Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 6. Not seen Episode 6? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 3’s opening episode.
Last episode, Mr. Robot put its foot on the gas, accelerating to a breakneck speed that we haven’t seen since the peak of its first season. Elliot was rushing to stop Stage 2, just as protestors were rushing into Evil Corp’s building – only for us to discover that even the protest was part of the Dark Army’s plan, a distraction to pave the way for Angela to get into the building and carry out what needed to be done. It was a gut-punch of a revelation, one that reminded us that so much of Mr. Robot is about misdirection and unreliable narration.
And yet you still don’t Episode 6 coming.
After Episode 5’s not-quite-one-take ride, this episode skips the visual gimmicks, but doesn’t skimp on the tension or pace: we jump right back into the action, as Elliot confronts Angela in the middle of the abandoned, ransacked Evil Corp HQ. But while Elliot is asking if she wants to admit her betrayal, she’s not all there – because she’s busy having a flashback to when she was a little girl and Elliot’s dad (Christian Slater, for once not playing an imaginary construct) tells her that it’s ok, because she’ll she her sick mother again one day. Nobody’s going to get hurt or die, she tells Elliot, jumping back to present day – a statement delivered with such a blank expression by Portia Doubleday that it’s impossible not to read it as a warped denial, fuelled in part by Whiterose’s rhetoric and in part by her own personal thirst for revenge, justified by naive hope and trust.
Hope and trust, though, have no place in Mr. Robot, and Elliot discovers this at precisely the same time we do. We’ve always stuck with Elliot’s perspective, from his paranoid voiceover to his shallow-lensed eyeline, and it’s a decision that has left us sympathetic to our antihero – a hero who was so anti-the system that he dared to do something about it, before realising, too late, that he caused something even worse. It’s a superb line that the show treads, forever reminding us of the damage that fsociety has wrought (see: the old women on the train talking about how they have to move in with their relatives because they have no money left), while also allowing us to side with Elliot, partly due to his suddenly rediscovered conscience and partly due to Rami Malek’s intensely vulnerable performance.
And so we spend this visceral hour running with him, as he desperately tries to stop Stage 2 at the very last second. Hacking the old-fashioned way doesn’t work, mainly because Mr. Robot is just as determined to make Stage 2 happened as Elliot is to thwart it. And so we get the best sequences of internal conflict that Mr. Robot has ever delivered, as we cut from Elliot at a laptop to Elliot in a cab 15 minutes later – because Mr. Robot intervened and threw himself into a taxi. Back and forth goes control over Elliot’s body, as things echo Fight Club in a way that the show has mastered beautifully by now – the physical, self-inflicted blows register just as much as any psychological wounds. It resolves, after Season 2’s more theoretical chess game, with a surprisingly low-key truce: Elliot starts writing notes to Mr. Robot calling for compromise. And they do actually agree, because Elliot informs Mr. Robot that, actually, the Evil Corp backup facility they want to blow up doesn’t have much paperwork in it after all. So why bother?
This is all expertly intercut with FBI agent Dom’s race to stop things too – one that revolves around Red Wheelbarrow chicken joint, where Dom and her partner descend. They’re blocked by their boss, because he turns out to be working for Whiterose – the episode’s second foreshadowing of someone wider, taller, grander deceptively being in control. (Darlene, meanwhile, continues to help the FBI, threatening to report Angela, but she’s too busy reciting the mantra that nobody will be hurt.)
By the time the FBI has Tyrell Wellick in custody, everything seems to be resolved, but hold on a minute: this is Mr. Robot and, if the episode is over, why are there still events unfolding? That’s because it’s not the end: it’s just the end for Dom and Elliot, whose stories we have so painstakingly followed that we buy into their narrative of good guys fighting the bad guys.
And that’s the wool over our eyes here: that we actually believed there was a chance of the heroes beating the villains. Because as Elliot surfaces in the street, he once more finds himself in the familiar setting of people gazing, open-mouthed, at the news reports broadcast in TV shop windows. He stopped that facility being destroyed, yes, but Stage 2 isn’t just that: Stage 2 is the explosion of more than 70 Evil Corp buildings across the country, where Elliot had carefully redirected the paper backups. Trying so hard to undo the damage he caused, Elliot has only enraged his inner beast further, making the mistake of thinking he could solve the fsociety aftermath, but really only making it worse. There’s a blurred boundary between extreme terroism and radical revolt, which Mr. Robot has increasingly sunk its teeth into, even if it is at the expense of its characters; if Elliot’s conscience were heady laden before, you can only imagine how guilty he’s going to feel now. Except, though, we don’t have to: after two seasons of Elliot lying to us, we’re on his side, as Season 3 of Mr. Robot sees us both lied to. It’s a deceit that’s as shocking as it is gripping. There’s putting your foot on the gas and there’s waking up to find yourself surrounded by fire.
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