Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3. Not seen Episode 3? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 3’s opening episode.
Mr. Robot’s second season left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Did Elliot die? Is Whiterose somehow the gatekeeper to alternate realities? What happened to Tyrell Wellick? Did Elliot use the popcorn gun on him in Season 1? And does he always wear the same suit? Episode 3 of the show’s third run decides to answer those questions. Well, the Tyrell Wellick questions, anyway.
It’s an unexpected move for a show that has just begun to find its stride once more – instead of building on that momentum, creator Sam Esmail essentially hits pause for an hour to fill in some back-story. But that confidence to play with narrative, pace and expectations remains as much a weakness as a strength, and this chapter is the perfect demonstration of that: as much as it’s intriguing to see where Wellick has been for much of this show’s storyline, it’s far from entertaining or even that rewarding.
We begin just before Tyrell’s disappearance, as the duo hang in the arcade on the night of fsociety’s hack – and yes, we learn that Elliot did grab the gun from the popcorn machine to kill the meddling Wellick. But alas, the gun jammed – a fact that Tyrell interprets as a sign from God, no less, that he and Elliot are destined to work together. It’s a little far-fetched, but it gives Martin Wallström a chance to bring a new dimension to his American Psycho-lite character, a man who comes across as Patrick Bateman’s boring cousin.
Tyrell has always been a relatively one-note character, a determined sociopath in a suit who seems at his best when pushed in the right direction by someone smarter. He was ambitious at Evil Corp, yes, but only because his wife was by his side. Given fresh hope in Elliot, he turns the outcast into a borderline deity, practically worshipping the ground he walks on, feverishly excited about the prospect of helping his cause. It’s a mania that’s certainly more interesting than the blank-faced man we’ve previously seen, and Esmail and Wallström continue to dive deeper into it: the Dark Army whisk away Tyrell, who becomes a top FBI suspect, and keep him in a secluded cabin for safety, There, he’s interrogated to make sure that he’s on their side.
It’s a fantastic scene, which features a guest appearance by Wallace Shawn as an intense, fast-talking manipulator. Asking him the same questions over and over, Shawn delivers the Pinter-esque exchange with a terrifying tenacity and at an alarming speed, quizzing him about his relationship with his father, his marriage to his wife, and his loyalty to the Dark Army. Reducing the character to daddy issues risks undoing a lot of the intrigue that the episode has carefully built up, but Shawn’s barrage of questions is intimidating enough to keep us unsettled, to the point where Tyrell breaks and confesses that, no matter what, he will always be loyal to Elliot.
That sequence is so effective, though, that the rest of the episode fails to match it. As we watch Tyrell given access to Stage 2 to prepare for Elliot’s return (while he’s locked away in Season 2), the resulting string of events, which includes a run-in with the cops, rarely comes across as more than mere exposition. There’s fun, at least, in the chance to spend more time with Bobby Cannavale as Dark Army agent Irving, who not only keeps tabs on Elliot, but also manages to keep Tyrell on a leash. And there’s a strong pay-off, as we see Tyrell finally reunited with Elliot, and him – after Irving has fixed the jammed gun – shooting Elliot, before he learns about Elliot’s identity.
But beyond that, it’s hard to care about a corporate man who’s personality is defined by appearing like a corporate man – a nice joke about his desperate penchant to wear a suit is a rare highlight. Fortunately, there’s another corporate man in the wings, waiting for Esmail to give him more of a role in the plot: a TV report in the background of Whiterose’s living room shows us that Donald Trump is campaigning to become US President, supported by a right-wing cable news network. But, more importantly, he’s also supported by Whiterose/Ministe Zhang, who’s busy trying to influence and shape power around the globe, as well as spreading the propaganda that fsociety isn’t based in the US.
“He’s completely divorced from reality. How would you control him?” asks a right-wing TV show host, as he meets Whiterose. “If you pull the right strings, a puppet will dance any way you desire,” comes the sinister reply. The fact that he could be talking about Tyrell Wellick as much as Donald Trump is a parallel that will hopefully be explored as the weeks continue. There’s potential for Season 3 of Mr. Robot to unearth some gripping new revelations in the future – as long as it doesn’t spend any more episodes dwelling on the past.
Season 3 of Mr. Robot is available to watch exclusively on Amazon Prime Video in the UK, with new episodes arriving every Thursday, within 24 hours of their US premiere. All 10 episodes of Season 1 and 2 are also available to stream, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like free next-day delivery on Amazon products, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.
Photos: USA Network