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Mr. Robot Has New Tricks, but Hasn't Stopped Being Awesome

By Fred Topel

Mr. Robot Has New Tricks, but Hasn't Stopped Being Awesome

The return of Mr. Robot next week brings with it answers to questions lingering since the season finale. Of course, nobody wants those answers before they watch the season premiere, and USA certainly doesn’t want those answers spoiled. So this review will focus more on how the show goes about satisfying the anticipation for its return. 

First off, during the hiatus Mr. Robot cast Bobby Cannavale in a new role. You’ll find out who he’s playing in the very first scene. To call him quirky would be like calling The Net dated. It’s stating the obvious.

After introducing him, the premiere then spends a chunk of time dealing with the aftermath of events from the penultimate and final episodes of season two. It’s a bit of a recap (doubling up on the “previously on...”) but it picks up right where they left off. Elliot (Rami Malek) got shot. Darlene (Carly Chaikin) was in a drive by shooting and recruited by the FBI. They would need time to process all that. 

Stage 2 is still in play, though steps on that front are incremental. Elliot walks through a lot more aftermath of the financial collapse and the blackout that began in the season finale. This is good world building. A spinoff about non geniuses just trying to survive post 5/9 hack would make a good midseason show (Fear Mr. Robot?)

Elliot gets a killer monologue in the middle. It’s definitely the next level from his introductory treatise in the show’s pilot. He gets in a good dig at NBC, USA’s parent, in a nice bit of self-deprecating corporate synergy. He manipulates reality via his narrative point of view, but nothing as dramatic as living in a ‘90s sitcom with ALF. It’s just a fun way Elliot treats reality like a cell phone. It's brief and not plot related but still too fun to spoil. 

Mr. Robot has four F-bombs in its season premiere. They’ll be bleeped on USA but it’s still bold to include so many. That must be a record for a single episode -- but don’t check the math on that. 

As a technological thriller, this episode has a lot of good hacker talk. Real terms like “hard coded C2 domain” and “server configs,” but it’s abundantly clear writer/director Sam Esmail knows his jargon. 

Stylistically, overhead shots could be this season's low-angle, off-center shot, but those are back too. Actually, there are a lot more center frame shots. That's jarring at this point when the show’s overriding aesthetic is off-kilter. Colored lighting rendering scenes alternately green and red makes the world these characters inhabit all the more overwhelming and oppressive. 

Angela (Portia Doubleday) is a boss in this episode and Mr. Robot himself (Christian Slader) is in full J.D./Happy Harry Hard-on mode. Neither Dom (Grace Gummer) nor Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) appears yet so it’ll take at least another week to see where they are. For that matter, neither do Trenton (Sunita Mani) and Mobley (Azhar Khan), who were teased in the post-credits scene of the season finale. 

So the questions answered of course raise new questions that’ll take Mr. Robot through season three. It’s also just damn satisfying to see Mr. Robot do what Mr. Robot does best: compelling character work, reality bending social commentary, techno-suspense and mystery. If it ain’t broke, don’t hack it. 

Mr. Robot returns Wednesday, October 11 at 10PM on USA.

Images: USA