BY VIKRAM MURTHI
Mr. Robot is playing catch-up and cleaning house. Last week’s season premiere had a fairly narrow focus — communicating Elliot and Mr. Robot’s oppositional intentions and revealing Angela’s true motivations — but in “Eps3.1undo.gz,” the series successfully expands the scope further without jeopardizing the season’s nascent plan. It reintroduces a whole host of characters while paring down their involvement and, most important, directly tying it all back into Elliot and Mr. Robot. Everyone’s motivations are precise and the stakes are clarified.
Before the catch-up, let’s start with the house cleaning. Joanna Wellick, after appearing on the talk show Let’s Be Frank With Frank Cody — where she professes her love for Tyrell — is killed by her former lover Derek. (He’s the one who agreed to testify that Scott Knowles murdered his wife, clearing Tyrell of the crime, in exchange for being with Joanna.) Though Stephanie Corneliussen has always played the part admirably, the series never served her character well, and Joanna’s perfunctory presence last season all but negates her involvement this year. Though Joanna was an afterthought, her death still feels especially cruel considering her child was in the car at the time. Adding insult to injury (or fatality), Joanna’s child will be given up to social service because the FBI is still chasing Tyrell and wants to keep her death under wraps.
Speaking of the FBI, “eps3.1_undo.gz” confirms that Darlene has flipped and become an FBI informant (or a CHS — confidential human source). Though Agent DiPierro and her jerk of a partner keep plugging Darlene for information about Elliot and Tyrell, she doesn’t admit to knowing anything about their relationship. She and Elliot are also not speaking because Elliot believes she triggers Mr. Robot. Darlene, still clearly traumatized from the fsociety debacle and Cisco’s death, must provide the FBI with information on Elliot or risk going to jail.
Meanwhile, Elliot sans Mr. Robot embarks on a new plan to change Evil Corp from within. In a swaggering seven-minute opening sequence, Elliot details the beginning of his covert operation to digitize all of Evil Corp’s records before they can be demolished and further destroy the global economy. He’s on a mission to convince his many superiors to switch away from paper records to secure digital files, and if any one of them doesn’t listen, he hacks into their account to find something incriminating. One boss illegally installed software so Evil Corp could sell private consumer data, another boss helped the company’s auto manufacturing partners cheat the emissions test, and so on. Eventually, someone — notably, the first woman in the sequence — actually listens to what Elliot says and sets up a meeting to follow through with his plan. In the meantime, he has helped divert shipments of paper records so they don’t reach New York, and he’s even brought down other malignant Evil Corp employees. “Maybe I fucked up an already fucked-up world,” Elliot says, “but I’m fixing it now. Hitting undo. And friend, it feels great.”
Yet, Elliot’s attempts to normalize (signing up for a 401K, an HMO plan, and even Trunk Club) have left him psychologically malnourished. His crippling loneliness and exhaustion, present in the series’ pilot episode, has returned with a vengeance. He takes Zoloft, and even though it doesn’t work, he fortunately hasn’t slid back into harder drugs. He has returned to sessions with Krista, who does her best to get him to open up, and he complies to the best of his ability. He tells her a story about when he and Darlene built a snowman to look like Kevin McCallister from Home Aloneon the day his father pushed him out a window, an event Elliot hadn’t previously disclosed to Krista. The significance of Elliot’s story is obvious: It’s the last good moment before Elliot’s father became the omnipresent figure in his life, before he manifested himself as a separate personality in Elliot’s mind.
Mr. Robot makes two key appearances this week: First, with Darlene. On the night of Elliot’s birthday, Elliot and Darlene meet up and she tells him that she’s getting out of dodge. He invites her to stay at his place for the night, but awakens to her fiddling with his computer. It’s here that Mr. Robot appears and frightens Darlene, barking at her to admit to what she did. It’s later revealed that she gave the FBI access to his computer.
Second, Elliot willingly brings him out to talk to Krista. Here, Mr. Robot swaggers around her office, condescending to Krista and rambling about how they were doing just fine without her. It appears that Mr. Robot no longer has easy access to Elliot, and there’s a clear separation between the two identities rather than a fluid combination of the two. He frightens Krista, but Elliot has no knowledge of their conversation.
By the episode’s final scenes, it’s unclear if Mr. Robot has taken over Elliot or if Elliot acts independently. Following his departure from Krista’s office, he wonders aloud “why he feels more alive than ever,” and then eventually gets the drop on the FBI. In the last scene, DiPierro sees that he has broken into Darlene’s house, clearly knowing that he’s being watched.
Has Mr. Robot returned with a vengeance because Elliot needs to be a part of something? Though he succeeds in infiltrating Evil Corp from within, he’s no longer a renegade hacktivist tearing down civilization to rebuild it in his own image. What is his purpose now? He cries inconsolably watching reality television. He’s just another cog in a ruthless machine.
Without his knowledge, Stage 2 is still under way. Whiterose decrees that it will occur on the day of the U.N.’s vote to allow China to annex the Congo, regardless of the result. The larger irony of the situation evades even Mr. Robot himself: Stage 2 isn’t a noble venture created by outsiders trying to pull away the wool from the world’s eyes, but rather the culmination of a pissing match between Whiterose and Phillip Price. The problem is that the man at the center of it all is unstable, and it’s unclear who will be steering the ship when the time comes to execute the plan.
• I did appreciate Elliot using the phrase “dorm-room philosophizing run amok” as a self-critique in his opening monologue.
• The funniest sight gag in the episode is an advertisement for a new film entitled Separation Anxiety starring Will Ferrell and Judi Dench.
• The shot of Joanna’s baby covered in his mother’s blood is too grotesque, even for this show.
• Music corner: INXS’s “New Sensation” soundtracks the opening montage, Roxette’s no. 1 single “Listen to Your Heart” plays over Joanna Wellick’s murder, and the FBI hears Elliot playing “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies.