While both the first and second seasons of Mr. Robot boasted their fair share of paranoia and anxiety, that kind of atmospheric tension has been even more integral to this third season. Perhaps it’s because the plot isn’t covering as much ground as before, and so the atmosphere becomes the focus. But that’s not entirely true either. Rather, the atmosphere and the plot drive each other, working in tandem to create this horribly oppressive, hopeless feeling. I’ve mentioned it before, but season 3 is going full political paranoid thriller, similar to The Parallax View or The Conversation.
What paranoid thrillers achieve in their deployment of that type of atmosphere is a sense of instability. As the characters work to piece together a puzzle, they find the ground shifting underneath them. Everything that they once thought was true suddenly isn’t; sometimes the fear comes not from the actions of the villains, but rather the fact that they can operate without us even knowing. The evil we don’t see is more terrifying than the evil we do see.
Mr. Robot, and especially “Eps3.6_fredrick&tanya.chk,” is playing on that terrifying shift in perspective. This is an episode that, much like last week’s, interrogates not only our understanding of what is happening with the Dark Army and Elliot’s revolution, but also the characters’ understanding of their role within it all.
While most of the episode deals with the shifting perspectives of Elliot, Angela, Dom, and Mr. Robot, “Eps3.6_fredrick&tanya.chk” begins with three characters we haven’t seen in quite some time: Leon, Trenton, and Mobley. As we know, the two former hackers are hiding out in Arizona, just trying to move on with their lives. As we also know, Leon works for the Dark Army, a group that’s not big on loose ends.
Leon sits in between Trenton and Mobley on a bed in their apartment. Their roommate lies dead on the floor, his throat slashed. Leon has a knife in his hand. Trenton and Mobley are shaken and scared. As usual, Leon is calm and chatting about sitcoms, musing on the idea that Frasier is overrated because Frasier could never get laid that much, and that Knight Rider doesn’t get enough respect for foreshadowing man’s reliance on technology.
As news of the attacks plays out on TV, Leon puts the roommate’s body into the trunk of his car, lights a blunt, and starts driving out to the middle of the desert with Trenton and Mobley chained up in the back seat. Trenton and Mobley bookend the episode, and it’s appropriate because their arc is the one that, on a micro level, defines this season. Their hopelessness, their misunderstanding of their role in this revolution, is the driving force of this season; they represent everybody who’s wrapped up in this story. This is a tragedy, and by the time we check in with Trenton and Mobley again at the end of the episode, it’s clear that it’s too late for anybody to save them.
Essentially, what “Eps3.6_fredrick&tanya.chk” establishes, in more certain terms than ever, is that the major players in this “revolution” are not our morally complicated protagonists. Rather, we don’t see who’s pulling the strings, other than Whiterose of course. Even Mr. Robot, who’s been positioned as the architect of every plan, so much so that he has to fight off Elliot to get the job done, is now railing against the Dark Army.
Mr. Robot is outraged by the attack that demolished 71 E Corp buildings and killed upwards of 4,000 people. He tells Krista that “they’re manipulating everything, always,” and that he’s just a pawn in whatever big plans they have. It’s shocking to see Mr. Robot not only lay out that he planned and executed 5/9 and Stage 2, but also admit defeat. While Mr. Robot has been struggling to control Elliot, he lost sight of the Dark Army’s hold on him. Again, his perspective has shifted. He’s starting to see the bigger picture. Odds are that the bigger picture is too vast to truly understand though, unless you’re an architect of reality like Whiterose. (Recap continues on next page)