The next section of the episode follows Elliot as he evades security and tries to stop Stage 2: It’s like The Raid (minus the sweet fist fights) meets Children of Men, and it’s incredible. The single take allows us to feel the same things Elliot is feeling at every single moment. When he slows everything down after escaping to another floor — the scene literally starts moving in slow motion — we take a breath with him. When he realizes that won’t work and that he must find a station to get into the system, we’re right there with him, fretting over the fact that this busy Monday morning doesn’t leave him much room to undertake his covert operation.
Elliot does find the necessary station though; I love the fake-out of him approaching the old lady sniffing white-out, assuming she’d be an easy target for his lies, only to find out that she really knows her stuff. Again, in that moment, we feel the swerve with Elliot. We feel the bridge burning behind him, and we’re urging him to keep moving, for his sake and ours.
Eventually Elliot realizes that he needs to get to an HSM computer in order to have any chance of stopping Stage 2. He paces down the hallway looking for a way to the room that houses the HSM but turns into a random conference room when he sees security lurking near the elevator. The following scene is a wonderful display of visual storytelling. As Elliot tries to buy time inside the conference room, even as “Sean from sales” tries to tell him that he’s in the wrong place, we get periodic shots of security outside the glass windows.
The fact that we can see them enhances our already buzzing paranoia. We ask ourselves: Will they turn and see Elliot? Will they search the conference room next? Will Sean from sales cause a scene that will draw security’s attention? Every move of the camera brings the security guards closer to the conference room door, and closer to catching Elliot.
None of that happens. Instead, Elliot buys just enough time to sneak out, but he’s seen on the way, and that forces him to run for the elevator. He gets inside just in time and begins pacing. The camera follows him as he walks around in a circle. Our disorientation is his disorientation. Then Mr. Robot shows up, because Elliot is in a bind and needs a way out, and he says only Mr. Robot can help him with that.
But that’s not true. This isn’t Mr. Robot, but rather a ghost of Mr. Robot (which is somehow different than the other, more controlling ghost of Mr. Robot). In other words, Elliot forces himself to think like his counterpart without actually calling on him, and that leads him to a decision: He won’t be able to access the HSM, so he should try to evacuate the building that’s being targeted by the Dark Army.
He goes outside, where protesters are gathered for what CNN labels “a variety of reasons,” and calls the building. He tells them there’s a bomb that’s set to go off, and that’s it. We get no further update on the building after this moment: a cliffhanger in the middle of the episode. Seemingly, there’s nothing else Elliot can do. He’s stuck. He’s left passive. When he’s passive, all he can do is listen.
So he listens to Darlene. She tells him everything: that she’s been working with the FBI, that she’s trying to make a deal for the both of them, that the FBI wants Tyrell, and that Angela is clearly working with Mr. Robot. It’s a bombshell for Elliot, and while the Angela stuff should be devastating, he’s more hurt by his sister’s lies, at least for now. Again, Elliot and Darlene’s relationship is put through the wringer.
It’s been fascinating to watch Mr. Robot tug at the fraying strings that hold Elliot, Angela, and Darlene together. Everybody is trying to do what they believe is the right thing, but the sum total is nobody ending up happy. Angela and Darlene are, in some ways, two sides of the same coin. They are both trying to control Elliot in their own way, and neither has been totally honest with him. When Darlene tells him about the FBI and Angela, the static from the beginning of the episode kicks in again. Another variable unexpectedly introduced to Elliot’s code, and now he’s on the fritz.
The truth about the FBI throws him for a loop. The truth about Angela seems to give him clarity. Everything clicks back into place. He remembers seeing her and Tyrell over the weekend. He turns to head back into the building — to get to the HSM or to get some answers? — and the camera moves away from him for the first time. It pushes through the crowd of protesters; the close quarters are uncomfortable. We’re in the thick of it as the protesters’ anger overflows and they storm the building, smashing everything in sight.
It’s a shift in tone. This is full-blown panic and anarchy. Angela watches from her office, scared, and the episode seamlessly shifts our perspective, but the anxiety remains. It’s a masterful transition, as “Eps3.4runtime-error.r00” moves us away from Elliot’s anxiety and paranoia and immediately situates us inside Angela’s. (Recap continues on next page)