Written by Matthew Haviland
Mr. Robot Midseason Report (“eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00”) Plot Summary:
Elliot (Rami Malek) goes through an ordinary day at the office that becomes not ordinary very fast, and then we see Angela (Portia Doubleday) go through the same day from a different angle, at a different time, after hell breaks loose.
Hey guys, I’m back for more Mr. Robot. And as Season Three winds into its middle portion, I am impressed at how well it’s doing. Every time I see an episode, I’m like, “Wow, that is the best show I’ve ever seen.” This show is so good. But every time I look back on it, I feel an emptiness. Which might make sense, given the show is about the emptiness of reality as much as it’s about its great importance. Remember that the title character is a nonentity. Elliot spent almost the entirety of last season somewhere he wasn’t. Fsociety, for all its marvels, was basically one big good intention underneath a slogan and a mask.
This season, we get the man behind the mask. Tyrell (Martin Wallström) spending the entire season he wasn’t there in one episode, here. Whiterose (B. D. Wong) seemingly ordering the election of Donald Trump in that same time period. Elliot taking a look at how he’s affecting the world and trying to save it from the inside. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) taking a look at how her life has lost its purpose without the fsociety thing (and admitting it was all one big facade to spend time with Elliot, which is heartwarming in a way we haven’t seen much of).
Even the character of Bobby Cannavale, Irving, represents someone “behind the scenes,” showing us what’s really going on, and he has enough heft to his character that he literally changes the tone of the show any time he’s on, to something more friendly, syrupy, thick, which speaks to his character but also to the intention of showing us the world as it is, not as we’d like to see it.
Despite low-energy moments, like Darlene hacking for the FBI or Phil Price (Michael Cristofer) and Whiterose talking things behind the scenes (we get it, they’re pulling the strings, it’s kind of dull), the show has been doing well to justify its importance beyond being, primarily, a stunning work of art that leaves you breathless because nothing is there afterward.
The style over substance comes into question in this episode, but the form works so well, you don’t care that the intrigue doesn’t leave you up at night, contemplating the emotions. This choose-your-own-adventure-through-E-Corp episode, “eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00,” has two gimmicks. First, there was no commercial interruption, which really helped with the second: it’s one big tracking shot. We’ve done that before. But whereas Birdman has long midpoints, where it drags (even for those who liked that movie), and the form itself can get tiring in the interest of being “on” 24/7—you’ve got to keep watching, it’s still going!—Mr. Robot tightens that up with this heart attack through E Corp Headquarters.
Elliot going in resembles the best parts from The Matrix (anyone who wanted Morpheus to keep talking to Neo forever will get their jollies as he pulls a Mr. Anderson [“Mr. Alderson”] through the entire building for the first half of the forty-five minutes; it’s some of the best Elliot drones while shit happens around us ever).
Angela coming out, or almost coming out, shifts through a hundred different variations of calm, intensity, and violence; she first thinks it’s safe, then thinks her job’s on the line (the guy from the elevator), thinks her life’s on the line (closing that door behind her), and probably thinks she pretty boss as she does her No Country for Old Men thing. More on that later. And we’re all there with her, as the show keeps its tone exactly in line with Angela’s experience throughout.
This episode does some cool things with music. The way the “Knee Play 1” (“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven”) drifts in over the unchanging shot is stupendous, floating in like a breeze as the guys in masks and riot gear come through to Angela’s floor. Then the way music comes back again towards the end of the episode with Angela is similarly angelic, the psychedelic vibe working wonders for the otherwise hostile tone of the scenery.
And the way Elliot’s signature cyberpunk intrigue music works, earlier in the episode, recalls some of the best moments from season one. It’s exciting, tense. The tension can be fun, whether it’s Elliot talking down a whole group of people in a meeting he’s not supposed to be in or him encountering a computer-wizard old lady at the terminal he wants to commandeer. It’s hilarious, with great acting from Rami Malek. Almost as fun as him screwing around with self-induced sleep deprivation in Season Two.
There’s art here. The high-water point is when Angela sees the intruders through her window, as they go storming through her floor, and she calls Irving, who sounds so calm on the phone that when Angela walks through the office a second later, it feels like she cannot be harmed. Bobby Cannavale brings a whole new level of emotion to any scene—it feels like a different show with him there, a new, more emotionally grounded one, and he singlehandedly makes us feel like everything is just nothing around her as she goes about her day and grabs the office shipment.
Angela is awesome too. The tonal shifts as the show plays with her status, showing that she is not some unstoppable drone but just another suspicious hacker in a maelstrom? The way she curdles under pressure in the elevator? Beautiful. Exquisite. Doubleday is on fire here. The way she shudders before she puts on the mask? It’s fantastic, glorious stuff. And it all leads up to her encounter with the Dark Army messenger, like choking in smoke at the end of the war film as someone hands you a sandwich. The scene with her, all blonde hair behind bloody mask, before she goes up there, just looking at the guys tearing apart the office? It’s terrifying.
Telegraphing anything is not Mr. Robot’s game. It just lets it linger, any emotion, while the shit goes on around us. While other shows get by with tech talk telling us what’s going on every second, speaking down to us (“Okay, we’re hacking, we’re hacking. Good!”), Elliot doesn’t do that—he just works, silently, letting us know just enough to know that we don’t have to know.
Angela does the same here, but more silently, cooler. She is the cucumber. Just watch them work and it will be fine, and we’ll be given robot metaphors and code because that’s the cool stuff to talk about. Like No Country for Old Men. They’re not going to tell us what’s happening. The characters just do stuff, and we watch them. Also, that reveal that Elliot didn’t know about Darlene’s deception? Killer, and it really makes the subplot that much heavier. It seems Elliot doesn’t know what’s going on all the time. Maybe he doesn’t know any of the time.
Episode Score: 9.5/10 (Controlled)
Season Score (So Far): 9.5/10 (Good to Great)