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‘Mr. Robot’ Season 3 Review: If You Bailed After the S2 Letdown, S3 Recaptures the Magic

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Photo Credit: Universal Cable Productions

Network: USA

Showrunner: Sam Esmail

Main Cast: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallstrom, Joey Badda$$, Grace Gummer, Bobby Cannavale

Running Time: 60-75 minutes (including commercials)

Mr. Robot had an excellent first season that helped to transform television. Creator Sam Esmail had come up with a brilliant concept, and he had enlisted some of the most talented crewmembers to help reveal that concept. The pilot was directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Flatliners) and it was DPed by Tim Ives (Girls, Stranger Things), with a truly unique score by Mac Quayle. Even as the directing and cinematography duties shifted to Tod Campbell of Stranger Things, the show maintained the visual style that the pilot demonstrated. The first season was among the best seasons of television of the past decade.

With standout performances from Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, as well as Martin Wallstrom and Stephanie Corneliussen, the first season set the bar extremely high.

Unfortunately, as the second season began, Mr. Esmail took over almost exclusive creative control. That is not to say that he was not suited for the job, or that the show suddenly became poor television. It simply was not on par with its freshman outing. What makes Mr. Robot special is that even at a slightly reduced level of excellence, it was still a very good television show.

The brings us to the third season, which concluded Wednesday night. The third season of Mr. Robot returned to form, and Mr. Esmail wonderfully created an interwoven narrative, which not only made for a great season but helped shed some light on the events of Season Two. We get to spend time with all of the characters on the show, and while Elliot and Mr. Robot are the focus, they are only a part of the story. The inner workings of E-Corp, White Rose, and the Dark Army are all explored and revealed to be interconnected. Still, Mr. Robot is a show that blatantly, but eloquently embraces its reveals and twists. The season three finale was no different, and while it’s not quite a spoiler to say that Elliot realizes that he and Mr. Robot are both equally important parts of his psyche, the last reveal is one that many fans had predicted but was still enjoyable to watch.

New characters like Bobby Cannavale’s Irving brought a level of comedic relief initially before morphing into hyper-violent Lynchian-type villains later on. (Based on sequences like Angela’s interactions with the house manager at the Price estate or her chat with White Rose in earlier seasons, it shouldn’t shock anyone to learn Esmail is a big Twin Peaks fan. He even interviewed that series’ co-creator Mark Frost for The Talkhouse this fall). Old favorites like Leon somehow delivered more of what made them delightful (Knight Rider > Frasier) while finding additional ways to surprise. His unflinching loyalty to the Dark Army late season — with Trenton and Mobley, in the barn, and at Elliot’s apartment — made him terrifying. Add in the typical level of technical detail and the continued layering of the 5/9 attacks’ impact throughout the show (Elliot spends an entire episode seemingly dealing with depression and suicide ideation; we see military-enforced curfews and fires in the streets in the background of many episodes), and the television-making here seems to rival anything else currently airing.

Maybe S3 wasn’t perfect. Did we need an entire hour of Wellick’s backstory journey, or could that have been interspersed with more present-day story? Have the Trump digs felt natural (a finale revelation that the Dark Army helped a Russian propaganda machine) or distracting (White Rose asking a right-wing talk show host to really pump up Trump in the run-up to 2016)? The answers will differ from viewer to viewer, but it’s clear S3 hews closer to the highs of that first Mr. Robot run than it does to the up-and-down nature of the second.

When taken into context with Esmail’s grand vision, it appears the series is about to hit its third act at full speed. Dom’s life has changed dramatically, Angela no longer believes in a sci-fi dream, and Elliot has a new bullseye for his superhero-like hacking abilities (plus a recommitted sidekick within him). Accordingly, the hype and anticipation for S4 should surpass where fandom stood heading into this 12-episode run, but it’s easier to feel confident in what’s to come after a plethora of hair-on-your-arms late season moments like that last Elliot monologue.

Mr. Robot Season 3 is Recommended if You Like: Mr. Robot Season 1, Orphan Black, Stories with a flawed protagonist, unreliable narrators, or lots of computers and coding.

Best Episodes: “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00”,”shutdown -r”, “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko”

Where to Watch: Season 1 is on Hulu and Amazon, Season 2  is on Hulu, and Season 3 is currently available on demand and the USA App.

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 DDoS Attacks

For more of our full season TV reviews, click here!

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