Mr. Robot: eps3.4_runtime-error.r00

"THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!"

Best episode evah?

I think it just might be.

This show is always cranking out highly-stylized entertainment like candy at a parade, but occasionally they will have one episode where they really go for it. Originally, we had the episode with Elliot's bizarre withdrawal hallucinations. Last season, we had the absolutely brilliant 'Master-Slave' where Elliot's POV filtered the show through that of a cheesy '90s sitcom. I guess they wanted to top that. And with this, I'll be damned if they didn't top it twice over and then some.

The Art of Immersion

In 'Runtime-Error', Sam Esmail takes a page from Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (Birdman, The Revenant) by filming the entire episode as if it were one continuous shot. The show has pulled off oner sequences like this before, but never anything on this level. I have to say, I don't know if I've ever seen one of these done so beautifully. Not even Birdman was this convincing.

One key to great storytelling that I often find -- especially visual mediums such as movies, TV shows or video games -- is the feeling of immersion. When fiction becomes immersive, engrossing the viewer and making us a part of the story, it gets to the point where we feel almost as if the things we're seeing are actually happening to us. It's where our point of view and the protagonist's point of view practically intertwine. Mr. Robot has always excelled at this, putting us inside the head of our main character; the story is set up in such a way that we, Elliot's imaginary friend, are as much a character as the other figment of his imagination, Mr. Robot himself.

Here, that idea is taken to a suitably insane extreme. The camera truly acts as our collective lens; we become a passive witness, doggedly following the action as it plays out. It's sort of like the documentary format of The Office, where the unseen people filming and interviewing the characters might as well be the audience itself. It's like that, only, you know, Mr. Robot.

Elliot and Evil Corp

What aids this is an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia that builds throughout the episode. All of the action takes place in the Evil Corp building, beginning with Elliot and Angela in a crowded elevator, on their way to work. This is where Elliot's personality becomes unconscious, unaware of Angela's deception but knowing vaguely that something is wrong. Once he realizes he's been fired from Evil Corp and that his enemies are attempting to execute Stage 2 on this day, he embarks on a harrowing little journey to find a computer terminal he can access while doing his best to avoid security coming at him from all angles.

Along the way, we discover a few interesting points. Elliot is a fairly a respected employee at Evil Corp, which is a bit ironic. More importantly, we see how far he's grown through his interactions with the other employees there; he's developed an odd sort of charisma not unlike Mr. Robot, -- as seen when he's forced to pretend to be in the wrong boardroom meeting -- as well as a greater ability to speak firmly with others. He's not nearly as socially awkward as he was in the first season. Oh, and speaking of Mr. Robot, despite having not "seen" him since getting shot, he's able to conjure an imaginary projection of him that essentially performs the same function: telling him what he doesn't to admit to himself. For awhile now, I've been thinking that the only solution for Elliot and Mr. Robot would be for them to merge into a singular identity. I think we might be seeing shades of that here. If he can just conjure up his own version of Mr. Robot to offer feedback whenever he wants, then he really doesn't need this separate personality to wrest control from him anymore. Perhaps Mr. Robot sees this as well, which might explain his lack of power this season.

Elliot fails to reverse the Dark Army's plot to blow up the data storage facility before getting escorted out of the building, so he instead tries to warn the people their to evacuate. He doesn't have time to dwell on that, though, since Darlene finds him and drops some huge bombs: she's been working with the FBI behind his back and she saw Angela working with Mr. Robot behind his... uh... mind?

Betrayed by both women he loved and trusted, Elliot's having a bad day. We don't have time to dwell on this, though, since the fsociety protesters occupying the front of the Evil Corp building erupt into a massive riot.

Angela and The Dark Army

This is where things become nightmarish. Masked rioters invade the building, trashing everything and assaulting whoever gets in their way. As we and Angela learn, this is the work of the Dark Army. A distraction so that Angela can lead Elliot to Evil Corp's secure HSM (hardware security module) and copy data vital to Stage 2's progress. Unable to find Elliot, Angela does the job herself, carefully making her way through the chaos around her. And we and Angela discover just how bloody her crusade has become, as we watch her get an innocent security guard beaten to death so she can carry out her task. Oh, and she encounters a woman in the room adjacent to the important HSM she's hacking, which Irving claims they'll "take care of." So that's two innocent bystanders dead as a direct result of her actions. She also doesn't look very convinced when Irving reassures her that everyone in the storage facility has been warned to evacuate before it blows. On the bright side, she impresses Irving (and myself) by performing the HSM hack all on her own.

It doesn't really matter, though. Because, while it's true that she has come a long way from the pure-hearted snowflake we met at the start, we see now just how far she's gone to be the super-independent woman who "changes the world." This clearly was not the change she was hoping for.

