BY VIKRAM MURTHI
At last, Elliot has had enough. Mr. Robot has been chasing him since he was a kid, and he can’t seem to lose him. Drugs, therapy, jail — none of it worked. He thought focusing his energies on Robin Hood–esque cyberterrorism would cure his malaise and make him a hero, but he only ended up playing into the hands of the world’s most insidious international terrorist cell. Three weeks after 71 E Corp buildings exploded, Elliot makes a crucial decision, one that he’s been thinking about for a long time.
“eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” follows Elliot’s suicide attempt and his slow return from the brink. Written and directed by Sam Esmail, it’s an unusually sentimental episode of Mr. Robot, one that passionately argues life is worth living even when you’re going through personal hell. Given the series’s appropriately fatalist attitude for the past few episodes, this marks a noticeable shift in tone. Mr. Robot has ostensibly earned that shift, and the end result is satisfying, but it’s not without its fair share of bumps in the road.
Following the murders of Mobley and Trenton, Elliot decides that Mr. Robot’s actions have all but precluded the possibility of a sustainable life. He sees that Mr. Robot created a world in his own image, one that’s rife with chaos, and it’s technically Elliot’s fault (or at least he believes that to be the case). He reassures Darlene that he just needs some alone time, and that tomorrow they can get high and watch Careful Massacre together. He pawns off Flipper onto a neighbor. He gives away his Mr. Robot jacket to the street-trash burners. He buys a shitload of morphine pills and heads straight to the Coney Island beach so he can be washed away.
But before he decides to end his life, he checks in with the families of Mobley and Trenton to pay his respects. Mobley’s brother (Dileep Rao) rejects Elliot’s condolences; he resents his brother for jeopardizing his own reputation and career, and vows not to pay for a “terrorist funeral.” Meanwhile, Trenton’s family plans to move away, presumably out of the country, for fear of Islamophobic retribution. Elliot assures Trenton’s father that her daughter is innocent and a good person. Meanwhile, Trenton’s younger brother Muhammad (Elisha Henig) overhears the conversation, convincing him to pursue Elliot further.
When Elliot lands at the Coney Island beach, he’s stunned to find that Muhammad has followed him the entire way. Elliot tries to get him to leave to no avail, so he agrees to take him back to his house. Upon arrival, they discover that Muhammad’s parents have traveled to Connecticut and they won’t be back until much later. Elliot, frustrated and wracked with impatient loathing, doesn’t know how to get rid of this kid, who has all but ruined his plans. Muhammad eventually convinces Elliot to take him to the movies, something that his parents refuse to do due to exorbitant costs. Elliot agrees and he takes him to see Back to the Future Part II, his favorite film, even though Muhammad wanted to see The Martian instead.
Esmail’s intentions are clear: Elliot acts as a temporary, reluctant surrogate father to Muhammad, whose presence unintentionally prevents him from killing himself. Elliot and Muhammad’s adventure to the movies also recalls the episode’s opening flashback where Edward Alderson, who’s slowly succumbing to his disease, takes a young Elliot to see Shallow Grave. In the flashback, Edward begs Elliot to forgive him for pushing Elliot out the window before it’s too late. Elliot refuses and indifferently watches as his father collapses in the theater lobby. He grabs his dad’s Mr. Robot jacket and takes it with him to a theater where he proceeds to whisper to an empty chair, a nascent vision of his future alternate personality.
Elliot’s fractured relationship with his father, coupled with his early death, has certainly contributed to his social alienation and his pessimistic outlook. He knows that the same fate could befall young Muhammad following Trenton’s murder. Though initially resentful toward him, Elliot eventually adopts a gentler, more paternal approach after Muhammad abruptly bails on the movie and heads to a mosque out of despair. Elliot convinces the child that he’s not responsible for his sister’s death and then makes sure he gets home safe. In essence, he tries to open up avenues of forgiveness with his surrogate son, something he couldn’t do with his real father. In turn, this also allows Elliot to start forgiving himself.
There’s a lot at play here, and truthfully, not all of it really works. For one thing, the parallels between the father-son relationships don’t really click beyond the bare implicit connection. Conversely, Esmail’s script falls into overwrought, obvious territory when it actually deals with Elliot’s suicide. There are a handful of cringeworthy moments that made me wish for just a little more restraint: the strained opening voiceover about “deletion”; Hard Andy’s forced death-wish ramblings; Elliot screaming, “SO DO I!” after Muhammad openly wishes he was dead.
While “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” might be too structurally neat to convey every one of the episode’s varied emotions — not to mention the borderline trite premise itself, i.e. cute kid gives depressed adult a reason to live — the overall effect still has potency. Malek gives another stellar performance this week, and Esmail allows him to communicate a range of behavior: despair, rage, frustration, resolve, and even a glimmer of optimism. Though occasionally cloying, the scenes between Henig and Malek are still moving, as Henig expertly reveals Muhammad’s struggle to deal with adult concepts like grief and betrayal.
Malek deserves praise for conveying Elliot’s fluctuating emotional state, and Esmail ultimately deserves enormous credit for crafting an episode that hinges on a main character’s impossible death. Without Elliot, there is no Mr. Robot, so “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” depends upon the audience’s belief that Elliot could actually kill himself. Esmail successfully placed me in Elliot’s despondent mindset for the episode’s first half, only to convincingly pull out of the character’s tunnel vision to see a world that’s worth salvaging. Moreover, he also captures the freewheeling, quasi-dangerous feeling of an unexpected adventure in the episode’s back half. Cribbing from Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, Esmail fills the frame with eerie visions, mostly in the form of strangers in the background: the specter of Back to the Future cosplayers, an unlikely ally in the form of a Hasidic ice-cream-truck driver, shots of masked strangers and army patrol members, etc. I give Esmail flack in these recaps because, in spite of his talent, he has certain writerly and visual tendencies that drive me up the wall. But here, his heart, mind, and vision are in the right place.
In the last minutes of the episode, Elliot visits Angela, who’s still in the midst of a nervous breakdown. He talks to her through her front door and reminds her of a wishing game they used to play as a kid, and how they derived joy from the wishing itself rather than the outcome. The message rings true: Striving for a brighter future is better than just walking through life, not wishing for anything at all. By the end of the day, Elliot serendipitously receives his Mr. Robot jacket. He gets Flipper back. He replaces his broken mirror. He sets up yet another computer. At that exact moment, he receives Trenton’s email that contains instructions to possibly undo the Five/Nine hack. There’s more work to be done.
• The episode’s finest moment might be Elliot blackmailing Mobley’s brother into arranging a proper funeral. It’s a great conclusion that exposes the brother’s hypocrisy and gives Mobley a proper sendoff.
• The characterization of the drug dealer Hard Andy skirted around antiquated stereotypes, and it’s a blessing that the scene wasn’t too prolonged.
• Music Corner: “These Old Memories” by Honey & the Bees opens the episode; Four Aces’ “Mr. Sandman,” the version that’s featured in Back to the Future, plays when Elliot and Muhammad go to the theater; Robbi Ryan’s “In Time,” which is prominently featured in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, scores the episode’s final moments.
• The rest of us might have shitty taste, but gimme a damn break, Elliot. Your favorite movie is an inferior sequel to a stellar original! You don’t get to throw stones at The Martian.