mr robot stage 3 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?)

Mr. Robot season 3 has been a return to form for the USA Network show, reminding us that it is one of the best and most invigorating shows on television. “Stage 3” takes that momentum and brings it to a brief halt — though writers Kyle Bradstreet and Courtney Looney try their best to make an episode about moving plot pieces as gripping as past weeks have been. The penultimate episode of Mr. Robot‘s third season is set-up, moving the chess pieces across a board that only Whiterose (BD Wong) truly knows. It better be a damn good finale.

Elliot (Rami Malek) and Darlene (Carly Chaikin) have essentially gone AWOL, deciding to take matters into their own hands by facing the daunting united front of the Dark Army, E Corp., and the FBI. But Elliot’s active distancing of himself from Mr. Robot may come to haunt him as Christian Slater‘s frustrated alternate persona becomes powerless in the face of Elliot’s obstinance.

mr. robot stage 3 review

This Week’s Breakdown: Angela

I feel bad telegraphing Angela’s season-long spiral into insanity, but it’s undeniable that the girl has lost her grip on reality. Or — as the Portia Doubleday‘s character has been insistently hinting — she is the only one in the know about Whiterose’s master plan, which might have to do with alternate universes or something.

It’s jarring to see a normal, uncorrupted Angela during our season 1 flashback to AllSafe’s first meeting with E Corp., though enough of her inner ennui shines through that it catches the eye of Philip Price. It’s a stark departure from the Angela who waits on Elliot’s doorstep to talk to him about Whiterose’s plan, deaf to his arguments that she’s been discarded by the Dark Army now that she’s done her part. Her paranoia deepens when Elliot refuses to humor her, accusing her friend of trying to trick her and deter her from the path that Whiterose said. In a pitiful sequence, Angela finally goes full bag lady, returning to her motivational poster-plastered apartment to gather up her belongings and wheel them around in a cart in New York. But perhaps she is on to something after all: soon after she coldly refuses a man selling CD’s in the street (another season 1 callback to Cisco’s CD scheme), a suited man in a white van asks her to come with them. “We’re ready,” she responds.

Angela’s story arc would be tragic if it weren’t so baffling — it’s perhaps the one subplot in this plot and action-heavy season to retain the enigma of past seasons. Is she insane? Is she right about alternate universes? We are due one “twist” this year, if the arcs of season 1 and 2 are any indication. But in a season that has been so kinetic and cohesive, I wonder if we need one.

mr. robot stage 3 review

Man in the Mirror

The Tyrell and Mr. Robot reunion is sadly a tad anticlimactic. The shoehorned-in Trump reference aside (“No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet!” made me cringe-laugh), the two never truly come to terms with the consequences of their shaky alliance. Despite the pair coming to blows over a battle of ideals — Tyrell still insisting on the “gods” argument, Mr. Robot smugly taunting the disgraced businessman — they are interrupted by Philip Price arriving to inform Tyrell of his new position as CTO.

Mr. Robot is taken aback by Philip’s calm reaction to them, before Philip confirms what Irving told him a few episodes: that he had played right into their hands. “World catastrophes like this aren’t caused by lone wolves like you, they occur because men like me allow them,” Philip breezily tells Mr. Robot, who narrows his eyes, rage barely simmering beneath the surface.

In the morning, Elliot glitches back into his body, confusedly reading Mr. Robot’s mirror message, “they own the FBI.” It turns out that Elliot was the trusted source that Trenton sent her email to, which contains the plan on undoing the damage from Five/Nine — their first hack against E Corp.’s database. He enlists Darlene to help him carry out the plan: one last hurrah for the vestiges of fsociety.

mr. robot stage 3 review

Safe is the Word

They go about enacting their confusing plan — the details of which are mostly hidden from us, the audience. For a season that has been all about getting into the inner machinations of Elliot’s mind, we’re far removed from it now, as in the dark about his faux Stage 3 as Whiterose is. For all we know, it was Elliot and Darlene’s plan for Darlene to seduce Dom (Grace Gummer) and attempt to steal the plans to the Sentinel from her safe, only to be locked in an FBI interrogation room a few feet from it. Sure, it makes her a sitting duck for a potential Dark Army assassination, but we no longer know if Elliot and Darlene have the upper hand or the Dark Army.

The one certainty is that the FBI is on the losing end of this coming battle. As perceptive as Dom is, she is still clearly compromised by Darlene, and blocked at every corner by her superior officer and Dark Army mole Santiago (Omar Metwally). But I can’t imagine that Dom would be so easily swayed by a few drinks and batted eyelashes from Darlene — yes, the past two seasons have emphasized her isolation and loneliness, but she’s a lot smarter than this episode would have her appear. Or maybe it is a moment of vulnerability between two damaged women. Darlene and Dom have been intertwined on two parallel paths from the beginning of the season, and this may have been the inevitable result.

mr. robot stage 3 review

Full Circle

I’ve finally learned Grant’s name! To be fair, the right hand man (played by Grant Chang) of Whiterose was a deliberately inconspicuous presence throughout the season, watching and learning from Whiterose’s many dealings with E Corp. and Elliot. But he finally takes charge in this episode, taking a clandestine meeting with Elliot after our favorite hacker suddenly approached Irving with a proposition for Stage 3. To his credit, Elliot never balks during his poker-faced confrontation with Grant, but Grant is easily able to see through his scheme.

In natural Mr. Robot fashion, just as the episode reaches its suspenseful climax: Tyrell has revealed the Dark Army mole in the FBI to Mr. Robot, Whiterose and Grant decide to kill Elliot, Elliot has seemingly broken into the Dark Army’s servers, it suddenly cuts off. The cards have been laid on the table, but “Stage 3” offers us no respite from the steadily growing unease and tension, even glitching just as Elliot proclaims, “And now I own the Dark Ar—.” That’s what this episode feels like: a series of repressed moments with no payoff — emotional blue balls. And it looks like we’ll have to wait for the finale until we get the release.

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