Reviews TV

‘Mr. Robot’ Season 3 Lays the Groundwork for the Revolution

Mr. Robot
Season: 3
Platform/Network/Channel: USA Network
Episode Count: 10
Starring: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallström, and Bobby Cannavale

Perhaps the single most underrated, yet still iconic show of the post-Breaking Bad TV-scape is Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot. A show that, after a stellar freshman and understated sophomore outing, wrapped its third season at the end of 2017.  Much like HomelandMr. Robot belongs to the class of shows that was once at the forefront of pop culture for their initial seasons, but subsequently fell out of spotlight, and that’s a real shame because while Mr. Robot is a show about hackers trying to take down “the man”, it has a lot to say about socialization in contemporary late-stage Capitalism aside from the obvious revolutionary aims of its protagonists.

Elliot (Rami Malek) looks on at the result of his failure

**Spoilers ahead** Season 3 of Mr. Robot picks up immediately after the cliffhanger finale of Season 2, where Elliot (Rami Malek) was left shot and bleeding out by Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) after trying to thwart the next phase of “their” plan to blow up the building in the heart of New York City housing the final paper records of financial debt owed to E-Corp, effectively nullifying the conglomerate’s global power. We are quickly introduced to the newest player in the game, Dark Army-employed “fixer” Irving (Bobby Cannavale), and are just as quickly made aware of the narrative scope of season. Angela (Portia Doubleday) has declared her allegiance to the Dark Army, the Chinese hacker group lead by Whiterose (BD Wong), while Elliot’s sister Darlene (Carly Chaikin) has been apprehended by the FBI and taken under the wing of Agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer). Upon recovering from his gunshot wound, Elliot and his dueling personality, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) begin to behave as direct adversaries, with the other actively trying to counteract the other. This tug-of-war plays a pivotal role in the course of the season, both narratively and thematically, as Elliot fights to stop the execution of “Phase 2” and the ensuing aftermath and implications of what comes after.

The first portion of the season (episodes 1 – 4) is very much reminiscent of the show’s understated second season, with a lot of time spent establishing character allegiances, motivations, and trajectories. Elliot and Mr. Robot, now antagonists to the other, cease to communicate with the other as they have for seasons past – Mr. Robot working with the Dark Army to destroy E-Corps’ debt records once and for all, and Elliot working to preserve the records. Darlene is forced to become a kind-of-FBI informant after the Dark Army murders her boyfriend and she is subsequently identified as the leader of fsociety. Angela fully commits to helping the Dark Army manipulate Elliot/Mr. Robot to Phase 2’s completion based on the misguided belief that Whiterose will right her mother’s wrongful death. Lastly, Tyrell Wellick, under delusions of grandeur, purpose, and the desire to reunite with his wife Joanna (Stephanie Corneliussen) and newborn son, falls out of love with Elliot/Mr. Robot and must find a way to circumvent the sporadic obstacles created by the bizarre duo.

FBI agent Dominique DiPierro (Grace Gummer) is seemingly the only agent in the agency that is on to the Dark Army’s involvement in the nationwide chaos

Episodes 5 and 6 sees Phase 2 in action, and it does not disappoint. Taking the series’ usual bold visual aesthetic to the next level, the entirety of episode 5 is filmed as a single continuous shot (ala Birdman) as we follow Elliot in his last ditch panic to stop the Dark Army from blowing up the E-Corp data storage center in the city, and with it all the innocent E-Corp employees unfortunate enough to be caught there. Meanwhile, as the Dark Army’s “distraction” comes to a head in the form of a riot inside of E-Corp headquarters, Angela digs deep and maneuvers her way through the deadly chaos to complete an essential task imperative to Phase 2’s success. Upon completing the covert task on behalf of the Dark Army, Angela, just now beginning to understand the gravity of her involvement, comes face to face with an Elliot who has just learned of her betrayal from his sister. Episode 6 returns to the show’s conventional structure as Elliot races against the clock to defuse the “bomb” at the storage facility while Mr. Robot periodically assumes control of their body and tries to prevent him from doing so, which plays almost identically to the climax of Fight Club where Edward Norton literally fights himself/Brad Pitt. At the last second, Elliot and Mr. Robot are able to come to a truce (via Notepad) and stop the impending explosion, or so they think as it’s quickly revealed that Tyrell, Angela, and the Dark Army had completely circumvented Elliot/Mr. Robot by instead blowing up the ~70 E-Corp data warehouses scattered across the country that Elliot had redirected the paper records to, in unison. Devastated by his failure, Elliot visits his psychiatrist and in a panic recedes into the recesses of his mind, leaving Mr. Robot at the wheel. Despite being willing to blow up a single data center, Mr. Robot is personally offended that Tyrell, Angela, and the Dark Army would dare act behind his back in “his Revolution”. Looking for an explanation, Mr. Robot confronts Irving (Cannavale), who delivers a bitter truth that each character is forced to cope with by season’s end: that Mr. Robot may be the architect the revolution, but no matter how brilliant he is, it will only ever succeed with the support of an elite like Whiterose, the very people he’s trying to expose.

