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‘Mr. Robot’ Review: Who’s in CTRL and Other Key Takeaways From ‘eps3.1_undo.gz’ 

Season 3 Episode 2 featured some great music cues and great acting from Rami Malek. 

MR. ROBOT -- "eps3.1_undo.gz" Episode 302 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

Michael Parmelee/USA Network

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Mr. Robot” Season 3, Episode 2, “eps3.1_undo.gz” follow.]

Booting Up

In an immediately classic opening montage, Elliot embraces his new job at Evil Corp, doing his best to blend into the corporate scene… while still using his hacker superpowers to try to prevent Stage 2 and along the way dish out his own brand of justice against the corruption within the company. But being normal isn’t easy for anyone, especially as he becomes aware that Mr. Robot isn’t gone — he’s just losing control of the moments when that aspect of himself arises.

Whiterose continues to lurk in the shadows, planning for Stage 2 — which will now coincide with a United Nations vote on annexing the Congo, though Phillip Price has his own political conditions. Meanwhile, Joanna Wellick’s plan to clear Tyrell’s name seems to work. Too bad that immediately afterward, her now-former lover Derek confronts her and her driver on the street, and she dies in the ensuing shoot-out — something the FBI wants to keep under wraps.

Speaking of whom, Darlene continues to work with the FBI, though betraying Elliot is clearly no easy matter for her. And Elliot isn’t so easily deterred, finding a way to trick the agents into revealing their location — though, thanks to that cliffhanger ending, what that means for everyone involved won’t be known until the next episode.

Who’s In CTRL?

Not only is the answer not Elliot, but for the first time we get to really see what happens when Mr. Robot takes over — and it’s terrifying. It’s entirely possible to imagine these shifts in personality going way over the top, but Rami Malek’s performance is so subtle and nuanced that there are many times you’re not quite sure who you’re looking at. Between his work, the always fun support of Christian Slater, the camera tricks, and sharp editing, this new stage for the relationship between these two personalities is immediately fascinating, even if the fact that they’re no longer “whole” implies plenty of danger for everyone in their orbit.

MR. ROBOT -- "eps3.1_undo.gz" Episode 302 -- Pictured: (l-r) Gloria Reuben as Krista Gordon, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

Quote of the Night

“Perhaps calling them evil was my dorm room philosophizing run amuck.”
— Elliot

There’s always been something a little unsubtle about “Mr. Robot’s” stated politics, so it’s nice to see the show reveal that the pro-anarchy attitudes underlying Seasons 1 and 2 were part of a longer game, as Elliot comes to terms with the consequences of his actions, and what those actions have shown him about the complicated world he’s disrupted.

Best Jokes of the Night

As Elliot rides the subway at one point, we see multiple posters for the upcoming Will Ferrell/Judi Dench comedy “Separation Anxiety”  — which, based on the poster art, seems to involve Will Ferrell literally getting separated from his head? This could be not really anything, as far as jokes go, but it could be Sam Esmail planting a big league payoff for later on in the season. Either way, we hope that “Separation Anxiety” is a romantic comedy. (Ferrell and Dench would make a cute couple.)

Dom’s partner blasting her with the Barenaked Ladies was also pretty amusing, but for anyone who watches a lot of TV shows where people get shot and miraculously survive, the best joke of the episode might have been the dramatic cut to poor Joanna’s very graphic autopsy. No questioning this one: Girl, gone.

This Week’s Hot Tracks

As usual, all credit to Mac Quayle’s haunting score, but this week featured another unique collection of songs.

  • INXS, “New Sensation”: Staggered throughout the montage depicting Elliot’s new approach to life, the song’s over-the-top cheerfulness proved to be a perfect companion, especially given how it only made its presence known in fits and starts.
  • Roxette, “Listen to Your Heart”: A painful contrast to the violence it underscored, the sort of juxtaposition this show loves to experiment with. You never know what the last song you hear might be; it could very easily be a dramatic love ballad playing on the radio.
  • X Ambassadors, “Renegades”: Barely audibly echoing off the pier as Darlene and Elliot meet; while a bit on the nose as far as song titles go, its diegetic presence in the soundtrack helped keep things grounded in the real world.
  • Barenaked Ladies, “One Week”: A cruel, cruel prank on the part of Dom’s co-worker, indeed. Though is there some reason they couldn’t get the rights to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up?” Perhaps we’re behind the curve, and “One Week”-ing is the new RickRolling.

The Episode Decoded

A killer opening sequence, some crackerjack acting, and a few notable long take sequences make “eps3.1_undo.gz” more than watchable — Darlene’s ultimate confrontation with Mr. Robot and Joanna’s violent end especially stood out. However, it was ultimately a pretty talky episode on balance, with a couple of scenes stretched out a bit longer than necessary.

Take the scene between Darlene and Elliot at the pier: it’s never a good sign when you find yourself paying more attention to the music playing in the background than the actual scene taking place, even though it did prove to be a crucial one for the characters. And while Elliot tracking the FBI down is an important story beat, it didn’t quite have the juice needed to give the episode the sort of powerful ending “Mr. Robot” often delivers. It was a good chapter in the story, but not destined to be a standout favorite.

Grade: B+

“Mr. Robot” airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA Network. 

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