura beneath an indiscernible face, all the while throwing about sinister threats and honeyed words of encouragement.
I never could have predicted how Irving would become ingrained in this season’s newfound energy, swaggering into the show’s most somber moments with a joke and a threat: “I’m the guy they call when you fuck up.” It turns out to be true both within and outside of the show.