The rest of the season primarily deals with the aftermath of episodes 5 and 6, and sees the return (and departure) of season 1 and 2 characters Mobley (Azhar Khan) and Trenton (Sunita Mani), who are detained by Dark Army enforcer Leon (Joey Badass), Elliot’s surprise protector from season 2. They are quickly framed as the ones responsible for the data center attacks and murdered. However unbeknownst to the bad guys, Trenton had a fail-safe for this very scenario that sends an email to Elliot with the information needed to reverse the initial hack that deleted the digital debt records in the first place that involves getting access to a FBI file network, effectively turning everything back to normal.

Irving (Bobby Cannavale) isn’t afraid to show he’s primal side when the situation arises

Angela suffers a complete mental breakdown in the wake of Phase 2, forcing Philip Price, E-Corp CEO and once-thought villain of the show, to eventually intervene and reveal his true identity as her estranged biological father, which will undoubtedly change the show dynamic moving forward. Darlene is temporarily shunned by Elliot for hacking him on behalf of the FBI and seeks redemption with Elliot by attempting to seduce agent Dominique DiPierro (I’ll call her Dom for short) in an effort to steal her work badge for Elliot to recover E-Corps’ data. Darlene almost succeeds but is caught just before she’s able to get the badge, forcing Dom to arrest her, which unexpectedly draws the attention of Agent Santiago (an undercover Dark Army operative revealed earlier in the season), who tries to abduct Darlene under Irving’s orders. Being the inquisitive mind she is, Dom confronts Santiago as he tries to slip away with Darlene and winds up getting punched out and thrown in the car too. Meanwhile, Leon finds Elliot in his apartment to escort him to the same secluded outpost that Tyrell was held in episode 2. There, Elliot reunites with Darlene and Dom as Irving and his entourage arrive. Irving orders Santiago to take Dom outside to the chopping block, presumably to execute her, but instead he uses the occasion to murder Santiago for his failures and establish Dom as the Dark Army’s new FBI mole. As Irving finishes up, another Dark Army operative present throughout the season, Whiterose’s right-hand man Grant (Grant Chang), arrives to personally carry out Elliot and Darlene’s execution. Irving and Grant share some antagonistic words, hinting at Irving’s deeper relationship to Whiterose than previously let on, before Grant enters the barn to tie up the final loose ends. However, things take a turn when Elliot makes a last second plea to Whiterose, who is listening through a microphone in the room, that he can do what the Dark Army has failed to: quickly transport Whiterose’s mysterious project around the world. Elliot’s plea works, and Leon swiftly kills all of Grant’s men before a stunned Grant yields and tells Elliot to “take care of her [Whiterose]” before shooting himself. Alive to fight another day, Dom grants Elliot access to the FBI system to retrieve the information he needs to recover E-Corp’s data, and in the final moments of the finale, he does just that.