Angela isn't just dealing with crippling low self-esteem anymore. She's experiencing real guilt, the kind that's earned from being a bad person. And that's just the beginning, as the last thing we see is Elliot confronting her. She's got some 'splaining to do. I can't wait to see how she attempts to rationalize all of this to him.

Ones and Zeroes:

* Amidst the chaos that is the rest of this episode, we see on TV monitors in the background that the UN vote is passed. The People's Republic of China gains the right to annex the Congo. Everything seems to be going according to Whiterose's plan.

* I must reiterate that I loved all of Elliot's interactions with the random Evil Corp employees. Of course, we have his nerdy co-worker Samar, bragging ad nauseum about sexual conquests that clearly never happened. I like that he wasn't another Ollie, that he was a decent guy who wasn't completely clueless and had Elliot's back even after Elliot blindsided him with one of his cutting insults. Then there was Janet, who cheerfully praised Elliot for his work on securing the company's data networks. Who else? The struggling father who only told his son he "hated him once"; Edie, the old gal who turned out to be surprisingly tech savvy in spite of her glue-sniffing habit; Fred, the beleaguered Bernie Bro; and finally Sean (Head of Sales), who was struggling to be patient and professional with Elliot's quirky intrusion. These little moments just made the Dark Army's attack on the building that much more unnerving, since any one of these people might have been caught in the crossfire.

* The one computer Elliot was able to use to figure out what the Dark Army is up to belonged to a Bernie Sanders supporter. While I can appreciate that, they're not exactly being subtle with the politics this season. Then again, politics isn't exactly an issue that breeds subtlety these days.

* At the very start, an eerie businessman wearing glasses says something to Elliot while they're in the elevator. I think he was speaking German, but can't be sure. Can anyone translate? In addition to this, he was looking at Elliot as if they knew each other, but Elliot has no reaction to any of this. And neither does Angela, for that matter. Is this guy just another figment of Elliot's imagination? What the hell?

* We see Frank Cody on the news debating a news anchor on the China accord, where he makes a point of singing the praises of Donald Trump. Just carrying out his function, like a good little robot.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: Angela being forced to wear the fsociety mask covered in blood and pepper spray that burns her eyes. Also, couldn't have asked for a better thumbnail.

Quotes:

Elliot: (narrating) I'm just on autopilot, running my routine. Did my daily program crash? When code runs it should run straight through without interruption, until all of its tasks have been completed. Unless something goes wrong. A runtime-error. Sometimes corrupted memory can lead to one. Is that what's happening to me right now? A runtime-error.

Samar: Hey uh, so I had a piece of tang this weekend that you are not gonna believe, dude. I was unlocking achievements Saturday night that went all the way through to Sunday morning. I even impressed myself.
Elliot: ... Every morning starts like this. Graphic sex talk. Thankfully, I'm able to tune most of it out. When people talk like this, they're either insecure or they're full of shame. Which one do you think it is?
Samar: I uh... sorry.
Elliot: (narrating) Shit. That was meant for you. I'm really off today.
Samar: I mean, Jesus, Elliot. I... You know what, man? Fuck you. I'm just trying to brighten up your day with my dope-ass anecdotes, but if you don't appreciate it I can just sit here in silence.
Elliot: (narrating) Really? Is this going to end up being a beautiful accident?
Samar: N-no. No, I'm sorry, bro. I shouldn't have said that.
Elliot: (narrating) Spoke too soon.
Samar: I'm bigger than this, man. And, in a way, what you just said actually helps me. Cause I've always wondered if people here thought I was trying to just get attention, but nah. I should have started the day off by asking what you did this weekend.
Elliot: (narrating) He raises a good question. What did I do this weekend?
Samar: Instead I'm always just rambling around some bullshit. But you know what? I'm gonna drop some truth on you, dude. Since we're opening up here, I uh... I've only ever gotten laid twice. Okay, actually, it was one and a half times...

Samar: Hey, dude, thanks for letting me confide in you. Just don't tell any of the guys about this. Cool?
Elliot: (narrating) It's hard what he just did. Opening up, face to face. Which is probably why I talk to you.

Elliot: (narrating) Help me figure this out. Do not leave me. Stay focused.

Elliot: (narrating) I wish I could see myself through your eyes. Don't you wish you could see yourself through mine?

Sean: Jesus Christ, you have wasted enough of our time already! We need to get started.
Elliot: ... You know, Sean, sometimes I get a lot like you. Where you have a lot of anxiety because of a deadline. You know, where you feel pressure because something has to get done and then all of these damn little unknown variables keep popping up. And when find yourself at the center of one of those storms, you just gotta breathe. Just let go. (nods knowingly and pats Sean on the arm) Get it done.
I'd love to see how the rest of that meeting went after that.

This whole episode was a masterclass in suspense. The people making this show ought to pat themselves on the backs. Four out of four dope-ass anecdotes.

No comments: