“Mr. Robot” A Season 3 Premiere Review by Liz Warner

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NYC transit advertising for Mr. Robot Season 3 premiere.

[Spoilers for Mr. Robot through Season 3, episode 2. Read at your own risk.]

USA’s Emmy winner “Mr. Robot” Season 3.0 premiered to generally rave reviews on October 11, 2017.

Primarily because the show’s creator and director, Sam Esmail, had indicated he planned to make the show a bit less dark by adding some “levity” to it, and based on an almost silly seven minute teaser pre-released, I had been worried. Too drastic a tonal change, I feared, would miss key points I expect the show to deliver.

The teaser featured cast newcomer, Bobby Cannavale, in a Red Wheelbarrow BBQ joint as Irving, a used car salesman, with higher, and cryptic, aspirations — presumably to be decrypted, and hyperlinked to Tyrell Wellick [Martin Wallström], in upcoming episodes. It was silly and could totally be dispensed with, but Cannavale has the charisma, if not the gravitas, for the digression into faux humor. It somehow worked just fine, though it sounds and looks more like something written by Tom Schnauz, directed by Vince Gilligan, and edited by Kelley Dixon for “Better Call Saul.”

The season’s second episode starts as silly as the first. On the subway to work at E Corp, Elliot sees fellow strap hangers with enlarged Emoji heads depicting their simple base emotions. He appears as an Emoji himself, except expressionless, ostensibly due to the Zoloft he now takes every day to keep Mr. Robot at bay. The scene works well, however, because it’s a cultural reference apropos of Elliot’s life and times.

Elliot’s mood isn’t as flat as it appears, however. We later see him on the floor in his apartment sobbing. He’s lonely without Mr. Robot. We ostensibly then watch him visit his psychiatrist, Krista [Gloria Reuben], who sees him at her home due to a power disconnection at her office. We learn Elliot is avoiding his sister, Darlene, since he realizes she ‘activates’ Mr. Robot. Elliot reminisces with Kristen about how his father pushed him out of a window as a kid, but she is shocked and insists he hadn’t told her about it before. She manages to entice Mr. Robot out of Elliot at the session. Both Christian Slater and Gloria Reuben perform skillfully in this scene.

So, no, after two episodes, it appears the show is gearing up to a ‘shift control’ as promised, and not to a ‘control delete’ as dreaded. I’m relieved.

The ten episode season reportedly has a spellbinding episode 5/6 arc involving Elliot Alderson [Rami Malek] and Angela Moss [Portia Doubleday], as ‘Stage Two’ unfolds. Whatever vulnerabilities Season Two may have had had, it appears they’ve been patched.

Elliot’s sister, Darlene Alderson [Carly Chaikin], awaits the wrath of the Dark Army and the orders of the FBI. Dominique “Dom” DiPierro [Grace Gummer] has co-opted Darlene as a “confidential human source,” using Elliot to get to the most-wanted, Tyrell Wellick, but it’s impossible to see how she won’t be double-crossed in this scheme.

Dissociative-identity-disordered Elliot temporarily manages to subdue his alter ego, Mr. Robot [Christian Slater], who sometimes appears to him as his once-dead and apparently abusive father. Despite a brutal gunshot wound from last season’s cliffhanger, whereby Tyrell shot Elliot to stop him from sabotaging Stage Two, Elliot is up and at ‘em, motivated to make amends to E Corp and society for his hacking chicanery.

A strength of the show has always been its eerie mirroring of 2015 America, with E Corp a composite of the worst that was/is Enron, Bear Stearns, and Google; and fsociety an analogue to Anonymous or Occupy Wall Street, topped off with the obligatory Trump disparagements that remain ubiquitous almost a year after Obama — both arguably the most cynical political administrations of recent history. That said, the anti-Trump rhetoric seems a bit gratuitous and off the mark given the show takes place in 2015 and risks alienating roughly half of a TV audience who take their politics more seriously than a TV writer’s rants.

Last season, the show managed to credibly portray a Federal Reserve Board of Governors’ meeting, where its members tried to forge a solution to financial meltdown caused by the fictitious 5/11 attack, amidst a global monetary crisis and currency manipulation by China. E Corp, which Elliot previously dubbed ‘Evil Corp,’ and Philip Price [Michael Cristofer] see opportunity in crisis, and develop a crypto-currency, ECoin, pitching it at the G-20 summit. However, Whiterose [BD Wong], the mysterious transgender woman (or alter ego — who can really be sure?) who acts as the Chinese Minister of State Security by day and a leader of the Dark Army by night, intends to thwart that goal.

At the start of the season, Elliot is “growing up” and realizes that E Corp, yes, E Corp, may, in fact, be a necessary evil. He realizes the havoc he’s caused and wants to remedy it by going to work for them, with a 401(k) and HMO plan to boot! He rats out a couple of particularly stupid E Corp executives to the FBI for fraud (reminiscent of some real life corporate transgressions) after he hacked them, and then persuaded the top brass to digitize E Corp data in various offsite facilities to mitigate future damages or amortize potential risks. (You need to suspend disbelief at the ignorance.) And on his own initiative, he generated a digital signature protocol to prevent unauthorized access. Good for Elliot. Good for Esmail. Season Two left Elliot in a character tundra and Esmail in a writing bind. Putting Elliot inside E Corp is an absolutely ideal setup for the season.

The show is often at its best with Elliot’s monologues. Thing is, Elliot may be crazy, but he still speaks for many of us IRL — those three-dimensioned bodies behind the fourth wall — including all the sheep that the political and corporate elites seem so willing to sacrifice, shy of slaughter, to effectuate their largely self-serving ambitions. Elliot’s monologues, against a backdrop of blinking computer screens or pitiful street scenes, provide exquisite opportunities for the often palatable exposition Esmail must get us to swallow. It’s often masterful.

Hope and change? Change the world? Make the world a better place? Not so fast, Elliot. Grow up. Control is an illusion. You know that. Better than most.

The best dialog remains Elliot’s when he breaks the rules, and the fourth wall. One can suppose that it’s Esmail’s as much as Elliot’s voice coming through — a cynical commentary of the entropy of the American epoch. Without apology to John Mellencamp, ain’t that America?

We can continue to count on the edgy lighting, camera angles, long takes, and great music montages/scoring.

My hopes remain two for this show this season. First is that the female characters are better serviced in advancing the plot, not because I’m a crusading feminist, but because I believe Esmail is missing opportunities. We need to, for instance, better grok Angela’s underlying motives or get a feel for what it is that really makes Marlene tick. These women in particular lack sufficient development for my taste. Both have potentially pivotal arcs in the new season, and hopefully, will be given more commensurate actions and more appropriate lines in their roles.

Thankfully, after Episode Two, there’s no need to harp on Joanna Wellick [Stephanie Corneliussen], let alone pull out a violin, though that begs the question as to why she was written in the first place. At best, she frames Scott Knowles while exculpating her husband, and, BTW, what did she ever see in Tyrell, anyway? Or him, her? And why use the boy-toy Derek to set him up for her façade? Surely there was a more compelling way of getting Scott or Tyrell to where they need to be for the story. Almost as repugnant is the FBI’s intention of using the baby to lure Tyrell out of hiding.

And, while Whiterose is brilliantly played by BD Wong, it would be satisfying to demystify her a bit more. I’d like to see her as a vehicle to add that levity Esmail says he’s striving for, while also augmenting the gravity of the threat to the status quo she poses.

The recurring tropey Kojak tootsie roll pop prop, and “listen to me even though I’m just a dame!” lines Grace Gummer usually delivers as FBI Agent DiPierro seem a sad waste of talent. It wasn’t until last season when DiPierro poured out her heart and soul to Alexa, her bot-butler cum BFF alone in bed, that any dimension was added to her character. I’d like to see more.

Secondarily this season, I want to see devastating consequences of the economic downfall play out more dramatically. It’s been shown to some extent through intermittent power outages, trash burning in the streets, small per diem ATM withdrawals, and rampant inflation, but there’s incongruity when, for instance, you see customers lining up for $12 milkshakes from a cheery high school kid behind a counter. It’s incredible that New York City wouldn’t be perpetual state of heightened chaos. Add Stage Two, and it ought to wreak anarchy or near apocalyptic doom.

Thus far, the ratings this season are off to a rocky start for “Mr. Robot,” although it’s hard to tell if it’s due to rapidly changing viewership habits or increasingly fickle audiences. Hopefully, USA will be satisfied with the critical acclaim this show affords the network and will allow the series to reach a conclusion organically as its creator intended.

Oh, and by the way, never mind all the Mr. Robot time-travel whisperers on Reddit. Time travel could be inferred by some of Angela’s and Whiterose’s lines, but was not seriously implied by Esmail. If he were to execute a paradigm shift of such magnitude, he will do so at his own peril. This is a dystopian story — an amalgam of techno-, psycho-, and econo-thriller elements. It’s alternative reality, to be sure, but it’s well grounded in the here and now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Annie Moss

Political junkie and writer.

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