“Eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” begins with what could be a moment of joy and simplicity. A father taking his son to the movies should be a moment of respite from all the chaos and darkness we’ve seen throughout this season of Mr. Robot. This little slice of life, mixed in with a bit of nostalgia, should ideally act as a break from…well, everything. The thing is, though, nothing has ever been simple for Elliot, at least not since the moment his father pushed him out a window and broke his arm. Since then it’s been nothing but destruction, pain, and failure. By the end of “Eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko,” Elliot has perhaps found a place to go back to, one where things are simple, where he feels grounded. It’s quite the journey to get there though.
It’s appropriate that “Eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” begins with a premonition of death. It’s 1995 and Elliot and his father are out for their traditional movie night. It’s a tradition that may have once held some semblance of love and familial connection but is now ruined by the sling that Elliot’s wearing on his arm. Both physical and emotional scars refuse to heal. Elliot says he’ll never forgive his father, and Edward Alderson collapses in the cinema lobby. His son takes his jacket and leaves him lying there. He sits down in the theater alone, but that doesn’t stop him from talking to an empty seat next to him. It’s something he’ll get used to.
Death in the past, and death in the present. No wonder Back to the Future holds so much sway over Elliot; it’s an escape, both in terms of entertainment and in terms of providing a map for literally escaping the present. In this present, Trenton and Mobley are dead. Like everyone else during moments of immense trauma in this day and age, Elliot stares at his computer. He sees news articles about Trenton and Mobley having terrorist ties in Iran, and how fsociety is a terrorist organization.
The propaganda machine, fueled by the Dark Army, is working perfectly. A ton of information is out there about Trenton and Mobley, and Red Wheelbarrow being a front for fsociety, but none of it is true. Elliot knows this, and yet he’s powerless to do anything. Well, there might be one thing he can do. He thinks he only has one option left, so he wipes his hard drives and computer and begins to prepare for one final “deletion.”
When Darlene comes over and sees his panic, she starts to worry. Elliot is manic and yet also clear eyed. He’s distraught and yet seems to be in quiet control of his actions. Elliot has come to an understanding: This is all his fault. Darlene tries to tell him otherwise, but Elliot knows a fundamental truth, which is that Mr. Robot is part of him in some way, which means he’s responsible for his actions, and in some way condones them. “I feel like you’re giving up,” says Darlene. He is. He’s ready to be done with all the pain and suffering.
So, Elliot goes to a drug dealer named Hard Andy and buys a bag full of morphine. When Hard Andy determines that the man buying that much morphine isn’t trying to screw him over or sell him out to the cops, he figures there’s only one thing this man could want: This man wants to die. Various forms of guilt and burden have plagued these characters throughout the season. Last week’s episodes contained a heartbreaking scene that saw Angela failing to cope with the mass murder she helped facilitate. Now this week Elliot is reckoning with his own guilt, and he’s decided it’s too much to bear.
The oppressive atmosphere of this whole season — the despair, the sense that everything is hopeless and the bad guys will always win — comes to a head in this episode. Elliot hits rock bottom. But does that mean things can only get better?
Before Elliot kills himself, he wants to set a few things straight. He visits Mobley’s brother’s house to tell him that Mobley was a good person who wouldn’t do what the media is accusing him of doing. His brother isn’t having it. He curses Mobley and the attention he’s brought to his family. He doesn’t believe a word Elliot says. He believes the news. “You think they just make this s— up now?” he says. Just wait until it’s 2017, buddy.
Elliot receives a warmer welcome at Trenton’s house. He tells the family, who are in the process of packing up and moving because of the hatred they know is coming, the same thing he told Mobley’s brother: that Trenton would never do this, and that she was a good person. Trenton’s father has no trouble believing this. He knows somebody set his daughter up, and he’s aware of the anti-Muslim sentiments that allow everyday Americans to shift blame away from themselves.
The established paranoid thriller atmosphere really pays off throughout “Eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko.” This isn’t an episode like the others, filled with dark corners, shady motivations, and cryptic language. It’s a more controlled look at this world and the shape it’s taken since the 5/9 hack. A curfew is in place. Soldiers roam the streets. Everybody is on edge, and yet also trying to go about their lives. It’s a stirring statement on the way Americans have normalized violence and accepted the Big Brother response. It’s a nation throwing up a collective shrug. “There’s not much we can do,” they say, a reflection of the rhetoric that comes from the NRA and its backers after every mass shooting. It’s not just Elliot who’s given up. America has too.
