‘Mr. Robot’ Season 3, Episode 9: Introducing Stage 3

Elliot was in hero mode throughout, imbued with the determination that emerged at the end of last week’s dark night of the soul. “The only thing we can do now is rebuild,” he told Darlene in the arcade. While such optimism was an abrupt switch from last week’s suicidal depression and bagful o’ pills, it was also a logical response from a man who’s spent this season in search of purpose, and afraid that his lack of it has been fueling Mr. Robot’s misadventures.

As for Mr. Robot himself, well he was still cropping up at inconvenient times and wallowing in the usual cyberanarchist rhetoric. But we also saw signs of a more productive partnership between Elliot’s two halves, as Mr. Robot kicked everything into motion by sharing the Dark Army’s link to the F.B.I. on Elliot’s new mirror.

He arrived at said info thanks to a charged reunion that found Wellick donning his therapeutic beatdown gloves, yet another callback in an episode full of them, to take out some rage on Elliot’s jaw before Price intervened. “Am I interrupting something?” Price asked — no one gives a line-reading like Michael Cristofer — before letting Wellick know that even though he’d finally achieved his dream job of E Corp CTO, he’s still a nobody.

Price’s recognition of Elliot — the fact that Christian Slater and Rami Malek have become totally interchangeable is really something, when you think about it — confirmed that he’s been in on the 5/9 hack, at least, from the beginning, as did the episode opening flashback that found him hiring AllSafe over objections from Wellick and the ever-classy Terry Colby.

So, too, did his advice to Mr. Robot, as he reemphasized a primary theme of the season: That revolutions against capitalism are probably destined to be co-opted by capitalists. “World catastrophes like this, they aren’t caused by lone wolves like you,” he told him. “They occur because men like me allow them.”

That said, there are cracks in the facades of the puppetmasters as they become victims of their own overreach. We know from last week’s tête-à-tête with Whiterose that Price’s position is more precarious than he lets on. Whiterose, in turn, spent this week losing it to an extent we haven’t yet seen, unable to take advantage of her Congo takeover thanks to security measures triggered by her own actions. In our world corporate overlords are too big to fail, but for all its plutocratic fear mongering, “Mr. Robot” seems to get that ultimately it’s no fun if the baddies are indestructible.

Among the episode’s less successful gambits, both narratively and creatively, was Darlene’s ploy to to use Agent Dom’s badge to gain access to the F.B.I. The most effective lies being mostly true, Darlene outlined the stressers that have legitimately plagued her all season — the deception, the isolation — as part of a duplicitous seduction attempt. But if there’s one thing we know about Dom, one of the sharpest people in this story, is that she’s too savvy to fall for an obvious ruse by someone she already doesn’t trust —

Oh what do you know? She went for it. I guess we’re supposed to chalk up Dom’s credulousness to her deep loneliness and the fact “my social game isn’t my strong suit.” The turn of events served the purpose of getting Darlene inside the F.B.I., which both alerted the Dark Army to the “incongruous” nature of Elliot and Darlene’s actions and turned up the heat on Agent Santiago, who figures to have everything come down atop his head next week. But it was one of a couple of subplots this week that didn’t really work, storywise.

The other? That would be Angela, who the last time we saw her was finally showing signs of pulling out of the delusional tailspin she’s been in this season. Elliot’s reminiscences last week about the Wishing Game poetically paralleled the wishing game Angela’s been playing all season, and seemed to usher her back toward reality.

But it turned out the most pertinent part of that evocative shot was the enveloping darkness on her side of the door. This week Angela was not only back to her paranoid ranting, she took the lunacy up a notch, living in filth and shambling through Manhattan in an oversized coat that hung about her like an asylum bathrobe.

At this point it’s clear that something is going on with her we don’t yet understand, some sort of rupture that seems to date to that meeting she had with Whiterose near the end of Season 2. Others have pointed out that the same actress who played young Angela a few weeks ago also played the girl who interrogated adult Angela in that encounter. So did some sort of metaphysical shenanigans that day send her around the bend? Did she just get a “Manchurian Candidate” level brainwashing? Or what?

Who knows? Maybe the guys in that van can clear some things up. Whatever the ultimate explanation for her behavior, I’m not sure it will be able to offset the ridiculous depths her character’s been plumbing since the E Corp attack — I’m not likely to forget Angela pushing her fish and “Hang in There!” poster through the city in her cart. Which is too bad, because her story of tragic loss and the vulnerability that can produce has been an effective, grounded counterpoint to Elliot’s more Gothic one.

Angela has had a terrible time, too, and you would expect her pain to manifest itself in baroque fashion. But you never go full hobo.

A Few Thoughts While We Peruse Sonatas

• I wonder if Irving’s customer ever made it back to the lot.

• This week’s Trump dig actually worked better within the story than some of the others. “No puppet! No puppet! You’re the puppet!” Wellick whined, referencing one of President Trump’s more infamous debate lines. The “I know you are but what am I?” puerility of the exchange meshed with both Wellick’s rather infantile temperament as well as the schoolyard nature of his and Mr. Robot’s relationship.

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