Mr. Robot (left), Elliot (middle), and Darlene (right) await their fates

Mr. Robot has always been upfront with its anti-Capitalist message, but season 3 explores a new nuance seldom explored in popular media: the woes of an individualist economy. Our modern culture of individualism has its pros and cons. On one hand, people are widely encouraged to embrace what makes them unique from everyone else and decide for themselves how to live their lives. However on the other hand, the endearing, empowering quality of internalized existentialism has spawned a dark variant of individualism where begging for attention is mistaken for expression and one’s ego supersedes one’s empathy. There’s a reason why you can’t go onto a Facebook or YouTube comments section without witnessing a shit show of strangers trying to one-up each other as the smartest-person-in-the-comments-section – modes of production. That is, contemporary habits of socialization are directly determined by the underlying relationships of economic production, or to put it simply, the Capitalism that Elliot/Mr. Robot have set out to dismantle. But as we see in the last half of the season, our protagonists are not immune to the social vices they are trying to destroy.

In one of the final episodes of the season, there is a rare interaction between Mr. Robot and Philip Price, whom is also under Whiterose’s thumb and therefore privy to Mr. Robot’s intentions to destroy him and his peers. Still determined to expose the likes of Price and Whiterose, Mr. Robot threatens Price that, even though his first revolution was ultimately hijacked, he has no intention of quitting his revolution. Much like how Irving attempts to convey the futility of trying to change the status quo, Price dismisses Mr. Robot’s threat as the naive dream he sees it as, but goes the extra mile by sharing some wisdom as to the real reason why Mr. Robot’s single-handed efforts to save the world have and will continue to fail by the way he’s approaching it: his lack of leadership. Sure he has the help of Darlene, fsociety, Tyrell, and the Dark Army, but for the most part, Mr. Robot has always been in the “me-versus-the-world” mindset. It’s that egotistical impulse that prevents Elliot and Mr. Robot from cooperating throughout the first half of the season, henceforth causing the deaths of thousands of people and the ensuing fallout. It’s that egotistical impulse that even drive’s Elliot/Mr. Robot’s desire for a revolution, albeit a noble one. But noble or not, if Mr. Robot wants his revolution to succeed, he can’t treat it like a computer program and throw commands at it, he has to lead. And that means amassing a following.


Reviews TV

Season 1 of Netflix’s Marvel-Hero Team-Up Is a Bittersweet (Mostly Sweet) Affair

The Defenders
Season: 1
Platform/Network/Channel: Netflix
Episode Count: 8
Starring: Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, and Sigourney Weaver

After 5 separate outings with Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, Netflix’s tangential Marvel cinematic-TV universe culminates with first season of The Defenders, a quasi-Avengers team-up consisting of the Netflix Marvel superheroes.

(From left to right) Luke Cage, Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, and Danny Rand share a meal whilst hiding from The Hand

The Defenders brings together the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen/Daredevil (Charlie Cox), super-strong PI Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Power Man Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and The Immortal Iron Fist, Danny Rand (Finn Jones), to defend New York City from the ancient shadow organization known as The Hand, lead by special guest actress Sigourney Weaver. Those familiar with the Daredevil and Iron Fist series will remember The Hand as the antagonists of those shows, but all anyone needs to know about them is that they are a group of heavily-funded ninjas who are a lead by 5 immortal Kung-Fu masters, hence the “hand” association.

The Marvel Netflix Universe (MNU) has held a special place in the heart of superhero fandom. Known for its darker content, the MNU has stood out from the typically light-hearted, family-suitable theatrical Marvel Cinematic Universe films and the other cable Marvel shows (Agents of Shield, Inhumans). Season 1 and 2 of Daredevil successfully delivered a kind grittiness and violence that countless superhero films and TV shows over the years have attempted to but failed to pull off. It also didn’t hurt that it not only redeemed a character whom had a infamous theatrical outing in 2003, but lead off the first complete production of many Marvel properties that had reverted back into Marvel Studios’ arsenal from a variety of movie studios. Next came Jessica Jones, which not only carried over the dark tone of Daredevil, but also offered a thoughtful allegory of rape politics intertwined with a captivating story with Marvel’s best on-screen villain, Kilgrave (David Tennant). Likewise, Luke Cage embraced its blackness and internalized themes of pacifism, brotherhood, economic hardship, racism, and police brutality in black communities in an endearing and tasteful way. With Iron Fist however, world building and lore took precedent over compelling characterization and good story, and suffered greatly for it.

