“eps3.8_stage3.torrent,” the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot’s third season, has some good ideas, but mostly amounts to an ungainly mess. It’s essentially a table-setting episode that’s designed to position the characters on the proverbial chessboard. By the end of the hour, Elliot has hacked into the Dark Army by fabricating a “Stage 3” that must be enacted, Grant convinces Whiterose to kill Elliot because he knows that Stage 3 is a ruse, and the FBI locks Darlene in an interrogation room where she’s a sitting duck for a possible Dark Army assassination. These moves set up a potentially explosive finale in which Elliot must outrun the Dark Army to save himself, his sister, and the world, all while monitoring the darker forces inside him.
That’s all well and good, and it might set the stage for a good finale, but this episode has trouble bringing all of its various threads together in a compelling way. Along with explaining all the necessary plot elements, it also folds in Angela’s extended breakdown, Tyrell’s diminished future, and Mr. Robot’s discovery of the real enemies. In short, it’s a lot of material, and writers Kyle Bradstreet and Courtney Looney deserve credit for keeping it all coherent, but just because the episode successfully delivers information doesn’t mean the method of delivery is sound.
As I said, there are scenes with some good ideas, particularly Mr. Robot’s confrontation with Tyrell, which had the potential of being a potent exploration of diminished idealism, but it mostly just sits there. Mr. Robot tries to convince Tyrell that Whiterose used him as a pawn, but Tyrell has deluded himself into thinking that he followed through with their plan, and now he’ll have total freedom. However, Phillip Price shows up at Tyrell’s house — at the exact moment when Tyrell was about to casually and unceremoniously murder Mr. Robot — to explain to him that he will be the new CTO of E Corp. Of course, he will have no real power because that’s exactly where the Dark Army wants him to stay.
It’s here Mr. Robot discovers the full truth: Price knew about the Five/Nine hack because of his partnership with Whiterose. “World catastrophes like this,” he tells Mr. Robot, “they aren’t caused by lone wolves like you. They occur because men like me allow them. You just happened to stumble into one.” It’s similar to what Irving told Mr. Robot outside the party on the day of the explosions, only this time it’s coming from The Man. Mr. Robot realizes that both he and Tyrell targeted the wrong enemy. It’s the Dark Army that’s been pulling the strings the whole time.
Mr. Robot’s third season has focused on shattered illusions, and the prices people pay for committing to ostensibly good causes that are co-opted by bad people. Sam Esmail & Co. have effectively illustrated how shadowy elites co-opt revolutionary movements to further their own misdeeds, and how that can lead to personal and existential ruin for the revolutionaries. Yet, the moment when Mr. Robot sees the light doesn’t have the punch it needs. Instead, that scene, as well as the Mr. Robot and Tyrell meeting, drags over the course of the episode in flashback, presumably to draw out the tension and explain the full extent of his mirror note to Elliot: “They Own The FBI.” Christian Slater and Martin Wallström chew the scenery, but it’s otherwise a wasted enterprise. By the end of the episode, Elliot and Mr. Robot are on the same page, but the time it took to get to that point wasn’t well utilized.
Meanwhile, Darlene honeypots Dom so that she can gain access to her badge in order to potentially reverse the Five/Nine hack. The scene in Dom’s apartment when Darlene patiently seduces her showcases the series’s tender side, as the (slightly obvious) subtext indicates that the two have grown closer during the operation. Yet, I’m not sure if I buy that Dom would fall for Darlene’s plan in the first place. Mr. Robot previously established Dom’s loneliness and alienation due to her job, but it’s also established her as a highly competent field agent who has been stymied by a superior acting as a double agent. On one hand, I can see how she might fall for Darlene out of a moment of shared vulnerability, but on the other hand, she also knows about Darlene’s history of deception. Luckily, Darlene doesn’t get away with it (that would have been way too big of a stretch), but the narrative machinations to arrive at that place are faulty.
There’s also the nature of Elliot’s Stage 3 scheme, which is somehow logical and nonsensical simultaneously. Elliot meets with Grant to discuss “Stage 3,” the next part of the plan that would destroy E Coin. Grant balks at this idea because Elliot’s initial plan clearly had only two stages. Nevertheless, he downloads the information off his laptop so that they can examine it in private, which inadvertently provides Elliot access to the Dark Army system. Naturally, Grant and Whiterose don’t buy Elliot’s plan and instead conspire to kill him.
Here’s the thing: Why does Elliot’s plan even slightly work? Grant takes orders from Whiterose, who’s still under the impression that Elliot believes he’s calling the shots. Yet, Grant knows the limitations of Whiterose’s perspective, leading him to call her out on the flaws in her own plan. If Grant can clearly deduce that Elliot is lying about Stage 3, why does he download Elliot’s hard drive in the first place? Why does he expose himself to an attack to absolutely make sure that he’s lying? I’m willing to admit that Esmail could conceivably introduce more layers to this plot that would clarify my confusion, but the idea that Grant would accept that level of exposure feels flimsy.
In the end, the wheels are in motion for the Dark Army to cut the last remaining threads and continue their world dominance. Elliot has become a lone wolf by default. He’s a leader with no followers, a revolutionary on the wrong side of his own revolution, a man without a country. Mr. Robot asks: Can one person really make a difference? We’ll find out.
• Grant and Whiterose hook up at the end of the episode, making it the second queer romance scene in “eps3.8_stage3.torrent.”
• Another irritating Trump nod this week: Tyrell screams, “No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet!” at Mr. Robot during their fight. It literally made me groan out loud.
• Music corner: John Prine’s stellar “Angel From Montgomery” soundtracks Darlene and Dom’s flirtation turned sexual encounter.
• Oh yeah, Angela has become a full-blown paranoiac, and has taken to pushing around a cart on the street filled with objects from her home. (Still, there’s a nice nod to Cisco’s CD hack from the first season.)
• Anyone else find it kind of funny that Elliot’s meeting with Grant recalls similar clandestine encounters in ‘70s paranoid thrillers, only that now there’s a laptop and a USB flash drive?