Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 4. Not seen Episode 4? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 3’s opening episode.
“Please tell me you know what’s happening.” That was the kind of thing you could expect to hear during Season 1 and Season 2 of Mr. Robot, as Sam Esmail’s cyber-hacking thriller twisted and spiralled into an ambitious, and not always coherent, worldwide web. Season 3 of the show, though, has moved on confidently from its uneven sophomore run, distilling, condensing and tightening its components to build a leaner, smarter machine: it hasn’t felt this cohesive since the very beginning of Season 1.
That tidier, refined structure gives Esmail and his writing team more breathing room. On the one hand, that means time for unnecessary episodes looking back at Tyrell Wellick’s role in all of this, but on the other, it means time for some effective, absorbing character analysis.
The above cry comes from Elliot, as he suddenly emerges from a Mr. Robot session in the middle of a heated exchange. This season has seen the two halves of Elliot’s personality become increasingly distinct, but now that Elliot has become aware of his alter-ego still operating in the shadows, a collision course has been laid out. As Mr. Robot goes about trying to implement Stage 2, Elliot has been sneakily performing his own subterfuge, stopping those paper documents being delivers to Evil Corp’s backup facility – and so, just as Mr. Robot meets up with Tyrell and Angela in a secret underground bunker (is there any other kind?), and just as Tyrell discovers Elliot’s ploy and throws a wobbly, Mr. Robot moves to strangle Wellick, which proves just enough to free Elliot from his mental prison.
It’s a telling turning point: Elliot has had enough of violence and suffering at his hands, and even the subconscious thought of causing more is enough to knock him out of his stupor. Tyrell complains that he no longer views Elliot as a god, and that he is taking control of the mission, just as Elliot is growing in power and strength.
And yet Elliot also knows that, deep down, Mr. Robot is part of him – and that the idea of tearing apart the world is exciting to him on some level. And what Mr. Robot manages in Season 3 is to widen that conflict across the whole series: this episode becomes a nuanced study of how everyone has been sucked in by Elliot’s split identity, turning them into duplicitous people themselves.
Angela is a key example of that transformation, as she moves from Elliot’s oblivious friend to a daughter plotting revenge from inside a company to a full-on Dark Army agent who is being swept along by a movement beyond her control. And so when spies Elliot’s postal hacking at his desk at Evil Corp, she lets the Dark Army know, and swiftly races to recover as many of those printed records as possible. A quick phone call to Phillip Price, meanwhile, has Elliot rapidly fired from the company, putting an end to his interference. She’s how Tyrell knows what’s going on – and she’s the one who is on-hand to inject Elliot with a sedative, when he wakes up mid-strangle.
Portia Doubleday’s performance as Angela has always been one of chilling calm and authority, but how long can she keep that mask up? There’s a beautiful moment with Bobby Cannavale’s ever-loathsome Irving (tucking into ribs with lip-smacking relish), where he lies to her that the Dark Army will make sure the Evil Corp backup facility is empty before they blow it up – and Angela, the smart, in-control one, falls for it entirely.
Irving, of course, deceives everyone with a skillful ease – he’s only got one side, which is all lies. And his introduction to the ensemble subtly highlights how much the rest of the ensemble have changed since we first met them.
Darlene, who struggled to make an impression in Season 1 due to a subplot that didn’t always land, is blossoming into a vital character this season. In a sea of suspicion, the Alderson siblings are bonding their mutual lack of trust of Mr. Robot: they have a heart-to-heart, in which she admits that he was hacked and that Mr. Robot attacked her. She agrees with Elliot that she will wait until he falls asleep and then follow him: a cute sibling spy racket to help protect each other.
But Darlene is even more a sea of contradictions than her brother: after clocking that she’s been robbed on a train by a random passenger, she confronts the pick-pocket and challenges her to keep her wallet, taking the moment to atone and apologise for stealing from everyone through the fsociety hack. It’s a speech that’s delivered with a sickened, pale regret by Carly Chaikin – and that melancholic mood doesn’t let up, as she meets Dom DiPierro in a bar, remarking that she’s tired of being a traitor.
That’s the spark that makes Season 3 remain compelling viewing: while Darlene has told Elliot what’s happening, she hasn’t told him that she’s still lying, and that she betrayed him for the FBI, not the Dark Army. The siblings are getting closer once again, but they’ve never been further apart – and how that relationship resolves when he discovers the truth makes for moving, engrossing viewing in a way that Season 2 never quite managed. It’s a nicely nuanced hour full of shading and doubt. But with Whiterose only giving Angela and Tyrell three days until Stage 2 officially happens, the series’ tighter pace shows no sign of letting up.
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