Mr. Robot: Season 3 Premiere Review

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MR. ROBOT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 1 – eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h

The truth is I’m the one to blame. I’m the problem. This is my fault. All of it. I did this. Fuck me. – Elliot Alderson

Welcome back to the strange land of hoodies, Evil Corp, shadowy figures in dingy underground clubs, and tech work that feels more dangerous than napalm. This is Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot, a series that wowed us in its first season, occasionally eclipsed those feelings in its second, but also had an occasional tendency to let us down. The high points were superb, however. It was an uneven year, and a top ten show became an honorable mention series on my End of 2016 list. I still liked it, but feared it was past the point of no return in structure.

When Esmail is on his game, Mr. Robot can go toe to toe with almost anything in television. The way it’s shot, from start to finish, has set a new bar. Characters end up pushed into the side of the screen, almost always off-centered, and the camera itself was often tilted as well. The result is a visually askew presentation of a mentally unstable, bat-bleep insane universe.

Luckily for us, if the Season 3 premiere is our guide, the “old” show might be making a comeback, but with some new weapons in the holster. Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson is one of the finest performances of the decade on any sized screen, and when the writing matches the acting, the show is awfully special.

I’m not going to lay out much of the past. I wrote on every episode here at Outkick last year, and if you search the archives, you’ll find detailed reviews of everything that happened up to this point. I feel like if you’re reading these recaps, you’re watching the show anyway. I’m not going to spoon feed you content you already know.

The problem with Season 2 wasn’t in the performances, but in Sam’s tendency to try and twist everything around, play with the audience’s mind, but without anything cogent behind it. You can spin, but eventually the merry-go-round has to stop. As Season 2 ended, Tyrell Wellick shot Elliot Alderson in order to prevent him from stopping his own “Stage Two” plan, which would have destroyed all the backup records at Evil Corp. This would have made it impossible for them to rebuild their database, and would have sent the entire global financial and information sector into a degree of chaos never before seen.

Nah, Elliot wasn’t in jail all along, was he? Yes he was.

Nah, Elliot’s dad was an actual character, right? No he wasn’t.

We’ve had these kinds of reveals since the midway point of the first season, and some have worked better than others. It brings us to last night’s premiere, where Elliot recognized his own blame and realized that everything the Mr. Robot side of him believed in and was fighting for was a sham. Watching Alderson walk down the streets in his mind and actually talk to us was something new. We have always had the narration, including last night with the brilliant mute button sequence, but we also had Rami Malek staring us in the face and talking. There was a grounding to this portion of the hour that we just haven’t gotten enough of, although it would lead to the return of the anarchist side a few minutes later.

Alderson is a head case, and he slips between himself and his father, who owned the Mr. Robot electronics and repair shop. Christian Slater has always been strong in the role, and it’s such a diametric opposite to Malek, who speaks like a deep metronome in the last phases of a ticking cycle. Slater is fiery, smiles a lot, but also emotes at a different level. There were no back-and-forths between the two, and we only saw Mr. Robot with Andrea, who has now become the second most important player on the show.

We welcome Bobby Cannavale, last seen at the helm of Vinyl, as Irving, a used car salesman (on the surface) working on behalf of the Dark Army and Whiterose. The latter has become Angela Moss’s entire paradigm, as she still wishes revenge on Evil Corp for the death of her mother, but now seems to believe time can be erased and rewritten. For the first time, the mind games gave way to actual science fiction. It was very Black Mirror in its employment, but is it possible Esmail is taking us in a completely new direction respective to what’s real in this world?

The scene with Angela speaking to Elliot, asking him what he would be willing to sacrifice if completely reshaping history was doable? This goes back to all the clocks from Whiterose, and the intimation seems to be that the “whole new world” Moss speaks of is one where her mother, as well as Elliot’s father, and others doomed by E(vil) Corp never died in the first place.

