mr. robot frederick and tanya review

(We’re going to kickstart our weekly discussion of USA’s Mr. Robot season 3 by answering one simple question: who had the biggest mental breakdown in this week’s episode?)

Sobering reminders of reality go hand-in-hand with Mr. Robot, and “Frederick and Tanya” is no exception. The episode has the thankless job of dealing with the aftermath of the Dark Army’s shocking attack against 71 E Corp buildings, as well as tying up loose plot threads that have been forgotten since season 2. Plot has never been a strong suit of the USA Network show, so it’s reassuring that this week’s episode is as steeped in the disheartening mood that has become synonymous with Mr. Robot. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

This Week’s Breakdown: Everyone Except the Dark Army

It’s hard to pinpoint who is the biggest loser in this grim episode that follows the aftermath of the attack against 71 E Corp buildings and the death of thousands of people. Dom, who engages in a mad dash to find the culprits; Elliot, whose shock causes him to regress into Mr. Robot for the remainder of the episode; Angela, who is catatonic and delusional in the face of the rising body count; or the sobbing background characters, reeling from the largest attack in U.S. history. The events in Mr. Robot once again feels achingly close to reality in the wake of the Las Vegas mass shooting a month ago. As a heightened depiction of anarchic intent, Mr. Robot has always danced around moments of real-life brutality — often accidentally as in the case with the on-camera death in the season 1 finale — but throughout season 3 it has felt more intentional. Not in how the events played out, or even the obvious parallels to sudden, inexplicable acts of violence that cause more loss of life on American soil than ever before. It’s in the initial shock that is relayed across everyone’s faces before it fades into blank apathy.

“You know how these people are enjoying themselves even on the day of the biggest attack in U.S. history?” Irving asks Mr. Robot, pointing to a rooftop bar populated by decadently-dressed socialites. “Nothing can stop these people.”

A shout out must also be made to Trenton (Sunita Mani) and Mobley (Azhar Khan), the sacrificial pawns of the episode. The fsociety foot soldiers who had been MIA since the season 2 finale returned for a brief, horrifying moment as the titular “Frederick and Tanya.” They’ve been held hostage by Leon (Joey Badass, once again a standout) who slashes the throat of Mobley’s roommate and drives the two of them out to the desert, all the while discussing the merits of Knight Rider over Frasier. It leads into an oddly quirky arc for two characters who eventually become the emotional crux of the episode. Trenton and Mobley’s reintroduction and gut-wrenching exit doesn’t entirely work — the fact that it took me half the episode to remember their names may have been a factor — but the slow-burn plot is a welcome change of pace after the show spent the last two weeks hurdling toward an end point.

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Delusions of Grandeur

In keeping with season 3’s trend of distancing the series more and more from Elliot’s POV, Rami Malek remains mostly MIA this episode, only getting the chance to hysterically stumble into his therapist Krista’s office before regressing into Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot for the rest of the episode. Mr. Robot’s hostility towards Krista is palpable, as he scorns her and the rest of America’s easy acceptance of the status quo — in a ramble that once again recalls Elliot’s monologues from season 1 — while he rages against the Dark Army hijacking his plan and pinning the blame on Tyrell Wellick. It’s the most aggressively narcissistic we’ve ever seen Mr. Robot, and it’s almost cartoonish. We finally get out of Elliot’s head and see his twisted mind view from the outside, and it’s frightening as well as alarmingly true to life in 2017. Sam Esmail is not shirking from his promise to double down on commenting on the current political landscape.

On the flip side of that dose of sobering reality is the concept of alternate realities, which Esmail has suggested before, and which the catatonic Angela seems to have wholeheartedly bought into. She spends much of the episode in shock at Darlene’s apartment, flipping through channels and rewinding footage of the buildings collapsing as the death toll rises. “See? everyone’s fine again,” she guilelessly tells a disturbed Darlene.

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Revolution of the Rich

Mr. Robot’s disaffection took him all the way to Irving’s car shop, where he walked in to yell petulantly at Irving that “Stage 2 was my plan!” before being knocked out by a Dark Army stooge. He wakes up later in Irving’s car, where, unruffled, Irving calls him out to point out the rooftop of wealthy socialites to him. “It was never about your revolution,” Irving tells Mr. Robot glibly. “It was always bought and paid for by people like them.” It’s perhaps the most disheartening part of the episode, and seems to bring to a screeching halt everything that Elliot and Mr. Robot had fought for in the last three seasons. What else but to bring down the top 1%, to bring equality to the status quo? Were they just pawns serving the rich and wealthy the entire time? That seems to be the message that Mr. Robot is relaying to us, and while it’s not the most soul-crushingly oppressive moment from the series, it does imbue the episode with a heavy hopelessness.

Especially when it turns out that even the rich and wealthy aren’t exempt from despair. Phillip is at his lowest when he confronts Whiterose — still set to the ironic opulence of Mar-a-Lago, it seems — demanding to know why E Corp has been attacked so brutally by the Dark Army. Whiterose humors him before smoothly taking him down peg by peg, removing the power that the Dark Army had handed him when they installed him at E Corp. Why? Philip bursts out. “Because Philip,” Whiterose says, smiling. “I had to ask you twice.”

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A Dark Future

Once a renegade supporting player, the Dark Army is now the most potent force that Elliot and co., face — E Corp be damned. We got a hint of their terrifying forces in season 2 — the harrowing shootings from which Dom and Darlene escaped are hard to forget — but they pull off one of their most nefarious schemes this week with Trenton and Mobley.

Tyrell’s lawyer, who seems likely to be a Dark Army plant, offers Dom and Santiago the identity of the real fsociety hackers on behalf of his client. Dom protests, believing the Dark Army is at the root of this, but Santiago pulls rank and stops her. Amidst this, poor Tyrell has been discarded by the Dark Army and all that is left is for Santiago to inform him of his wife’s murder and his child’s placement in foster care. But Santiago uses the opportunity to blackmail Tyrell, threatening that his son will be “another statistic” if Tyrell reveals his identity as a Dark Army mole. At this, Tyrell does nothing more but break down and cry.

But Tyrell does his one last duty toward the Dark Army, identifying Trenton and Mobley for the FBI — although that well could have been entirely Santiago as well — which sets in motion the agency’s SWAT team mission to retrieve the two of them at their old house. And a few hours earlier, Leon had done his job professionally and brought the two of them to the house (I’ll miss you Leon) where the Dark Army places the two of them in a sparse room with two computers. They find before them carefully laid schematics and malware for another attack and fearfully assume that the Dark Army wants them as hackers in the attack. Instead, the Dark Army soldiers force a gun into their hands and fake their suicides — which is where SWAT finds them hours later. As Dom and Santiago watch from a control room, the agents find the bodies, Iranian flags, and fsociety masks, all neatly wrapped in a narrative for the FBI. “It’s over,” Santiago assures her, as she painfully realizes that the Dark Army had won.

“You’re going to get away with this, aren’t you?” she says dejectedly, taping a note of Whiterose’s name on top of her board of leads.

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