Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Mr. Robot

S3 E5
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TV Show
S3 E5
November 08, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST

“Eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” begins with a humming. It’s a static, digital kind of hum that operates on a strange frequency. It’s persistent and annoying and induces a feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia. It’s the kind of sound that leaves us whispering to ourselves: “Can everyone else hear that?” Elliot waits in an elevator on Monday morning as this hum rings out. A man speaks German to him. He’s confused and paranoid. We’re all a little confused and paranoid

That feeling of paranoia is the anchor of this episode. It’s an episode that comes with a production choice that could easily fall into the realm of gimmickry: “Eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” unfolds as a commercial-free single take. It’s the kind of stylistic choice that could hinder the season’s slow-burn storytelling, drawing attention to itself in a season that’s been defined by a more patient and subdued approach to its narrative.

It’s immediately clear, though, that Sam Esmail and cinematographer Tod Campbell are in total control of their creative vision. The key is that the single take isn’t the draw in and of itself; it’s not doing the heavy lifting when it comes to the story. Rather, it enhances and underscores what’s already there, which is the feeling of dread, paranoia, and impending doom. Stage 2 has been talked about for a very long time, and it’s finally underway, and Esmail’s vision matches the monumental feeling of the moment.

But back to the story. Back to that hum.

A TV screen in the E Corp elevator tells us that it’s the day of the U.N. vote on whether China can annex the Congo. We know that’s the day Whiterose has pegged for Stage 2, which involves blowing up an E Corp building that houses paper records of the digital files compromised during the 5/9 hack, or at least all the ones Elliot hasn’t rerouted.

Also in that elevator is Angela. She’s watching Elliot very closely. We know she’s trying to get a read on whether or not he remembers their brief encounter over the weekend, when he “woke up” and saw her and Tyrell working together. As of now, Elliot is unaware. He knows something is off, that he’s missing pieces of the weekend — the static and buzz are his runtime error, his inability to compute what’s happening/happened — but he can’t quite click everything into place.

So he goes about his routine. He shuts down his misogynistic coworker, but even that’s an off moment; he was supposed to complain to us about the coworker, not tell him off to his face. The lost weekend, and whatever drugs Angela pumped him full of, have him reeling. He thinks he needs to meet with the VP of technology to make his presentation, but then he realizes he’s already done that. Plus, he’s locked out of his account. He can’t make sense of any of this.

When he uses his coworker’s computer to check on Stage 2 though, he realizes that the Dark Army tried to execute it at 6 a.m. but failed due to his patch. That means something is coming. Elliot’s paranoia reaches a fever pitch. He knows he’s involved in this somehow. When security shows up in the office to clearly fire and escort someone out, Elliot knows it’s him. He can feel it.

The first 10 minutes or so of the episode build to this moment of recognition, and it’s truly stirring. As Elliot packs up his bag and frantically dashes away from his desk, he takes a single second to look up at the camera, at us. “Do not leave me. Stay focused,” he says. We’re in this with Elliot now. The single take immerses us in his anxiety and paranoia. It’s unbearable, and that’s the point. (Recap continues on next page)

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