In the two years since Mr. Robot aired its last season, Rami Malek became a movie star and won an Oscar, and creator Sam Esmail seemed to move on to a new series on Amazon. Since they’ve reunited to finish their original story with one final season, I can’t help wondering if their hearts are still in it.
Perhaps that’s not even a fair question. It’s not like the show’s been gone for four or five years. A one-year absence isn’t too unusual for a cable series. Nonetheless, something about the premiere episode feels decidedly dialed-back compared to previous seasons.
The episode opens by immediately writing out a major character. Angela (Portia Doubleday) has suffered a nervous breakdown after being unwittingly used by the Dark Army last season to facilitate a series of terrorist bombings that claimed many lives. She tells Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer), who we learned at some point is her father, that she wants “retribution” against Whiterose. Phillip tries to talk her out of it and says he wants to protect her, but she won’t be swayed. He walks away heartbroken, and we discover that he’s been wearing a wire. Two assassins walk past him and execute Angela.
Phillip calls Whiterose (BD Wong), distressed by what he’s been forced to do, but she doesn’t offer him much sympathy. Whiterose is only concerned about moving forward with her mysterious project, which we still don’t know much about but has hints of being something uncharacteristically science-fictional for this show.
The setting is now Christmas season 2015 in the alternate reality where the series takes place. We’re introduced to a sleazeball lawyer named Freddy Lomax (Jake Busey). He receives a package at his office with a video recording of him being a pedophile creep. The package also contains a burner cellphone. It rings and we hear the voice of Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) ordering Freddy to click an email link and copy the contents of his work computer to a thumb drive, which he has to deliver at a train station. Freddy is tailed there by two Dark Army operatives. He meets and gives the drive to Elliot, who quickly pours through the data related to money laundering Freddy has done for the Dark Army and traces it to an account at Cyprus National Bank. When Freddy realizes that Elliot can’t protect him from the Dark Army, he shoots himself.
The national economy has bounced back since the Five/Nine Hack. The credit for that has largely been attributed to Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström), who as CTO of E Corp has effectively made eCoin the new national currency. He’s treated as a hero, but nevertheless seems depressed. His wife being murdered and his baby taken away can even affect a guy as cold-hearted as Wellick, I guess.
FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is a total mess since being compromised by the Dark Army. She’s living with her mother and has grown incredibly paranoid, to the point that she nearly kills an innocent plumber for entering the house. However, her fears seem borne out when her mom brings home a new “friend” that she hopes to set Dom up with, and the woman turns out to be an evil Dark Army operative who threatens to kill her family if she doesn’t file a false report she’s been ordered to deliver at work.
Darlene (Carly Chaikin) is even more of a disaster. She’s living in squalor and abusing drugs to a dangerous extent. She insists that she saw Angela on the street and won’t believe she’s dead. Elliot is afraid to tell her that he’s seen a photo of Angela’s dead body.
Now working out of the abandoned AlSafe office, Elliot still has regular conversations with his alter ego Mr. Robot. In fact, he’s become an expert at slipping between one role and the next to compartmentalize the different aspects of his life.
Following a clue that Lomax dropped before he died, Elliot and Mr. Robot visit the apartment of Lomax’s Dark Army contact planning to hack the WiFi. They find the place not only empty, but seemingly never occupied. Unfortunately, Elliot doesn’t realize that it’s a trap until he finds himself locked inside. Two goons come and drag him out of the place, bring him back to his apartment, and forcibly shoot him up with enough heroin to OD. Aware that Whiterose will be listening, Elliot desperately tells them that he knows all about Cyprus National Bank and has taken precautions to ensure that the information will get out if he dies and Whiterose’s project will be threatened.
The goons leave and Elliot has a vision of his parents and his own younger self talking about him. The episode credits come up, leaving the impression that Elliot has just died, but the scene then fades back in and the goons return, spraying something up Elliot’s nose to counteract the narcotic. He comes to, and Phillip Price walks into the room.
I can’t single out anything I don’t like about the season premiere, but something about the episode feels off. The plotting is decent, but the energy seems low. With the exception of the fake-out at the end, Esmail (who directed) barely attempts any of his signature crazy camera moves or other show-offy cinematic devices. Maybe that’s him maturing as a filmmaker and showing some restraint, or maybe he’s losing interest in this story. Or maybe I’m just reading far too much into any of this.
I’m still invested enough in Mr. Robot to want to see it through, but personally, the enthusiasm I had for the show during its first season was greatly diminished by the muddled second. While Season 3 was a rebound, I’m not really sure how I feel about it right now. I hope it ends well.