This review contains spoilers.
3.9 Stage 3
Right after Mr Robot’s cold opening, in which we discover Philip Price contracted All Safe’s services because of Angela’s nice smile, something amazing happens. Yes, something more amazing than Tyrell Wellick’s English-speaking accent adjustment in the following three years.
Elliot “wakes up” to find himself standing in front of his mirror and Mr Robot having carved “They own the FBI” into it. “What did Mr Robot do last night?” he asks us. And here’s the amazing part: Mr. Robot immediately shows us.
Throughout almost three full years of this show, we’ve grown accustomed to questions like “what did Mr Robot do last night?” going unanswered for an extended period of time. Season 3, however, has proven more willing than most Mr Robot seasons to put its cards on the table.
“Stage 3” might be the clearest, most helpfully expository hour yet. It’s the right move as “Stage 3” is also a near-perfect setup for the sure to be conclusive finale next week.
Of course, Mr Robot and Elliot’s stories this week aren’t completely simple “A to B” storytelling. There are some timeline shenanigans afoot. The episode cuts between Mr. Robot’s trip to Tyrell’s house and subsequent encounter with Philip Price and Elliot’s plan to enact “stage 3” the next day.
This timeline messing works well but in a different way from Mobely and Trenton’s demise two weeks ago. That was pure shock and awe (and well-done shock and awe) but this works thematically in a way that the show needs to work right now.
So much of Mr Robot has been about the strange relationship between its two leads – both of course being Elliot Alderson. Last week’s flashback to Elliot’s father’s death and the emergence of the Mr Robot persona worked wonders for the show’s establishment of this relationship. Now, Stage 3 not only promises a strong finale but a better (and more interesting) future of Elliot-Mr Robot relations.
By having Mr Robot and Elliot come to similar revelations simultaneously within the narrative, it helps create their burgeoning alliance in a much more fascinating way than say a trip to Krista’s office or a joint viewing of Careful Massacre Of The Bourgeoise over popcorn and M&Ms.
Mr. Robot comes to the realisation that the Dark Army is the real author of all this pain through Philip Price of all people. Mr Robot heads to Tyrell’s house after Tyrell’s been released, as verbally shitting on the Swede is apparently Mr Robot’s favorite pastime. As Tyrell returns the favor with his fists*, there’s a knock on the door and wouldn’t you know it, Philip Price has stopped by.
*Do I know why Sam Esmail draws a comparison between Tyrell Wellick and Donald Trump by having Tyrell stammer “No puppet. No puppet. YOU’RE the puppet.” No, I do not. But it’s pretty funny.
Philip is there to tell Tyrell that he has been granted the role of CTO at E Corp. But he also wants to tell him in person that it will be a “in name only” position. Just one last indignity Whiterose has thrown Price and Tyrell’s way.
Price graciously allows Elliot/Mr Robot to stay for his meeting with Tyrell and in the process, Elliot has a question for Price.
“5/9, fsociety. You knew the whole time, didn’t you?” Elliot asks Price.
“World catastrophes. They don’t happen from lone wolves like you,” Price responds. “They happen because men like me allow them to happen. You just happened to stumble into one of them.”
The ‘powerful men pulling the strings’ trope should be an overused and tired one at this point. Perhaps it would be in a different political climate but Mr Robot has lucked into some well-timed support from reality and it’s accidentally become the show’s grandest and most impactful thematic statement. Stage 3 finds a perfect way to make the betrayal of being a puppet on a string personal. Once again it’s Price who provides the fire quotes.
“You’re still thinking like a lone wolf,” Price tells Elliot before he leaves.
“What should I be thinking like?”
“I am a leader.”
“Then where are your followers?”
A great question indeed. It hammers home what a solitary, selfish endeavour this has been for Elliot and Mr Robot. Elliot is at war with himself and so far it’s the rest of humankind that has paid the price. The satisfying thing about Stage 3 is that just as Mr Robot and Elliot begin to come to a shared understanding, they both agree on what the next course of action is: they have to fix this. So Mr Robot looks up information about the FBI’s Sentinel server, leaves the message on the mirror and Elliot takes it over from there.
Motivated, vengeful Elliot is a protagonist that it is just flat out nice to spend time with. As Elliot begins the process of coming to terms with himself, he also begins the process of undoing all the damage this process of self-discovery has done so far.
Elliot shares his plan with Darlene (who has some unfortunate alterations), tries to shake Angela out of her craziness, and then finally retreats back to his apartment where he finds Leon waiting for him. Unfortunately, Leon doesn’t share any new thoughts on NBC 90s sitcoms this time around but he does rightfully point out that Angela is “tripping.”
Leon takes Elliot to his agreed meeting with the Dark Army, as set up with Irving earlier. Whiterose isn’t there but it doesn’t matter. Elliot gets what he wants. He feeds Whiterose’s assistant* some easily seen-through b.s. about Stage 3 involving the elimination of E Coin. In reality, he is just installing his own malware onto the Dark Army’s servers so that he can take them over as he does by episode’s end.
*I can’t recall if Whiterose’s assistant (whose English really has improved) has a name. IMDB says Grant so….hey, Grant!
Stage 3 works well emotionally and thematically but one of its biggest missteps is logical. How is Elliot so easily able to Trojan Horse onto the Dark Army’s networks with a USB drive when accessing the FBI’s servers is nearly impossible? It’s easy to take a logical leap of faith like this, especially when we’re all far technologically dumber than Elliot. But it ends up not being fair to the characters involved as Elliot is able to enact his part of the plan easily and flawlessly while Darlene spectacularly fucks up with the FBI. And it’s not clear that it’s really her fault other than the show needing Elliot to succeed and her to fail.
Elliot has a plan for hacking the FBI. But Darlene insists upon going her own way since she has access to an agent she semi-trusts. “Trust me,” she says. Trusting her turns out to be a bad idea as she does not have nearly the plot armour Elliot does.
Plan A for Darlene is to meet Dom at a bar and remotely copy her key code. This does not work (again: Elliot is able to hack the entire Dark Army via laptop and USB but Darlene’s special code-stealing machine is apparently on the fritz), so she goes with plan B: seduction.
Mr Robot has mined the ‘women of an indeterminate Kinsey spectrum score kissing’ thing before with Angela and Shayla (man, remember her?) And there is undoubtedly some level of fan service/humankind service going on from Sam Esmail here. Still, the encounter gives Grace Gummer another emotional spectrum of Dom to work with.
Gummer really has been excellent in this role. Her portrayal of Dom, who is in the grand scheme of things a minor character, has really run the full rainbow of human emotions and contradictions. Dom is the kind of person who will sleep with a source… but only after she locks her keycard and gun safely away.
When Darlene gets up in the night to steal the card, Dom catches her immediately and brings her in to the FBI, unknowingly placing her within the clutches of the Dark Army.
Stage 3 is the second ‘necessary’ episode of Mr. Robot in as many weeks. Last week was necessary in establishing a baseline level of humanity in Elliot after his emotional devastation and this week gets the pieces in place for Elliot’s real “stage 3” in the upcoming finale. Some characters like Darlene and Angela are underserved but Mr Robot, itself, remains in a good place right now.
Short of a Doc and Mary intervention, Elliot Alderson has one more hour to save the world. With Mr Robot on his side, a happy ending seems more plausible than ever before.
So let’s prepare ourselves for the bleakest episode in television history.