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‘Mr Robot’ Review: Season 3 Premiere is Mostly Set-Up, But Does Take the Blame for Trump

In "eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h," we meet a whole new side to Mr. Robot, while discovering how certain loyalties have shifted.

MR. ROBOT -- "eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h" Episode 301 -- (Pictured: (l-r) Portia Doubleday as Angela Moss, Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

Peter Kramer/USA Network

[Editor’s note: Spoilers for “Mr. Robot” Season 3, Episode 1, “eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h” follow.]

Booting Up

Rather than immediately reunite with Elliot (Rami Malek) and his state of confusion, Season 3 of “Mr. Robot” opens with the eccentric Irving (new cast member Bobby Cannavale), a BBQ connoisseur with a Bluetooth headset who it’s revealed is Tyrell Wellick’s (Martin Wallström) first call after shooting Elliot (thus establishing that Season 3 picks up right where Season 2 left off).

A week later, Elliot’s recovering from his gunshot wound and trying to get answers as to exactly what happened, though as the audience can see he’s lacking in allies — Angela (Portia Doubleday) is keeping things from him, Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is being hunted by the Dark Army (and working with the FBI), and of course Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) has rarely been a true friend…in fact, Elliot doesn’t even talk to Mr. Robot for the entire episode. That doesn’t mean his alter ego doesn’t make himself known, however, as we learn to what extent Angela and Mr. Robot have been working together without Elliot’s knowledge. With Stage 2 on the horizon and loyalties divided, we’re almost as in the dark as Elliot — though the power’s back on by the beginning of the episode.

Who’s In CTRL?

MR. ROBOT -- "eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h" Episode 301 -- Pictured: Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson -- (Photo by: Michael Parmelee/USA Network)

Of course, the episode doesn’t begin that way, on a number of levels. “And like that, my power’s gone too,” Elliot narrates when Angela reveals that she saw Tyrell — meaning that while Mr. Robot might be a construct of Elliot’s mind, Tyrell was not a figment. It’s a reveal that leaves Elliot completely destabilized, driving him forward for the rest of the episode in an effort to find something resembling balance.

Meanwhile, “eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h” introduces a brand new dynamic when it comes to the actual relationship between Mr. Robot and Elliot… and the people around them. Season 1 took its time in revealing just who Mr. Robot was, and Season 2 didn’t dig in all that deeply into what’s actually happening in the real world when he makes an appearance. Right from the get-go, though, the Season 3 premiere makes it clear that when we see Christian Slater on screen, the characters are actually seeing Rami Malek (the final scene on the bus, especially). It’s a reveal years in the making, and an exciting shift for the series going forward.

Quote of the Night

“Your eyes… you never try to look away.”
-Angela

Elliot’s entire apocalyptic rant also deserves consideration here, but there’s something sharp about this line which cuts through a lot of the potential confusion surrounding the Elliot/Mr. Robot split. Trying to approach “Mr. Robot” as an accurate depiction of multiple personalities (now currently defined as “Dissociative Identity Disorder”) isn’t fruitful — the show functions far better when you embrace the notion of Elliot and Mr. Robot being two completely separate characters. And Angela’s observation here speaks to that concept, as it says so much about both these men.

Best Jokes of the Night

“Mr. Robot” is a deceptively funny show at times, due largely to touches like Elliot borrowing a T-shirt from Angela reading “Property of Josh Groban” (Angela’s affection for the curly-haired crooner was established last season). Darlene’s tip that he won’t be able to get into the hacker club while wearing it is not the perfect punchline, but sets up Elliot changing into his signature hoodie.

That said, there’s something deeply relatable in Elliot’s desire to “mute” the club around him — seeing that icon pop up on the screen while watching the episode screener on a computer brought with it a special sense of surreality.

Best Insult Directed At The Parent Company

Elliot’s rant about how he’s responsible for destroying the world comes with one of “Mr. Robot’s” occasional jabs/acknowledgments that this show all about anarchy is made and distributed by one of the largest major conglomerates in entertainment. Technically, writer/director Sam Esmail is poking fun at NBC, not USA, but they’re all one big happy family, right?

MR. ROBOT -- "eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h" Episode 301 -- (Pictured: Bobby Cannavale as Irving -- (Photo by: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

This Week’s Tunes

As IndieWire has previously noted,  “Mr. Robot” doesn’t just feature one of TV’s most distinctive scores (courtesy of composer Mac Quayle) but some inspired music choices. The list from tonight’s episode:

  • Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, “Come And Get These Memories”: Playing overhead at Red Wheelbarrow BBQ
  • Julie Andrews and Henry Mancini, “Whistling Away the Dark”: Playing over the opening credits
  • Scythia, “Bear Claw Tavern”: The EDM track blasting at the club
  • Laura Branigan, “Over You”: The second musical selection coming courtesy of Red Wheelbarrow BBQ (but barely audible)
  • Daft Punk, “Touch”: The closing tune, largely underscoring Angela and Mr. Robot’s final conversation

The Episode Decoded

There’s a lot of set-up here that we have to trust will be delivered on down the line, especially the ominous but vague scene featuring Whiterose (B.D. Wong) and her schemes. In reflecting on the episode, it feels like not all that much actually happened, especially given that the full cast wasn’t heavily featured. With relatively brief appearances only by Tyrell and Mr. Robot, not to mention no appearance whatsoever of characters from Season 2 like Joanna Wellick (Stephanie Corneliussen) and Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer), there was a lot left up in the air for future weeks.

Also, we made some mention of Elliot’s sidewalk rant already, but to dig in fully: There’s something deliberately off-putting and reactive about it, especially given that while “Mr. Robot” is still set in the year 2015, Esmail couldn’t resist the opportunity to dig in on Trump and the state of the world in the year 2017. Is the sequence overly self-indulgent? Perhaps, especially given that it would have felt far fresher a few months ago, when we were less beaten down by the endless cycles of bad news.

It’s nice that Elliot is willing to take the blame for the current political climate, but the fact is that we didn’t need a complete economic collapse caused by hackers to get to this point. We got here all on our own. One of the most fascinating aspects of the show is the way in which it has created this alternate reality, a picture of America sliding not-so-subtlely into chaos.

However, it’s a promising start to a new season, and the surprises lying in wait have us excited. We no longer wonder, per the Season 1 tagline, “Who is Mr. Robot?” But we also never really know for sure, and that’s what keeps us hypnotized.

Grade: B+

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