This review contains spoilers from episode three of Mr. Robot Season Three.
A computer screen is our first shot of the episode. “What is it? It’s happening.”
We’re back at the arcade, the night of 5/9. Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) watch the world unravel from inside the arcade. “It’s almost as if something’s come apart.”
Sure has. Elliot takes a long, spooky look at the popcorn machine, where the greatest snack of all, handguns, are held. It’s a showdown. Tyrell’s eyes are glued to the laptop. Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) comes into the frame, holding the piece. Let’s talk about this, Tyrell protests. Ghost Dad tries to shoot Tyrell. Gun jams. This is proof, Tyrell says. He laughs, Joker style.
Proof of what, asks Mr. Robot.
When you said I couldn’t see what was above me, only in front of me, Tyrell replies. We are Gods.
You really are a lunatic, says Mr. Robot.
Tyrell is full of the fervors now: “You had that gun point blank and it didn’t kill me.” Not chance, he says. An act of God. God made this happen. Besides, he tells Mr. Robot, this alone won’t kill Evil Corp. More is required. What doth the Lord of Hosts require of thee?
As David Byrne tells us, every hand goes searching for its partner in crime. And Tyrell is making a pitch to Elliot Alderson here. Once they can’t recover the data, Tyrell says, Evil Corp will try to recreate it. And that’s where you’ll need me.
At this point, Wellick is all but wrapped up in a tapestry of camouflage, whispering The night will go on, my little windmill to Mr. Robot. I felt something between us, Tyrell says. Wellick pushes the gun against his forehead. He really is the most Swedish man to ever live.
Sure enough, Mr. Robot can’t do it—can’t pull the trigger. Tyrell hugs Mr. Robot. I love you, he says. Subtext, says Christian Slater: “You just might be the perfect kind of crazy who can protect me from me.”
And now we’re back outside. Standing outside the arcade is Irving (Bobby Cannavale), the twitchy car salesman who is a fixer for the Dark Army, the secret hacker cabal run from China. Two hitmen accompany him inside, where Mr. Robot is explaining how Evil Corp will try to put the world back together after 5/9 hits, through papers, deeds, statements. There’s a confrontation.
“If you’re seeing me, you fucked up,” Irving says. There was a leak from James in the I-Corp, who contacted Gideon Goddard, who contacted the FBI. So here we are. Irving says they’ll be a manhunt for him, and so he doesn’t have a choice. Well, what can you do?
Irv sports an impressive mustache and an even more outstanding character actor making choices behind the facial hair. As Tyrell rabbits out of there with the two heavies in the Chinese opera masks, the producers score a nice synth burst of Vangelis-style Blade Runner music, and I’m reminded again that the proper context for Mr. Robot is Stranger Things, not Fight Club. That’s where the heart of Mr. Robot hides—London and New York Galleries circa 1984, and pizza ‘n’ arcade basements in Iowa, and maybe the same computer companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that Halt and Catch Fire fetishized over the last couple of years. So now we have the prologue, which is past, and higher-up forces spidering their way into the best-laid plans of Swede and schizoid. Roll credits, as the vehicle carrying Irv and the Swede drives through forests, somewhere northerly, no doubt.
Creeping Jesus, this is patrician-core atmosphere. Mr. Robot has that down absolutely pat, and if they ever lose their production crew, all their luck will go south like doves fleeing winter. Looks like Irving is storing Tyrell in a Wyeth farmhouse deep in Robert Frost country. Could be anywhere. Tyrell has the so-deep strategy of asking for his firearm back for protection, which must have sounded much better in his head. Irving has been using the royal “we” since they pulled up here, as in “We own thirty-seven acres around this property,” including “motion sensuhs… This place is like a chastity belt—nuthin’s gettin’ in!” and so Tyrell has absolutely nothing to worry about, ha ha. Cut to knock on Elliot’s door, and hey, it’s the cops, you’re under arrest.
Meanwhile, on Supervillain Island, Whiterose knows Elliot has been arrested. Let’s work on a voluntary release program. The Dark Army is helping Elliot, but does he want the help? Meanwhile, on Whiterose’s TV, the campaign-mode Donald Trump is talking about being the greatest jobs president that ever was, and I am unspeakably, ravenously jealous of Mr. Robot’s dark twisted fantasy universe. Then there’s this bearded baldy American who shows up. Whiterose asks him to do PR—the Chinese security minister wants the PR man to rehab Tyrell Wellick, to link fSociety to Iran, and to back Trump for President. The PR guy scoffs—what, you want Trump?
