If, like myself, you assumed that season 3 of Mr. Robot had reached its nail-biting apex in last week’s single-take episode, you’re probably shocked to find that you’ve bitten those nails down to a nub after yet another week of high-stakes tension. Last week’s episode may have been the season’s creative high point, a daring and immersive experience that put us inside the anxiety coursing through Elliot and Angela, but this week’s episode, “Eps3.5_kill-process.inc,” doesn’t let up. In fact, it uses the uncomfortably intimate nature of “Eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” to further enhance the paranoia sitting at the heart of this season.
And then it all pays off in explosive fashion. But we’ll get to that.
“Eps3.5_kill-process.inc” is tricky because it doesn’t immediately transport us back to last week’s cliffhanger, with Elliot confronting Angela outside her office. Instead, we go back in time, like Huey Lewis said we would. A young Angela, perhaps 9 years old or so, sits in front of a TV watching the Back to the Future cartoon, placing us in the early 1990s. She’s alone, isolated from the rather muted party that’s taking place behind her. Isn’t it always that way when you’re a kid? When the adults have a party, you feel like you’re outside of it, like you’re missing a bunch of information about what’s happening around you.
Angela doesn’t sit alone for long. Mr. Robot, though certainly he wasn’t called that back then, sits with her. He tries to give Angela a pep talk about how she should go talk to the woman the party is for. The pieces start coming together: a red (obviously) velvet cake that says, “See you in another life!,” a woman with a haunting, sick look, and the quiet nature of the party. This is no birthday; it’s a living funeral for Angela’s mother, Emily, who we know was one of many who developed leukemia after an E Corp plant leak that they then denied, countering a class action lawsuit from the numerous victims.
This isn’t just a scene meant to convey new information, like the fact that an “anonymous benefactor” has been offering to pay for Angela’s mother’s cancer treatment, a gift that she refuses. It’s more about creating a contrast in tones. This whole season has been about people being pulled in opposite directions: Does Darlene betray the FBI or her brother? Does Angela help Elliot or Mr. Robot? Does Elliot truly want to stop Stage 2, or does he want a revolution, and Mr. Robot is just the manifestation of his true feelings?
That push-and-pull is encapsulated in the wild swings in tone of the opening scene. Angela’s feelings swing from angry to accepting. The living funeral itself is a mess of contradictions and conflicted feelings. Then there’s the way the scene is structured, which starts out in a state of domestic normalcy, shifts to something more morbid, and then climaxes with a swell of cheesy, uplifting music, the type of score that would accompany some final triumph in a sports movie about a team of scrappy underdogs besting their superior rivals from across town.
The episode cuts to Angela, mascara running down her face, as she’s confronted by Elliot, and we understand that there’s no uplifting moment, no swell of music to inspire us to do the right thing. There’s only flawed humans making flawed choices. Elliot can’t believe that Angela is okay with blowing up a building and murdering a bunch of people. Angela says that’s not the case: “No, they’re going to be fine, including your father and my mother.” More evidence that Whiterose is building/investing in something like a hadron collider that could alter reality, that could act as a flux capacitor and alter the fates of Marty McFly, Emily Moss, and Edward “Mr. Robot”Alderson.
There’s danger in that perspective though. If we work from the assumption that our reality can be altered at will, that removes us from contemplating the consequences of our actions. If anything can be changed, everything means nothing. (Recap continues on next page)