Over the past few years, television has proven to be an excellent forum for several content creators, such as David Lynch (Twin Peaks), Noah Hawley (Fargo) and Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad), to showcase their brilliant minds through the construction of complex, detailed narratives. Sam Esmail was able to join their ranks on the merit of his creation Mr. Robot. With its recently premiered third season, it’s already possible to see this showrunner still has several surprises planned for Elliot Alderson’s (Rami Malek) journey.
To the sound of Julie Andrews singing “Whistling Away The Dark”, cinematographer Tod Campbell’s lens wanders down the gigantic tunnels of Evil Corp’s controversial power plant, the very same that set Mr. Robot’s whole plot in motion in the first place, until the tunnels become Elliot’s eyes. In a truly brilliant cinematographic piece, Mr. Robot firmly re-establishes his protagonist’s initial motivations – literally, what’s hiding in his mind, beneath his eyes. It introduces us to a mysterious concept that all the tragedies caused by Evil Corp can somehow be fixed (are they going to go down the sci-fi path?). Elliot greets us, the audience behind the broken fourth wall, not with his usual “hello, friend” but with a much more alarming “are you still there?”.
“At first he died, now he dead!”
As announced before the premiere, season 3 begins with a certain, very methodical Irving (Bobby Cannavale), being contacted to clean up the mess left by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Walström), effectively saving Elliot’s life. This flicks a switch in Elliot’s mind: opposite to what he believed at the end of season 2, he’s actually living a real situation, of which he has no control. He’s just a pawn in the fight between Evil Corp, Dark Army, and Mr. Robot himself (Christian Slater).
Campbell continues to delight us with his play on shadow, (candle)light and muted colours. In a visually enthralling scene, Elliot, dressed in black, hoodie up, dark, faces Angela (Portia Doubleday), dressed in white, pale and blonde – a dichotomy of colours and textures, but perhaps something else too…?
The only place with energy in the whole of NYC, and they’re using it to play…Minesweeper
Power is the key theme of “eps3.0_power-saver-mode.h”, pervasive in plotlines such as the protagonist’s futility, or Angela’s almost absurd development, who, over the years, has evolved from uninformed friend to one of the main figures responsible for moving the narrative forward, in her pursuit of justice. Her hope – and Darlene’s (Carly Chaikin) panic – is almost palpable, sharp as broken glass, along Mac Quayle’s soundtrack, which wraps itself around each scene with the usual skill, adrenaline and tension.
In the episode’s highlight, Esmail also uses this approach to power to discuss the USA’s current situation. Elliot delivers an excellent monologue of epic proportions, half spoken out loud to the streets and cameras, half off-stage narrated just for the audience. He chews and savours every word he says, only to spit it right out so hard you can almost see the bile on the screen. Difficult moments, he notes, are exploited by media and market, who turn resistance into products, and by the government, who sees society’s fear as an opportunity to grab hold of the public’s rights without great resistance, using their own fear as a weapon. (Enter Kai Anderson from American Horror Story: Cult, anyone?) Yet he admits that blaming corporations, systems, politicians and enemies isn’t enough. The guilt for the world we live in, in a cruel chain reaction, is ours too. Mr. Robot’s ambivalent position toward its own concept of an anarchist revolution has always been its greatest virtue, and the sense of responsibility that Esmail introduces here is even more thought provoking.
Victims of DWP’s “fit-for-work” assessments?
This reflection leads Elliot to blame himself for society’s downfall as well as create new enemies, start a one-man war against Dark Army – and going as far as joining Evil Corp to do just that. It’s quite an abrupt change, but it makes sense: the beginning of season 3 is strongly suggestive that Mr. Robot has gone from being a story about technology and corporatism in today’s society, to something set in a not-so-distant dystopian future.
Mr. Robot remains as intense, brutal and grounded as it ever was, able to use its own universe to construct an intriguing narrative, while at the same time delivering bitter remarks about the real world at the exact right moment. Esmail has already said that he’s got the ending all planned out, and judging from the season’s premiere, it’s pretty clear that he knows exactly which path he needs to take.
Mr. Robot (Season 3) is available on Amazon Video (included with Prime).