But hey, easily done, right? That’s the premise of Mr. Robot, isn’t it? This is the world of leet hacks. Everything is hackable. Everything should be hackable. This is Season Three, so power inflation is everywhere. But then again, this all started with the wicked omnipotence of Evil Corp and Tyrell Wellick welcoming Elliot to his penthouse corporate meeting room, like Lucifer asking Jesus to take a look-see at the Kingdoms of the World. So we’re still in familiar waters.
Back at the farmhouse, Tyrell gets up in the middle of the night, goes to the kitchen—and, hey, it’s Wallace Shawn! He’s got a mustache, and it’s just grandfatherly as hell. Like a Confederate general or Bushwick principal on vacation. Or the Rich Uncle Moneybags Mask of fSociety. Then he does a hit of coke. Off his thumb webbing. Wallace Shawn does a hit of coke.
We’re all normal here. In the precious, edgy Wallace Shawn way, he fires a range of fuck-you questions at Tyrell, each one more bowel-tightening then the last, all delivered in Shawn’s thin, reedy, sloping-upwards voice:
“Did you kill Sharon Knowles?”
“What?” says Tyrell. He looks away.
“Don’t look away. Did you kill Sharon Knowles? Did you kill Sharon Knowles?”
“Do you love your wife?”
“Do you love your wife?”
Tyrell looks away.
“Don’t look away.”
The atmosphere is very brown. Not in a Seventies way. David Fincher brown, with patches of Nolan gold. Oh God, this next part is so weird. It’s Wallace Shawn doing coke and a red tea kettle going off and quick cuts and honest to God it should be hilarious but it works, it seems like someone doing a parody of a torture scene with Wallace Shawn, schoolmaster, but it honestly works. “Will you be loyal to me?” Shawn keeps asking. It is both hilarious and horrifying. It’s hard to resist a sexual reading there; if the next shot was Wellick and Shawn in bed, it would not surprise me. Tyrell Wellick might be the only viable, vulnerable, sexual being in the Mr. Robot universe.
Shawn breaks him. Wallace gives a little nod to a sinister-looking gentleman coming in the room, and Tyrell is on the verge of relocating to a shallow grave.
I won’t be loyal to you, Ty finally says, but I will always be loyal to Elliot.
That’s good enough for Mr. Shawn and his masters in the Dark Army or whomever is pulling the strings. They set him up to work on Phase 2, which is called Red Wheelbarrow—a name that “Mr. Alderson” requested. One big happy again.
Tyrell tries to call Elliot at the jail—you might remember that scene—but Elliot isn’t having it, because he’s in his other place. This is a phone call back from Season Two, remember. Tyrell spends all his time checking webcams of his son and Evil Corp’s security. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) and her boy Cisco (Michael Drayer) are sitting by the big water with a view of the New York skyline only a camera crew could love. They’re discussing hacks. It’s been a bitch getting Angela onboard with this stuff, Darlene tells us. Cisco agrees then heads off—uh-oh, he’s getting in a car with Irving. Cisco complains about Darlene. Irving reminds Cisco that Darlene is a job, always was. Then again, he tells him, “She’s protected. You’re not.” Cisco nods dumbly and then we’re back to Mystery Farm, and Tyrell has grown a Riker beard. There’s code in the program that isn’t needed—who put it there? Wellick is unhappy, but gives the laptop to Irving. More pins in the map, more logs getting split. Keep in mind this entire time, we’re experiencing this was a montage with Gordon Lightfoot playing underneath:
If I could read your mind, love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstores sell
When you reach the part where the heartaches come
The hero would be me
But heroes often fail
And you won’t read that book again
Because the ending’s just too hard to take
10 Begin Program
20 Tyrell Chop Wood
30 Tyrell Stalk Wife Online
40 Tyrell Check BabyCam
50 Tyrell Read Industrial-Looking Documents on Laptop
60 Tyrell Push Pins Into Map, Probably Showing the Location of Evil Corp Warehouses Across America
70 Goto 10
There’s shirtless Tyrell with an axe, sharpening it with a stone. Irving visits him on the day Joanna has very publicly divorced him. Irv tells him cheerfully not to feel Shrek’d by this move, and how the tabloids are full of it, and hasn’t worse happened to Richard Gere? Tyrell, now in real-ass Duck Dynasty mode, sharpens his axe, quotes some dank Deuteronomy passage about how a man with crushed or severed genitals may not enter the assembly of the LORD, then slides on some aviators, and I’m thinking Finally, a show for MY interests.
