Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 8. Not seen Episode 8? Read our spoiler-free review of Season 3’s opening episode.
“Deletion. When you make that decision, there’s always that moment of hesitation. That annoying “Are you sure?” dialogue box, and then you have to make a decision. Yes or no.” That’s the sound of Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) debating whether to delete Mr. Robot from the world forever – and, in doing so, delete himself. Only Mr. Robot would use the notion of erasing digital files as a metaphor for committing suicide, and, while Episode 8 marks a surprisingly sombre and moving step for this third season, it’s equally typical that such a bold swing in mood should be accompanied by an unsubtle, lengthy voiceover.
Sam Esmail’s show has been on astounding form this season, tying up Season 2’s messier ends and delivering a breakneck burst of chaos and shocks that lasted for several episodes in a row. Episode 8 marks a needed change in pace, as the show pauses to consider what’s happened during the implementation of Phase II – and allows its lead to pause too. That mostly results in Elliot realising that nothing can stop Mr. Robot anymore. He’s lost, and his actions have opened up society to the whims of the Dark Army, a dangerous terrorist group with plans far beyond Elliot’s original intentions. And so he decides to end it.
But not because he also pays tribute to the end of two other unwitting Dark Army agents: Trenton and Mobley, who were so cruelly framed last episode as terrorists planning to take down airplanes. Elliot heads to their respective families to pay his respects, and it’s in these moments that Mr. Robot delivers a powerful commentary on the modern world, as well as some nuanced character beats: Mobley’s family refuses to listen to Elliot at all, buying into the fake news that Mobley was a terrorist; Trenton’s family, on the other hand, appreciate his kind words, but plan to leave the country anyway, as it is no longer a welcoming place, but a nation where Muslims are automatically accused of being extremists.
Trenton’s family’s departure, though, leaves behind one member of the clan: her younger brother, Mohammed (Elisha Henig). He wanders up to Elliot on Coney Island beach, just as Elliot plans to commit suicide with an overdose of morphine pills he’s acquired. Mohammed’s presence, naturally, prevents him from doing anything, and so we end up with an awkward double-act, as the pair uncomfortably hang out – including a trip to the cinema to see Back to the Future II.
It’s a nice choice for a film trip, with everything actually taking place on the day that Marty McFly travels forward in time to – countered neatly by a flashback to young Elliot going to see the same film in the cinema with his dad (Christian Slater). Old Elliot, just like young Elliot, buys M&Ms and mixes them in with popcorn. And old Elliot, just like young Elliot, struggles with forgiveness: as a boy, he can’t forgive his dad for pushing him out that window, not even showing concern or remorse when his father collapses on the floor of the cinema; as an adult, Elliot can’t bring himself to forgive, well, himself, for everything that has happened and the lives that have been lost.
There are some nice, emotional layers being set up here by Esmail, who explores in more depth than ever before how Elliot’s fractured identity first came to be – and gives Elliot the room to be a rounded, believable character, who needs time to react and come to terms with all of these hectic, harrowing events. The introduction of Mohammed as an innocent soul who helps Elliot to move on and begin to forgive naturally plays into that, but it’s also a hackneyed, overly familiar move – for a show that is formally daring (this episode opens with a title sequence inspired by cinema announcements), Mohammed is as conventional as they come, even taking Elliot to a mosque for a heated heart-to-heart.
If there’s some unoriginality to Mr. Robot’s familiar tale of redemption and forgiveness, though, the cast deliver it all impeccably. Henig is just the right balance of naive, eager and genuine, while Malek is doing his best work on the show yet, as he is slowly coaxed out of his shell once more. They can’t quite redeem the script’s bum notes – “I wish I was dead,” exclaims Mohammed. “So do I!” comes the booming reply. – but their inter-generational bond echoes once more the theme of time, past, future and not being able to change things.
Unless, of course, you’re Trenton back at the end of Season 2 – and, after several episodes of hinting at the idea of parallel universes or alternate timelines, Episode 8 concludes with the delivery an email from Trenton (sent automatically in the event of his death), which promises a way to undo everything. Could it possibly be true? After a mature hour delving into the internal fallout of Season 3’s hectic, external devastation, Mr. Robot is ready to move its plot forwards once again – and, more importantly, so is Elliot. Hopefully, though, without the voiceover.
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.