How Esmail is planning to make this even a fun diversion is beyond me, but I’m more intrigued by where the show is headed today than I have been in almost an entire calendar year. Elliot is actively seeking to dismantle everything he created, setting things right, and alter-ego Tyler Durden (Mr. Robot) is continuing along the proper path.

As usual, we get treatises on capitalism and media created monsters, but that’s par for the course. Also, when thinking about the opinions of those that spout these rants, it’s important to remember that none of them are role models. They might be brilliant, but their mindsets are just as warped as those they despise. The beauty of Mr. Robot is that it doesn’t necessarily preach, because its collection of anti-heroes are numskulls too often to be laudable. If anything, the show is saying, and has literally stated this in tag lines and through its characters…

…Control is an illusion.

Poor Darlene is left in the dark again, not understanding what’s going on, and not even hearing from her brother why he disappeared for almost a week. Even when they go for barbecue with Irving, and Elliot tells him the entire plan is done for, and that he’s canceling all of it, she still doesn’t buy it. Why should she? She was THE foot soldier, the one helping to move everything along while his neuroses took over, but she never fully understood what they were doing. She had no idea about Stage Two until a hot mic situation picked up cell phone communications at the right time.

She’s not a pawn, but she’s also not entirely wrong when she tells her sibling, “You’re not a good brother.” He’s not. He’s not a good anything, because his dissociative personality disorder has rid him of all credibility. For now, he’s right about being essential to everything on all sides. While he tries to undermine his past cause, Whiterose tells an associate that no one in the organization has Alderson’s “unadulterated, focused rage.” He will be disposable later, but must be allowed to breathe for the time being.

Angela is either playing both sides of the aisle, or she’s doing what Elliot asked her to do before he morphed into his other self. He said she was the only one he could trust, that she would know if he became “him.” When Mr. Robot asks her how she can tell it’s not Elliot, she mentions his eyes, saying they never try to look away. That is congruent to Whiterose’s description of “focused rage.” He knows what he’s doing, whereas Elliot is consistently inconsistent about absolutely everything.

Moss seems to speak of Whiterose as if she (transgender woman) is almost a deity, and as she talks to Mr. Robot about her convictions, she speaks as if there’s a prophecy on the line. It’s odd, but it fits this show, provided we’re continuing down the sci-fi road, which I think we are. If all of this were to turn out to be nonsense, or another dream sequence, or who knows what else, it might be the thing that breaks a lot of viewers for good. Esmail knows it though, and I feel we’re looking at something legit.

What was once a fairly straightforward story, or one we could follow, now has become an amalgam of itself and The Matrix, with a Neo, a Morpheus, and a skyline full of Smiths. Even though no one in a Wachowski Brothers film ever wore a “Property of Josh Groban” shirt. That was a terrific creative choice, and brought us back to the humor this show has been willing to bring at times. Last season was so dark and dreary, it was nice to see some levity.

Everything taking place on Mr. Robot right now seems ridiculous, but those of us that have been with the series since the beginning aren’t that weirded out by it. We’re sort of ready for this, and injecting science fiction only makes the FICTION part work easier. All this “reality” stuff is gone, in favor of an actual piece of scripted entertainment. That’s a positive development. Drop the facade and just go nuts.

The premiere was fun, it gave us a much more open Elliot Alderson that moved with at least some sense of purpose, provided a strong Andrea Moss character and a knockout acting job from Portia Doubleday, who made that kiss seem like the coldest experience of Elliot’s life, and at no point were we left completely scratching our heads.

“What if I told you ______ was possible” is something I can get behind. Sam Esmail has made me care for this show again, and is already proving that the Season 2 finale, where many of the plot problems converged into a disjointed apex, might not be the norm. This was an entertaining start, and it makes Mr. Robot a must-see experience again.

(As I did last season, I will be reviewing each episode, so let’s take this ride together… or perhaps let’s do the time warp again?)

I’m @JMartOutkick. I want a mute button for life.

Written by Jason Martin