Our boy Ty has had just about enough of the Unabomber life on the goddamn farm, and so full of gigantic brains and a lust for life, he runs away. Ty heads out through the woods to Tom Wingfield’s Country Store. A cop notices him, and Tyrell just does his most amazingest at being inconspicuous, so of course the cop notices him, and there’s a little chase. The heat is most definitely on, as the pop song once reminded us. Cop comes after him, arrests Wellick, talks to him as if he were some kind of famous Swedish leopard. Ty breaks his thumb to get out of the cuffs, and that’s as fun as you’d imagine. However, the local policeman is, in fact, a local idiot, so no surprise when his head gets blown the fuck off by everyone’s least favorite turning coat, Santiago (Omar Metwally), the Special Agent in Charge of the NY Division of FBI, and Dom’s superior officer. They dodged a calamity, and soon Ty and Irv are back in the living room of the old farmhouse, comparing notes about the manufacturing of huge clusterfucks.
Irv says he was a family man. His kids got taken away from him. He had to have patience. He proved to his wife he was a sound provider. Irv is the man, and sees through Tyrell. Ty is willing to play ball, but he needs Elliot back. They need to be together.
Cut to Elliot’s Auto Square, our man’s place of business. Oh no, Irv was lying to Tyrell. He’s not a father at all. But he drinks coffee at night like I do, so all’s good. We see Irv at home alone, watching Big Brother. He opens his laptop to write another chapter in his novel, “Beach Towel – A Novel” — Chapter 4: A Wink Gone Wrong. We see Irv type in the words “Meaty damn hands” and then segue to Irv talking to Leon (Joey Bada$$), the Dark Army’s informant inside Elliot’s prison (back in Season Two). Back to the farm. Shirtless Tyrell approaches Irv in the door: “Go get packed,” Irv says. And now we’re in the building where he shot Elliot at the end of Season Two. Irv hands him back the gun. Now we’re at the Fukan Hotel. Irv and Ty go to a hotel room. What about my suit? I need it. It’s non-negotiable. I need to look my best for him, Ty says. It’s in your closet, Irv says. He warns Ty against wearing it, but it’s too late, he’s seen it. Too late. He pretties himself in prep for the meeting. Another New York beard lost to the demands of square society. Alas. He gets in the car, and he’s back to Patrician Tyrell of old. It’s really sweet, in some strange way. Wellick has a real connection with Elliot Alderson, and it’s one I didn’t see coming. Cut the scene after Tyrell shoots Elliot. We see Tyrell freaking out over Elliot’s near death—”Why didn’t he recognize me?” Angela’s there, and tells him about Elliot’s condition. We see the hospital bed set up in the dark warehouse room. Angela comforts Elliot. Tyrell looks on from afar. Elliot sees him. Smiles. Cut to Tyrell. Cut back to the bed. It’s Mr. Robot. He sees Tyrell. Smiles. Roll credits.
And so upwards and onwards for Mr. Robot; the third episode is its best so far. Even here, in the world of Mr. Robot, where the four horsemen are always on the heath, there’s the comforting fable of Big Conspiracy to tuck us in at night. Someone is in charge, someone has a plan. It may not be a plan we like, but there’s a grand design. Isn’t that nice to imagine? That there’s a parent watching you, whether it’s the Chinese state or Evil Corp or sinister Ghost Dad? Nothing happens by accident, there are no coincidences, and every trauma has its correspondent cause and effect that is somehow rational. Powerful hands rock every cradle.
Masterminds are soothing figures.
We live in a world where hurricanes arrive without warning, and asteroids cut the sky on a regular basis. But in fiction—in this particular fiction—there is no such thing as chaos. There is clamor and breakdown on the surface, but deep order lurks below. No matter how grim the situation seems, there is always an Authority With a Plan. There are always angels in the computer architecture, spinning in infinity, coding “Amen, Hallelujah.”
If there’s a signal flaw in Mr. Robot’s narrative of conspiratorial conjecture, it’s the false and flimsy belief that no matter what dreadful things happen, There Is A Scheme. Those of us long in the tooth from being long in the world know this delusion. On this planet, there is nobody at the wheel, and there is no such thing as a strategy which endures long in any real setting. It is comfortable to think that the bad guys are competent and have plans, but reality shows us that even the supervillains are half-assing their steps. Still, for a planned menu, Mr. Robot is a dark feast, and the next courses are still worth waiting for.
Jason Rhode is a staff writer for Paste. Unlike Elliot, his Christian Slater is very real. He’s on Twitter @iamthemaster.