In episode 3, ‘eps3.2_1egacy.so, viewers finally get to see the puppet masters behind the strings being pulled in season two. Between Irving (Bobby Cannavale) and White Rose (BD Wong), it’s clear that there is another level to the 3D, or perhaps even 4D chess that is Mr. Robot. Focusing primarily on previously unseen events from season two, this extremely satisfying and revelatory episode manages to ask as many new questions as it answers.
Season one of Mr. Robot ended spectacularly with the Five Nine hack turning the world economy upside-down. But for most of season two, one of the most important questions from the first season remained unanswered — how did Elliot (Rami Malek) end up in Tyrell’s car the morning after the Five Nine hack? In this episode, we finally find out what led Elliot to that parking lot, and what Tyrell (Martin Wallstrom) was up to while Elliot was in prison during Season Two.
The first moments of this episode flashback to the arcade where it all began. The events revealed are moments Elliot could not remember during season two, because he is in Mr. Robot-mode. With the hack successfully underway, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) pulls a gun out of a popcorn machine to shoot Tyrell. Mr. Robot pulls the trigger and nothing happens. “You might just be the perfect kind of crazy to protect me from me”, Mr. Robot says, and hands over the gun that didn’t kill Tyrell. Just like Elliot could not destroy eCorp with the Five Nine hack alone, Mr. Robot cannot destroy Tyrell with a single bullet.
Irving, new this season but apparently, the mastermind behind many of the events of the show so far, crashes the party with two masked, trigger-happy Dark Army henchmen. Irving says he’s there “because you two f*cked up,” and claims he is their only hope for staying out of jail. Irving instructs Mr. Robot to take Tyrell’s car and drop it off at the location where Elliot wakes up at the end of season one.
The intro credits roll over a car gliding down a dark road, while violins ominously waver in the background. The shot is reminiscent of a classic horror film, and the screech of a door opening at the music’s climax further intensifies the effect. We see that the man in the car is Tyrell, and the destination: his safe house.
Meanwhile in China, White Rose is confirmed to have devised many of Elliot’s experiences in the prison, further positioning White Rose as the puppet master behind many of the machinations in the Mr. Robot universe. White Rose says he wants to back then-candidate Donald Trump, expounding “if you pull the right strings, a puppet will dance any way you desire”.
Beyond its clever augmented reality game–whoismrrobot.com is a good place to start for those unfamiliar–Mr. Robot continues to cleverly blur the line between the world of the viewer’s reality and the world of the show. The uncanny experience of seeing an ad for Amazon Echo that references the Five Nine hack, or a commercial for the show’s fictional currency, eCoin, mixed in with real world commercials is a disquieting experience. The cognitive dissonance is intensified by the show’s incorporation of real events such as the election of Donald Trump. It makes sense that a television show about hacking would reinforce the parallels between its universe and in the real world, where evidence continues to suggest the 2016 election was impacted in some capacity by cyber string pulling. One does not have to reach far to imagine a world where a real life “White Rose” is behind an election hack. Of course, in the real world of Mr. Robot’s viewers, no Five Nine attack has ever happened. But perhaps, in an alternate timeline where this show takes place, it did.
Later in the episode, Mr. Robot gives viewers a perfect use of Wallace Shawn in an outrageously villainous KFC Colonel white mustache, facial hair that perfectly matches the face on the F-Society masks. He functions as a sort of human lie detector for Tyrell. He asks Tyrell outright if he committed murder, which of course Tyrell did, and Shawn marks on a paper what he believes to be true and false. As a tea kettle whistles incessantly in the background, Shawn breaks Tyrell down, getting him to confess to everything including the murder. It’s almost absurd how quickly Tyrell breaks down — and how annoying over a minute of tea kettle whistling can get. The whole scene has a feel similar to the interrogation scene in The Master, and is also reminiscent of Angela’s interrogation by the Dark Army.
Tyrell is explicitly told not to leave the safe house, but nevertheless, makes a misguided attempt to flee and is quickly intercepted by a police car, and a cop who wants to take a selfie with Tyrell before turning him in. A desperate Tyrell breaks his own fingers to get the cuffs off, but the break turns out to be unnecessary, as another Dark Army associate saves Tyrell and kills the cop. This episode continues to emphasize the prevalence and power of the Dark Army beyond local law enforcement and even national governing bodies.
The episode concludes with Irving telling Tyrell to pack — Elliot is being released from prison, and in a way, so is Tyrell as he will finally get to leave the safe house. When Irving gives Tyrell back the gun, he reveals that a blockage prevented Mr. Robot’s bullet in the opening scene from firing and killing Tyrell. The miracle was not an example of the two men’s omnipotence, but rather a chance malfunction. Irving takes Tyrell to a strange hotel, a place which more red imagery seems to suggest is Dark Army territory. A painting in the lobby shows an anonymous man in a suit, with red lines sprouting from the collar and obscuring his face.
The color red is becoming more prominent in this season and stands out strongly against the muted greys and blacks of the Mr. Robot Universe. In the therapy office, the red books stand out, the Dark Army masks are red, Elliot’s door is red, and of course, the front restaurant itself is called Red Wheelbarrow. It seems that red and its growing prominence represents the increasing reach and influence of the Dark Army. But like blood spilling out of bullet wound, it could also indicate impending doom.
Again the violins swell as Tyrell shaves his beard and fixes his hair, the music transitioning to a Bond-like theme as he dresses in a fine suit and receives a call. It’s time to meet Elliot in the cab, and with that, the parallel lives of Tyrell and Elliot line up again. In a single episode, the show has covered the entire span of season two from Tyrell’s perspective.
It’s nice to have an hour of Mr. Robot that focuses on a concrete center, after the rapid fire character catch-up played out in the previous episode. So much has happened since the early days of season one, and this episode provides additional context while simultaneously highlighting key details and events from past episodes. Writer and director Sam Esmail deserves credit for smart showrunning, oscillating between action-pack episodes where a lot of things happen to a lot of people, and equally dense storytelling that offers an extreme close-up of a single character’s storyline. Seeing everything that went on during Elliot’s season two incarceration is certainly fascinating, but raises interesting questions about the timing. Why is Esmail exploring a nonlinear timeline? Could it be yet another allusion to White Rose’s fixation with time, and Angela’s 03.1 references to fixing the past? Surely this season has more to reveal about what the puppet masters have in mind for their players, and whether or not the strings will be cut.
Mr. Robot, written and directed by Sam Esmail, continues its 10 episode season Wednesday nights on USA at 10 p.m. ET.
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