'Mr. Robot' Review: 'Kill Process' Flips The Switch In A Jarring And Explosive Mid-Season Climax

(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?)

Just when you thought Mr. Robot couldn't amp up the tension any more after last week's single-take episode, Sam Esmail's ambitious hacker show delivers once again with the visual and auditory cacophony of "Kill Process." Taking place immediately after the events of "Runtime Error," this week's episode substitutes last week's sleek distress for cut after cut, after cut, after cut.

Elliot's mental state quickly deteriorates, with his mental battle against Mr. Robot soon turning physical (with echoes of the third act of Fight Club), as he rushes against the clock to stop the impending Stage 2. But the breakdown of the week goes to our beloved Angela, who on the verge of tears last week, as she resumed her steely-eyed zealotry of the Dark Army. And we finally gain some insight into how the once-normal character in the series has quickly turned into one of its most unhinged.

This Week's Breakdown: Angela, Again

Angela Moss gets the illustrious title again — because while last week had her teetering on the edge of emotional collapse, this week has her once again donning her armor of alienation, with a dash of fanaticism thrown in. We get a glimpse into her psyche in an opening flashback scene, in which a churlish young Angela is watching Back to the Future with Edward Alderson (Christian Slater, whose performance as the deceased father becomes increasingly layered with each revelation) at her mother's party celebrating her choice to cease cancer treatments and pass on. Angela lashes out against her mom about her odd "goodbye" party, but her mom consoles her, promising that there's "another world out there for both of us." That, and Edward's soft Back to the Future-themed encouragement about changing the past may inform Angela's current actions — and her stubborn belief that "no one's gonna die" when the E Corp buildings are blown up.

The people in the buildings will be fine, she coldly assures the frantic Elliot after he confronts her amidst the rioters, "including your father and my mother." Angela has ascribed to Dark Army fervor, and her confusing statements — which rightfully make Elliot's eyes nearly bulge out of his head — are a clear example of that. Portia Doubleday didn't get nearly as much screen time as she did last episode, but she delivers once again, reeling in Angela's quivering emotions in front of Elliot to once again don the cold corporate mask ("I heard you were let go this morning," she tells Elliot in flat HR speak.) She ramps up her true-believer tone throughout the episode, later staring down a twitchy mugger and then standing her ground in the face of Darlene's blustering. Angela's arc continues to be one of the most intriguing, and tragic, of the Mr. Robot characters, and I'm not quite positive whether this episode spells doom for her, or some sort of transcendence.

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Darlene and Dom

Darlene and Dom are the two characters infinitely left out of the loop — ascribing by Darlene's drunken declaration that the two of them are more similar than they would think. Dom is suspicious that Darlene is hiding something from her, but acquiesces to the information about Tyrell Wellick's location that she relays from Elliot. But try as the two of them might, they are hindered at every turn by the Dark Army — Darlene by Angela's zealous obstinance, Dom by her superior Santiago, the Dark Army mole in the FBI (I earlier mislabeled her partner as the mole).

But the Dark Army itself is lazily enjoying its oncoming triumph — Whiterose has won his coveted UN vote allowing China to annex the Congo, and celebrates at none other than the Mar-a-Lago resort. He and E Corp CEO Philip Price warily make amends and have a delightful time making derogatory small talk about their host Donald Trump (his swimsuit's too tight!) before falling into silence. I would imagine that the Trump references will only get stronger as the season goes on, and while it could verge on tacky, this episode feels like it's hinting at possible alternate worlds or outcomes (or maybe that's wishful thinking on my part).

Dom — whose presence so far in the series has unfortunately been at best periphery, at worst redundant — gets one of the episode's best sequences as she scopes out the Red Wheelbarrow, which is intercut with the building tension of Irving breaking the news to a confused Tyrell about his wife and child, Angela's mugging, and Elliot's game of mental tug of war with Mr. Robot as he attempts to break into the targeted E Corp building and stop the attack. The cuts become increasingly frequent, as Dom finds her way to Tyrell's basement hideout, Tyrell burns Irving's note, Elliot's glitches become more frequent, and Angela stares down the barrel of a gun.

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Must Be a Glitch

Every week Sam Esmail plays with one stylistic quirk that he either runs into the ground or becomes a defining part of the ambitious visual language of Mr. Robot. This time it's the glitches.

Without Elliot and Mr. Robot able to spar verbally through Rami Malek and Christian Slater in the same room, Mr. Robot this season has had to depend on Malek's nuanced performance, and the somewhat jarring glitches which indicate the switch between Elliot and his alter ego. That, and the ambient crackling white noise that plays whenever the switch takes place, have been introduced earlier this season, but no episode has made as much constant use of it as this episode. There's a clearer delineation between Elliot and Mr. Robot's personas than ever before — while the show was ambiguous on whether the two of them were separate identities or part of the same person, here Mr. Robot is the mental parasite that Elliot battles with to stop Stage 2. It makes for a tense, mildly amusing sequence in which Elliot races against a clock that jumps ahead at a whim, and soon finds himself causing harm to himself. It's admirable how committed Malek is to the performance — this is perhaps the most physical stuntwork he's done, bashing his own head against cabinets or throwing himself against walls. It's almost comedic, until it turns dire.

"The kill command...I'm trying to use it on the program while Mr. Robot is trying to use it on me," Elliot realizes after a glitch causes him to take a particularly hard fall down the stairs.

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You Were Played

The episode culminates in one of the bleakest revelations of the show — and remember, this is a show that revels in oppressive bleakness.

The disparate storylines come together — Dom finally arrests a deranged Tyrell Wellick, who runs through a crowd warning of an attack, Angela and Darlene's argument are interrupted by a horrific phone alert — just as Elliot thinks he has stopped the attack. He successfully convinces Mr. Robot at the eleventh hour that "you were played." There were never any paper records in the E Corp building they were targeting, they were just pawns in the Dark Army's grander schemes. As Elliot saunters through the streets, aglow in his victory, he notices the distressed pedestrians and finally sees: 71 E Corp buildings had been bombed, with thousands killed. The somber news report's audio continues past the darkened credits, the once-electric soundtrack silent.

It's a shocking way to end the nonstop episode, and a somewhat perplexing mid-season climax. But this is only Stage 2, after all. More horror and distress will probably proliferate in the episodes to come. But you gotta give us some more Irving.