With America on its ways out, Elliot looks for the exit door himself. He heads to Coney Island, that bastion of childhood fun much like the cinema in the cold open, forever marred by personal relationships. He pulls the bag of morphine out of his pocket, ready to consume the pills like a bag of Skittles. But then there’s a disruption. Trenton’s little brother shows up on the beach, having followed Elliot from his home.
Elliot tries to get him to leave, but like so many young children he’s persistent. He just wants to hang out with Elliot for a while, and if he could get some answers about why his sister didn’t do what everyone’s saying she did, that’d be great too. While Elliot sees the world crumbling, this kid just sees the world. It’s seemingly all he’s ever known. A child of immigrant parents, he’s certainly used to the hatred. He knows this country has not been kind to his family.
And yet, there’s a hope within him that perhaps inspires Elliot. Maybe giving Elliot a guardian angel of sorts is a little too easy for Mr. Robot, but the emotions certainly ring true. It’s heartening to watch as Trenton’s brother ends up working his way into Elliot’s good graces, talking him down from a ledge without even knowing that’s what he’s doing. They start their day by going to the cinema, which is, of course, screening the Back to the Future trilogy. The kid wants to see The Martian, but Elliot insists he’ll love the older film. Maybe he did, but he walks out before the movie is even over. Elliot is left alone in the theater again, an empty seat beside him and a bucket full of popcorn mixed with M&Ms.
Someone standing in line for the movie says that Back to the Future is about how one mistake can change the world. Again, a little too easy for Mr. Robot, but it’s a line of thinking that helps bring Elliot back from a darker place. If one mistake can change things, certainly one correction can get everything back to normal (whatever “normal” means in this context).
Elliot hops in an ice cream truck, driven by a man listening to The War of the Worlds on the radio. Elliot thinks it’s a little dark to be listening to these days, but that’s not how this man sees it. He sees it as a story of human perseverance. Elliot muses on that idea, another one that helps bring him back from that darker place. And yet, he’s still struggling. When he finds Trenton’s brother in a mosque near their home, the kid lashes out. “I wish you were dead!” he shouts. “So do I!” replies Elliot. It’s out in the open now, and yet perhaps Elliot can turn back.
“Eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko” feels like a reset after the near-unbearable pace and tension of the first seven episodes of the season. It’s a moment of reflection, though it’s certainly not calm and quiet. Rather, it’s a turning point for Elliot. First, he sees no way out. The Dark Army has won, and he helped them. He sees humanity for the hopeless mass of fear and anger that it is. He sees no way back from that, not anymore. What’s left to save anyhow?
Trenton’s brother is what’s left to save. The young kid, born to immigrant parents, who wants to be president and get everyone to eat Pop-Tarts for dinner and be nice to him. The kid who, after a day hanging out with a strange, suicidal man who mostly yelled at him, wants to spend more time with that strange, suicidal man. He asks to see Elliot again. Elliot says he’ll take him to see The Martian. When the kid goes inside his house to get him something, Elliot cracks. He cries, a complete emptying of everything he’s been feeling for the whole season. It’s the culmination of a brilliant performance from Rami Malek, who takes us through every ebb and flow of Elliot’s fluctuating emotions.
The kid gives him a lollipop, because Elliot said he was sick. It’s a small gift, but it’s earnest and sweet. Elliot knows that, and he clings to it. This is his moment to either step up or check out. At the beginning of the episode the choice was to check out. Now, he’s ready to go on the offensive.
He blackmails Mobley’s brother into throwing a funeral for his late friend. He receives that teased email from Trenton, the one she told Mobley she had automated to send should she fail to return to her computer. In that email is a possible way to reverse the 5/9 hack based on some keyloggers Romero built into the code as a surveillance tool. Perhaps this isn’t over yet; perhaps the present is still salvageable.
But it’s a return to the past that provides the most touching moment of the episode, and one that confirms that despite the suffocating atmosphere of previous episodes, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. Elliot goes to Angela, whom he swore off at the beginning of the episode, and talks to her through her apartment door. A typical Mr. Robot split-screen touch, but effective nonetheless.
Elliot sits with his back to the door, reflecting on a game he and Angela played as kids where they’d just sit around wishing for certain things to come to them: candy, the ability to drive, or in Angela’s case, “more protractors, which was weird.” Slowly, Angela starts to come back, until she chimes in with the line that they always used with each other at the end of the game: “No matter what, we’ll be okay.”
Every other episode this season has suggested otherwise. But you need to find hope wherever you can.