‘Mr. Robot’ Season 3 Premiere- Rebooted and Reborn

When we last left Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), he was- spoiler for those not caught up- lying in a pool of his own blood, after having been shot by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), upon his own orders, or, rather, the “Mr. Robot” (Christian Slater) side of himself, if he tried to stop his own plans to jump-start “Phase 2” of his diabolical plan to take down E(vil)Corp. The problem being that Phase 2 involved blowing up a building to destroy back-up files, but while a lot of innocent people were still inside.

We basically pick up where we left off in the season premiere, with a frantic Tyrell calling for help, after initially contacting none other than Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday), who, at one point, was taken by the mysterious Whiterose (BD Wong), who apparently successfully lobbied for Angela to join her team, albeit under dubious circumstances.

In turn, Angela puts Tyrell in touch with new character Irving (Bobby Cannavale, “Boardwalk Empire”), who looks like a sleazy used car salesman, but apparently is a “cleaner” type, in the grand tradition of Harvey Keitel’s “Wolf” character from “Pulp Fiction.” Irving shows up at the loft Tyrell and Elliot are at and arranges for off-the-book medical help, after which Elliot is instilled in an apartment to be watched over by Angela until he wakes up.

Upon doing so, Elliot is understandably freaked to discover that everything he thought was just another hallucination- his trying to stop Phase 2 and getting shot by Tyrell for his actions- was, in fact, a reality. He immediately sets out to undo what he did and stop Phase 2 dead in its tracks by using a back door hack he left behind as a contingency plan, just in case. The problem is, there’s a black-out at the moment, making it hard to find an internet connection, much less places with power.

Elliot stops by his old apartment, finding his decidedly still freaked out sister, Darlene (Carly Chaikin), who is still reeling from the death of friend and fellow FSociety member Cisco (Michael Drayer), who was gunned down in public at a restaurant right in front of her by what she presumes was the Dark Army, reasserting their authority. After that, she was whisked away to the FBI headquarters by agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer), who showed her just how much she knew about what was going on with her and Elliot and the FSociety crew.

We still don’t know what happened after that, and whether or not Darlene buckled and made a deal with the FBI or not, but clearly, she is still convinced someone is out to get her, which perhaps makes hiding out at her missing brother’s apartment a bit of a dopey move, but hey, she’s still alive, so there’s that. The implication, though, is that both the FBI and the Dark Army are keeping close tabs on her, and, by extension, given what both know, Elliot.

After berating Elliot for being gone so long and filling him in on what he missed, as he does the same on his end, oddly leaving out the fact that, you know, he was freaking SHOT and all- I guess so as to not freak her out even more- she takes him to an underground club called 1984, appropriately enough, given that everyone is watching them. There, Elliot swiftly wins a hacking competition, solely to gain access to a compute in order to use the aforementioned back-door to undo Phase 2.

Although members of the Dark Army approach them and threaten them, it seems like Elliot completes this task just in time, as evidenced by his claims later on. They leave the club, where a taxi-cab driven by Irving awaits, who is there to help them shake their FBI tail, which he does with a Vin number and a quick call to the cops, who quickly shut down said car, ending their pursuit instantly. He then takes them to a new restaurant, by the name of- what else? – The Red Wheelbarrow, because so much of last season depended on one. 🙂

There, he basically threatens Elliot to continue his work on Phase 2, or else suffer the consequences. Elliot steadfastly refuses, and that would seem that for now. Darlene bails, as does Irving, and eventually Elliot heads back to where Angela is. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Robot makes an appearance, and we discover that Angela has the ability to spot when he has taken over Elliot by the look in his eyes.

Love how, when he first appeared, the lighting made Christian Slater’s face look a lot like one of those infamous slasher movie masks that has served as FSociety’s mascot over the last two seasons. It was a creepy moment, to be sure, with actor Slate exuding “Heathers”-style menace minus the sense of humor. Angela was not taken aback by this, and instead, instantly went into “get stuff done” mode, leading him back to the loft, where Tyrell, and eventually, Irving awaited.

There, Mr. Robot got things back on track, as Irving started to piece together what he was dealing with to a better extent- it seems that he and Elliot have met before, but Elliot obviously had no recollection of this whatsoever, likely because Irving didn’t meet with him at all, he instead met with Mr. Robot. Realizing that Elliot has a split personality, more or less, Irving rolls with it, though you can tell he’s a bit taken aback by these new developments.

He’s not the only one, either, as an unnamed associate of Whiterose (Grant Chang), has his reservations about the stability of both Elliot and Tyrell, given how much is riding on their success in executing Phase 2. Offering to take over, Whiterose quickly shoos him away, saying that it has to be them, with Elliot in particular the main mastermind behind it happening in the first place. Without Elliot, it would seem, there IS no Phase 2.

Whiterose’s underlying motives for doing all of this are still decidedly shady- the conversation in question actually takes place at an ECorp building, where he is walking around freely, so he is obviously directly involved with the company. Indeed, we catch a glimpse of a massive machine on the premises that Whiterose is very keen on, and intent on making work, which is implied to have some kind of connection to quantum physics and possibly even making one able to change reality itself and guide one’s fate accordingly to one’s liking. Maybe.

