If walking back into a show like Parks and Recreation is like being greeted back into a warm world full of old friends, coming back to Mr Robot is like being locked in a dark room full of people who may want to kill you. For added fun, these people may also be you.
And so, we’re brought back into the stunning fever dream for Season Three. Stunning is the key word, mostly because ‘beautiful’ would be an optimistic stretch. Creator Sam Esmail’s world is half-techno house party, half-dystopian collapse, with the latter creeping increasingly into the former, and still as enthralling as ever. The sheer style of the show is enough to keep you watching, with the long, claustrophobic focus on faces, leaving us unable to see beyond the frame (also in Hulu’s fully-fledged dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale), the use of negative space, the undercurrent of music that cuts out at unpredictable times, always ready to unsettle you in those brief moments where you think you know the score. Such style was definitely a necessity when it came to the disorientating narrative of season two. When you looked away, and left the dream world, you’d be forgiven for asking why, exactly, characters were doing certain things, or even what they were doing.
It is here where the main strength of Episode One lies. The episode spends a lot of time solidifying the new dynamics at play, rather than hiding them for half a season – most likely a helpful consequence of this series only being 10 episodes, rather than 12. Such clarity reveals the scale of Elliot’s problem for this series. Mr Robot now stands with Angela, Tyrell, and the Dark Army. Elliot, meanwhile, is left alone, disillusioned with the revolution that he put in place.
The episode takes its time to really emphasise how far Elliot and the world has come from the relative peace of Season One. His f-society rant, often easy to find on anarchist Facebook pages, hitting 100,000 views on YouTube videos, has often achieved attention for its views on society. The nihilistic Internet that so loves Rick and Morty celebrates the scathing ‘deep’ monologue. Yet, here in Season Three, we see a parallel Elliot monologue that realises that the world is not better for his intervention. The quick-fix to the system that he had hoped would magically fall into place has not manifested, instead hitting the general population hardest. His dissent has been turned into consumerism (just as his rant had on Facebook or YouTube), absorbed by the system he tried to destroy. Now, he realises, he has simply paved the way for the ‘powers’ to crush those around him even further. Such a rant is updated with quick images of Theresa May and Trump, tying the show to the real world in an odd manner for one that seems so far apart. It’s made clear that this is a show that is in direct response to the current condition of global politics. Out of fear, people choose weakness, Elliot describes, becoming “docile enough to be slaughtered” by these higher powers.
“half-techno house party, half-dystopian collapse, and still as enthralling as ever”
This display of the effects of revolution is what truly sets apart Mr Robot from the frequent criticisms of it being derivative of Fight Club. Indeed, even in this episode, the show is not shy to recognise this connection, as Elliot wonders if he got rid of Mr Robot by being shot. But what is key is that this is the breakdown of that idealistic, destructive anarchy of the end of Fight Club, asking, what comes next?
And what does come next? It is unclear what Elliot’s aims truly are. He wants to stop people suffering, above all, and in the interest of such has apparently abandoned his revolutionary role. Mr Robot’s cabal, meanwhile, are desperate to see it through to its end. The Dark Army, too, are scheming for their own purposes. As we enter this third series, it appears that it’s time for us to pick a side, but right now, it’s hard to imagine a way out at all.