Mr. Robot: Back to the Future

(Episode 3.06)

TV Reviews Mr Robot
Mr. Robot: Back to the Future

See You in Another Life! the icing promises—and, after a fashion, they will. The cake’s absurd/macabre inscription, meant to mark the imminent death of Angela’s mother, appears in the flashback that opens “eps3.5_kill-pr0cess.par2,” and whether or not the hereafter exists, it applies to Angela (Portia Doubleday) and Mr. Alderson (Christian Slater). Long after he’s gone, long after that Back to the Future cartoon goes off the air and Angela’s mother’s “going away” party passes into memory, the two will meet again, this time through Elliot (Rami Malek). When Mac Qualye’s soaring score bleeds into ECorp’s blaring sirens, returning us, and Mr. Robot, back to the future, it’s this blurring of time, of space, of self that emerges as the episode’s through line. “You sound like him,” Elliot says when Angela speaks of seeing revolution through. “You, you mean,” she replies curtly.

If last week’s fleeted-footed action recalled the series at its finest, “kill-pr0cess.par2,” despite its more traditional, cross-cutting approach to suspense—confirms these excitements have legs. Picking up where “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00” left off—as Elliot races to stop the destruction of ECorp’s New York recovery building and Dom (Grace Gummer) closes in on Tyrell (Martin Wallström)—the episode is a ticking-time-bomb thriller with a Mr. Robot twist: Namely, Mr. Robot himself, his absence and his presence. Though the “lost time” conceit is a rather convenient hurdle—a concern the hour can’t quite wave away with Elliot’s self-conscious question, “Why do we always cut these things so goddamn close?”—the series brings Elliot’s relationship with Mr. Robot—his father, himself—to a promising new place.

This time, though, it’s not only those glitchy sights and sounds that suggest the pair’s permeable border; with the exception of the first sequence, “kill-pr0cess.par2” hides Slater until the climactic moment, as if the border were on the verge of disappearing entirely. In this, Mr. Robot reminds us, as Angela does, of the “You, you mean” aspect of the 5/9 hack and its aftermath, turning Elliot’s hurry to defuse the proverbial time bomb into a one-man battle royale. The sight of Malek slamming himself against walls and pipes and filing cabinets is almost comical, but it serves its purpose, which is to turn our focus to Elliot’s newfound ability to fight back: “Is Mr. Robot gaining control, or am I losing control?” he asks himself, the gulf of lost time beginning to narrow. “If he has the power to switch, does that mean I do, too?”

It’s this suggestion that Elliot is capable of overcoming Mr. Robot, or—more seductive still—that the next stage of their relationship will be a blooming alliance, which lends the passages set inside the recovery building their frisson of tension. Because, let’s face it, there’s no way Sam Esmail kills off (both of) his main character(s), or resigns Elliot to walking away. The most surprising interlude, from a narrative standpoint, toggles between Dom’s visit to the Red Wheelbarrow (so much depends upon it!) and Angela’s blithe reaction to being mugged at gunpoint, because both subplots offer a profusion of possibilities. Will Dom catch Tyrell before he flees the restaurant’s basement? Does the man in the fsociety mask, spied out of the corner of the camera’s eye, bear some surreptitious message? As it turns out, the answer to both questions is no, but Mr. Robot has fun getting us there—a feature of the first season that the more ponderous second frittered away, and that the third continues to recapture.

There are, as always, unanswered questions, both Elliot’s and our own. What is Whiterose (BD Wong) up to, if the coordinated attacks on 71 ECorp buildings are not intended to destroy the recovered records? What’s in the envelope that Irving (Bobby Cannavale) hands Tyrell, and which leads him, it appears, to run through the square screaming? What will Angela and Darlene (Carly Chaikin) do now that their “revolution” has caused thousands of deaths? What will happen to Dom as she closes in on the truth, with her boss at the FBI playing inside man? “What now? Am I forever in limbo, not knowing which side I’m really on? And what about Mr. Robot? Does he now understand that Tyrell and the Dark Army have corrupted his alleged revolution? Does he have any fight left? If so, who’s he going to fight, them or me?”

That these questions are as much narrative as they are philosophical, questions of shifting allegiances, mysterious motives, blurred boundaries of time and space and self, is at the core of Mr. Robot’s heightened energies. The realignment that seems likely to follow the carnage of “kill-pr0cess.par2” is a risk, perhaps, but this season’s momentum so far also promises rewards. As in the first season, it comes down to Elliot again: “It wasn’t the single point of failure,” he says, watching news of the attacks through a store’s wide window. “I was.” Back to the future, indeed.

Matt Brennan is the TV editor of Paste Magazine. He tweets about what he’s watching @thefilmgoer.

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