Later on, after Mr. Robot gets Phase 2 back on track, Angela seems to confirm this, asking him if he could, would he go back and undo all that has been done to them, down to the death of their parents? Mr. Robot is taken aback by this, but we don’t need to even ask Elliot what choice he would make in this regard- after all, he’s been keeping his father’s memory alive to such an extent that he often forgets his father is dead in the first place, as we saw in Season One.

That’s basically where we end things, but it’s one hell of a start, that’s for sure. Clearly, writer/creator Sam Esmail, who also directed the entire last season and is doing the same in Season Three, heard the criticisms of Season Two and has taken them into account, heavily streamlining things to make them more simplistic, while allowing for plenty of mystery, nonetheless.

The big problem with the last season was that a lot of people saw the big twist coming, meaning that a lot of time was wasted dealing with it that could have been used to propel the story forward, given that Elliot was incarcerated most of the season, but the show tried to make us believe otherwise. Of course, the argument could be made that the big Season One twists were also fairly predictable, at least to anyone who saw “Fight Club,” but I was fooled by some of it, notably the reveal that Darlene was Elliot’s sister, if not that Elliot’s dad was long since dead.

Be that as it may, the first season had verve and a cool vibe to it that made one not mind the fact that they figured out what was really going on, if they even did, because it was so enjoyable overall. I’d argue that the second season had its moments as well, not in the least the “ALF”-themed episode and the glimpse at the slasher flick that so inspired Elliot back in the day. (I also used to subject my sister to a small (dark) army of cheesy slasher films, so I could really relate.)

Despite some of the naysaying, or perhaps because of it, Esmail has seemingly heard the complaints and addressed them in Season 3, effectively stripping things down to a level everyone can understand. Part of that is upping the ante politically to a certain extent- keep in mind the show is still blissfully taking place in the Obama era, but in the premiere, we get a glimpse of what is down the pike, as Elliot wonders if what he did actually did more harm than good, given the end results of the likes of Trump and Brexit and what have you.

We also see how Elliot’s group, FSociety, largely ends up co-opted by the mainstream, with his slasher “mascot” being displayed on T-shirts sold all over the place, masks readily available, and even a fictionalized NBC show forthcoming. It’s a great meta moment of the show collapsing in on itself that’s arguably more effective than the entire prison subplot last season, and this bit only takes a matter of minutes to get its point across. It’s almost as if Esmail is winking to the audience: I heard you and I get it- just hang in there, things are about to get wild.

I also dig that Angela is proving to be much more of a complex character than we first assumed, which, in turn, gives actress Portia Doubleday, who also faced her fair share of criticism over the last few seasons, a chance to shine and show that her acting abilities are not in question, it was just the character design.

Now that she’s much more directly involved in the action, count on seeing Doubleday getting a lot more to do, and a better chance to show some of that moxie she displayed in something like the “Carrie” remake. Her scene at the end of the premiere is particularly effective, with some fine work on Doubleday’s behalf.

I also like the way the show has doubled-down on both the split-personality-style aspects of Elliot’s two personas, while at the same time, allowing one to wonder how much of these events we’re seeing are real or not, as per the comments about alternate realities and the like. This new aspect to the proceedings gives the show a boost that brings to mind something like “Lost” at the peak of its powers. Hopefully, “Mr. Robot” sticks the landing better, though.

I also appreciated knowing a bit more about Whiterose’s motivations, and look forward to finding out more as the season progresses. She remains one of the more fascinating characters on TV. I have a feeling we’re in for a wild ride this season, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. While I didn’t dislike last season as much as some did, I do appreciate the show seemingly getting back to basics in Season 3.

I like it when a showrunner/creator hears the criticisms directed at them and goes to lengths to address it themselves by tweaking the show for the better moving forward, and that seems to be exactly what’s going on here, even if I’d argue it didn’t really need it as much as some claimed it did. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Still, I also get the criticisms as well. As a critic myself, and as a writer, I get the desire to improve one’s craft, and appreciate that Esmail wants to do better, even if the charges leveled against him aren’t always correct. “Mr. Robot” remains its own thing, and quite unlike anything else on TV.

From its nifty electronic score by Mac Quayle (all of the soundtrack albums released so far by him are well-worth hearing in their own right) and oddball soundtrack music selections (the premiere alone featured everything from Julie Andrews to Laura Branigan to Daft Punk); to its left-of-center framing, which makes a lot of what happens so disquieting and disconcerting; to the weird way storylines are laid out and information is delivered; to its near-obsessive attention to detail (Esmail uses real hackers and computer experts to make sure the details are as accurate and believable as possible), “Mr. Robot” is truly a show like no other, and fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll be checking in on the show from time to time as the season progresses, so keep an eye out for more reviews and be sure and let me know what you thought of the premiere down below! Where is all this headed? Is what we’re seeing even happening? Or did it happen already and the main characters are seeking to erase it and do it all over again? Can they do such a thing? What are Whiterose’s reasons for doing it in the first place? Sound off down below, and see you in a few weeks!