After a longer-than-usual break, USA’s Mr.Robot is back for its third season. I’ve got a review of the first two episodes right after the break.
Mild spoilers for the first two episodes of Mr. Robot season three below…
Mr. Robot was nothing short of a phenomenon in its first season. It exploded onto the critical and cultural scene with its unique visual style and commentary of today’s digital world. Unfortunately, the show’s second season faltered under the weight of the expectations delivered by the first. I was actually relieved when I learned that season three would take a longer break than season two did. It was my hope that creator, writer, and director Sam Esmail would use that time to iron out a tighter story arc for this season.
Based on the first two episodes, it looks like season three will be a return to form for Mr. Robot.
Picking up where season two left off, Elliot (Rami Malek) is recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) after the former tried to prevent all of Evil Corp’s records from before the Five/Nine hack from being destroyed. Elliot wakes up a week after his injury and sets on a mission to undo the damage the hack caused to the world’s economy to collapse.
Elsewhere, we’re introduced to Dark Army fixer Irving (played by Bobby Cannavale, who looks like he’s having a blast) and quickly get up to speed on where everyone is. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is hiding from the Dark Army while informing on Elliot for Agent DiPierro (Grace Grummer), while Angela (Portia Doubleday) is now working for The Dark Army in the hopes of getting Elliot to see stage 2 to completion. There’s a lot going on, but it’s all for the better.
By isolating Elliot for much of season two, Mr. Robot kept its best character from taking an active role in the plot. By focusing so much on Elliot’s internal conflict with Mr. Robot, the show grew far more ponderous and borderline pretentious than was probably beneficial for it. The pace ground to a halt as other characters shouldered most of the main plot progression (it’s pretty telling my favorite episode of season two didn’t even have Elliot in it).
Thankfully, Elliot is back in the game and taking an active role in the proceedings. The supporting cast on this show is amazing — and they did an excellent job carrying things last year — but it’s so great to have Elliot out and interacting with people, especially Darlene. Elliot’s relationship with his sister is one the series’ deepest and most complex and watching Darlene struggle to protect herself but also keep the FBI from finding out that Elliot, not Tyrell, was the mastermind behind Five/Nine is a fascinating balancing act.
Despite its large supporting cast and sprawling story, Mr. Robot still has its focus on Elliot’s relationship with the titular character. This year, the two seem to be even more divided than ever before. One isn’t fully aware of what the other is doing; at one point Elliot remarks about how he doesn’t feel Mr. Robot’s presence anymore. This allows Rami Malek and the camera to show us more of Elliot as Mr. Robot before actually revealing to us that the latter is in control.
One scene in particular, where Krista (Elliot’s therapist) asks to speak to Mr. Robot, is particularly haunting. Instantly the music gets deeper and more intense as Christian Slater’s voice is dubbed over Rami Malek’s, the camera cuts away, cuts back and there is Mr. Robot in Elliot’s place. When Elliot returns to consciousness he asks Krista if they can get started, completely unaware of the conversation that just took place. It’s deeply unsettling, as we see more of Mr. Robot’s true nature come out: Elliot is a hindrance that he has to deal with to get what he wants.
As with season two, Sam Esmail continues to write and direct most episodes of the show. In what has become one of the signatures of the show, characters often sit just off-center of a given shot, illustrating how marginalized they feel. This year, Esmail adds several cool visual touches, like when Elliot “mutes” the world, that continues to keep us firmly in Elliot’s mindset.
For Elliot to realize that his hack didn’t make the world a better place, but instead made the invisible hand stronger, is a great turn for the character. At one point Elliot remarks how calling E-Corp, “Evil Corp” was just “dorm-room philosophizing” run amok, and now he’s dedicated to fixing his mistake. Right away, season three already has a more apparent narrative spine than season two did. At this same point in season two, I couldn’t have told you where things were going. But this year, I at least have an idea. No doubt the show will have more twists in store, but there’s something reassuring about being able to see the structure in a story.
There’s a lot to unpack in these first two episodes, but they launch the story into exciting new directions and I’m really looking forward to watching this season unfold. I recognize that I had a similar excitement at the start of season two, but this year the show feels more focused and sure of itself, with a clearer direction. It feels like every aspect of the show is engaged now.
It’s hard to deliver on expectations as high as those that Mr. Robot had coming out of its first season, and while the second may not have been as strong, I never doubted Esmail’s commitment to his vision nor his storytelling ability. I may not have agreed with some of his choices for season two, but I respect the story he was trying to tell.
Now that season three is underway, I feel much better about the show than I did at the end of last season. I want to see what happens next, not because of a lame red herring or lack of narrative momentum, but because the show is going places and its characters are actively engaged in the action. I had a feeling that Mr. Robot would come back strong, and it didn’t disappoint.
I won’t be able to review the show each week like I did last summer but I’ll definitely check back in once the season is over.
Some other thoughts:
- B.D Wong’s performance as Whiterose has always been one of the more enigmatic on the show. I look forward to seeing much more of him this season now that he’s a series regular.
- I can’t let a Mr. Robot review go by without mentioning how much I love Michael Cristofer as E-Corp CEO Philip Price. He just plays evil businessman so well.
- I briefly mentioned him in the main review, but I love Bobby Cannavale’s performance as Irving. This character is just so larger-than-life on a show that’s been pretty subdued with its acting, and it’s a breath of fresh air. Looking forward to seeing more of him.
Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 9 P.M central on USA Network.