Cage, Jones, and Murdock lay low in a subway car to evade police arrest as they try to get across the city

Like Iron Fist, The Defenders too prioritizes the unimpressive spectacle in the form of The Hand and its lore over the innovative storytelling that made the previous solo series so special, although that’s not say anything that made those shows unique is completely devoid. Most notably, each of the four leads go through some kind meaningful character development over the course of the 8 episodes. Matt Murdock comes to terms with the fact that Daredevil is an essential part of who he is, even if it costs him his career as a lawyer, the company of his friends, or his love life. Jessica Jones, still shook by her experiences with Purple Man/Kilgrave, learns to swallow her cynicism and accept the company of others like her to fight for the common good rather than just for her personal investments. Like Jessica, Luke Cage realizes that even needs help from those more vulnerable than him and is willing to sacrifice his freedom in exchange for the well being of the community. Lastly, billionaire Danny Rand gets a rude awakening that he even though he houses the ancient power of the Iron Fist, he doesn’t need to punch his way out of every battle when he’s as rich and white as he is, although he still ends up having to punch his way out of trouble by the end of the show.

While the characters work on display in The Defenders is quite good, the story and the villains are notably underwhelming. The show opens almost immediately after the conclusion of season 1 of Iron Fist with Danny Rand and Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) hunting down operatives of The Hand around the world, introducing the show as more of a direct continuation of the Iron Fist arc rather than a organic progression of every character’s distinct stories, save for maybe Matt Murdock/Daredevil. In that regard, Defenders positions Danny Rand as the main protagonist while Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage are essentially along for the ride. This narrative frame would have been interesting enough if it weren’t for the botched depiction of The Hand. After season 2 of Daredevil and season 1 of Iron Fist, the threat of The Hand in Defenders should feel epic and formidable, but instead feels like a mere nuisance that Daredevil and Luke Cage could handle just the two of them. The Hand’s endgame, the reason they want to capture Danny Rand/Iron Fist so badly, is equally unspectacular, but I won’t spoil it here. Sigourney Weaver as the main villain and leader of The Hand is fun to watch and I do think she adds a sense of grandeur to the series, but she’s ultimately under-utilized as an expositional tool and a means for Elektra (Elodie Yung) to become central to the plot.

Luke Cage and Claire Temple try to comfort one another with The Hand on their tail

Speaking of Elektra, Defenders brings back many of the side characters of series past that fans have come to love. Daredevil’s martial arts mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) delights the screen once again with his snarky, badass attitude, this time with a substantially greater role in the story. Additionally, Daredevil’s Foggy (Elden Henson) and Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) also appear to feed Murdock’s internal struggle. From Jessica Jones’ corner is floor-mate Malcolm (Eka Darville) and best friend and radio-host Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), though they have the least to do story-wise compared to other secondary characters. Luke Cage’s police officer acquaintance Misty Knight (Simone Missick) supports the team as a detective in the Harlem Police department and hence has a fairly large part to play. Lastly, Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), the connective tissue of all the Netflix Marvel shows, resumes her Luke Cage and Iron Fist roles as the loyal sidekick who, despite not having any powers, puts herself in the sights of ninjas and killers for the greater good. After spending a minimum of 13 hours with each MNU show, it’s nice to not just see each hero interact with one another, but to also see each hero’s inner circles merge together.

In addition to the exciting character interactions, Defenders’ fight choreography emerges as another positive to the show. Until Iron Fist, the intricate fight choreography was, for the most part reserved, for the Daredevil series, with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage depending more on story and mood. Considering Iron Fist being about a marital arts master with the ability to channel his chi into a fist, it was expected that the fight scenes in that show would be on par if not better than those in Daredevil. However, Iron Fist hilariously dropped the ball in that department, and virtually every other department. Defenders effectively corrects the ship in terms of fight choreography, especially for Finn Jones’ Danny Rand, whom seemed visually uncomfortable trying to pull off the fight moves in his show. Here, it shows that he’s been practicing; making his many fight scenes all the more believable.

Danny Rand/Iron Fist and Luke Cage look on perplexed as Stick (Scott Glenn) deals with a dangerous captive

At the end of the day, The Defenders is a must-see series for fans of MNU that more than makes up for lackluster villains and unimpressive story with satisfying character developments and interactions, as well as impressive action scenes that grant some kind thematic turning point for each of the four heroes, successfully setting the stage for new seasons of all the shows in the near future.