BY ALEXANDER ZALBEN
It was supposed to be a simple launch party for the fictional Bank of ECoin... But like most things associated with USA's cult favorite show Mr. Robot, all was not as it seemed. Yes, E Corp CEO Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) came out and addressed the crowd of fans gathered for the New York Comic-Con-related event. But they were interrupted by something even bigger: the first public showing of the Mr. Robot Season 3 premiere.
The event itself was done up in style true to E Corp, the villainous '80s-esque mega-corporation at the center of Mr. Robot's massive conspiracy-driven plots. After the events of the first season finale, which saw a massive hack perpetrated by Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and his imaginary alter-ego Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), E Corp ended Season 2 back on top. Due to a multi-trillion-dollar, strings-free loan from the US government, E Corp was ready to launch its own bitcoin alternative called ECoin.
Leading up to the season premiere, USA has been teasing fans with E Corp ascendant, starting with a mini ECoin Bank pop-up at San Diego Comic-Con, which included mild escape room elements leading to the reveal of photos from Season 3. They went big for New York, though, with a massive launch party decked out with a DJ spinning pop and '80s tunes, hors d'oeuvres that can only be described as decadent (filet mignon and lobster mac and cheese, to name a few), an open bar, and a "blue carpet" photo booth.
All this hoopla certainly seemed to set up a triumphant return for E Corp... But fsociety, the hacker group started by Elliot, wasn't about to let the soiree go uninterrupted. On arriving, a small group of fans (and your faithful journalist, who is also a fan) were ushered outside the back of the venue. After interacting with a few fsociety members in hoodies and slipping them secret codes, we were taken to a bus completely covered by newspapers (on the windows) and emblazoned with fsociety banners (on the inside). They checked our IDs, we were asked a few personal questions -- mostly to hype up the sense of invasion of our personal privacy, one assumes -- and then taken to another van to get go-bags.
The fans in my group dressed in white shirts were decked out as E Corp waiters, with ties and aprons. The rest of us were given backstage passes and pins to help pretend we weren't secretly fsociety members, but actually there to help E Corp. As if, right?
We were directed to a contact who led us on our mild escape room-esque mission: hack into Price's presentation, in order to replace his launch video with an animation of the fsociety mask. Side-note: it turns out I am terrible at typing code under pressure. FYI. Then it was off to a room to tape your own fsociety manifesto, complete with cane, mask, and top hat, before retiring again to enjoy food and drink before the event kicked off in earnest.
[Note: there was one alternate experience fans got to try out, a chance to check out Price's screening room, which TV Guide did not preview.]
And then it was time for E Corp to hit the stage. Starting with "E Corp's senior vice president of marketing Deborah Heller" who urged us that we could "forge ahead with a brighter future," we welcomed a cover band called The Keystrokes, mostly to allow fans time to get seated (but also, they were delightful, check them out if you can).
Ironically wrapping things up with "Get Lucky," Heller returned to the stage. "Technology is not disruptive... People are," she said, introing an ad for ECoin. The crowd cheered, then it was time for Price's keynote.
"When I look out across this room, I see faces, unbroken by circumstances," Cristofer as Price told the crowd to encouraging cheers. "We live in dark times. It seems our civilization only seeks new ways of destroying itself. Dangerous revolutionaries have tried, and failed, to undo everything we have done. But do not despair! By joining E Corp tonight, all of you showed great strength, and courage, and together with the right leadership, order and stability will be restored. That is what ECoin is all about! This new currency, new era is backed by one of the most powerful entities on the planet... This new currency will unite the world as one, as we move in to a truly digital age. ECoin will provide a new beginning, for a new world. E Corp is, and will always be.... Still. On. Your. Side. With ECoin, we can now move forward."
And then the power started to blitz out. The lights turned red. And the fsociety logo came on screen. While "Price" was ushered off stage, the Keystrokes returned to to play a dark cover version of the Mr. Robot music while fans cheered. Little did E Corp know, each of the "hacker cells" had been given fsociety masks in their go bags, and as fans donned the masks and chanted, revolutionary banners dropped, and the giant E Corp logo that had previously hung over the party came down to the floor.
The screen blitzed out one more time, only to be replaced by the show's recurring motif: Mr. Robot in the fsociety mask on blurry film, inciting the crowd to rise up. Then the video blipped out once more... To be replaced by the first look at the Season 3 premiere.
Without any spoilers, it's a gangbusters return to form after what was arguably a sophomore slump (though Mr. Robot's sophomore slump would be the envy of most other TV shows). It's also extremely funny, relevant and gets back to the spark of revolutionary spirit the first season perfectly captured. Tl;dr, fans are going to be extremely happy.
As the premiere wrapped up Heller once again returned to the stage, this time to apologize for the interruption. Heading outside, we were greeted by E Corp protestors in fsociety masks. And from there, back into the night, ready to take on whoever comes at us: E Corp, the murkily motivated Dark Army... Or even Mr. Robot himself.
Mr. Robot returns to USA on Wednesday, October 11 at 10/9c.