Mr. Robot: Season 3, Episode 8 Review

MR. ROBOT – SEASON 3, EPISODE 8: eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko

When you delete something, you’re making a choice to destroy it. To never see it again. You choose to delete because you need to free up space. Because you don’t want it anymore. Because it no longer holds value. – Elliot Alderson

After the pace of the previous three episodes, this week we got a much more subdued experience, and it proved to be necessary to at least touch on some portions of Elliot’s personality that are often lost.

As the damaged, dissociate, egomaniacal nihilistic millennial, Elliot spends almost his entire life trapped in his own mind. He’s unable to break chains he’s placed on himself and his life. He can’t go to movies anymore, especially after the trip with his father where he watched his dad collapse and pass out. When he walks into the theater, he starts talking to someone that’s not even there, which is a precursor to the problems he finds in his adult life.

The episode is more or less a eulogy to two fairly minor characters in the grand scheme of the series, but that’s why it’s so enjoyable and emotional. Trenton and Mobley have had their place, but they aren’t a part of the main cast. They’re tertiary to the story, and thus they could be eliminated by Sam Esmail without changing the trajectory of the plot. In fact, their deaths could wake Elliot up from the unfeeling stupor he walks around in on a daily basis.

The height of millennial culture seems to be that it’s about “me,” not “we.” Yes, there’s the idea of collective salvation or group think, but much of that comes from the self’s desire to connect and communicate, thus increasing that self’s status. Elliot didn’t want to be famous, but he’s the center of his own world. He can only occasionally find true empathy for his sister or his best friend, because he’s often fighting one of his TWO false selves.

Through the course of this episode, we got a glimpse of the real Elliot Alderson. It took Shama’s younger brother to get it out of him, and it took a very interesting pathway that was almost its own odyssey. Because of the circumstances, including Elliot’s guilt and crushing depression, stopping to focus on the mental and physical well-being of an innocent boy took away the need for medication or for a figment of his imagination.

Thanks to that interaction, he rediscovered Back to the Future, as it just so happened to be October 21, 2015. I grinned when I heard Mr. Sandman, because I always immediately equate it to Hill Valley. Perhaps no movie ever has meant more to my life than that one. I’ve told the story before. My parents weren’t keen on PG-13 in 1985. I was seven. My best friend had gone to see it. I talked mom into taking me to see Disney’s The Black Cauldron, but knew in my head Back to the Future would be playing at the theater.

It was about a half hour drive or so, as it was out of the small town of Martinsville, Virginia where I spent my first 12 years. I begged her to take me to Back to the Future, said my friend had seen it, which meant HER friend had let him see it. She knew she’d been rooked, and she gave in. Afterwards, she said not only was it a good film, but she was glad we saw it. “It wasn’t that bad,” or something to that effect, is how she deemed the content.

Elliot related Back to the Future to his childhood as well, just as Sam Esmail continues to use references to it, including the animated BTTF show he utilized in last week’s opening with the younger Angela Moss at the world’s saddest house party. It plays into the time travel aspect of Whiterose, but there’s also the description Elliot mentions as he describes why the movie is so good. “It’s about going into the future to change the past and ending up in an alternate presence.” Then two others argue with him, and each of the descriptions could describe desires of Mr. Robot characters.

The episode was rather simple, especially taken alongside the complexities of the previous batch. This one needed to be, because with two installments left this season, we know we’re about to hit the ground at a full sprint next Wednesday. This was the palette cleanser. It was our version of Leon’s Knight Rider. We wanted to slow things down just a bit, and remember the humanity of the robots we often see on the show.

Take the final scene, which was a special sequence, both from a lighting and writing standpoint, where we see Elliot almost childlike as he remembers the wishing game he used to play with Angela. Her cold demeanor, nearly detached from reality, totally frightened, breaks apart as she hears him tell the story. Her memory overtakes her fear, and the love for her friend (who she also probably still wants to sleep with) and the longing for that time rip out the anxiety for a few minutes.

Back to the kid, who at one point asks Elliot, “Where do you pray?” Alderson replies, “I don’t.” That was pretty clear without him saying it, because again, it’s impossible to understand that there’s a greater force that can help lift away the burdens when you’re constantly concerned about how you can fix everything on your own. Elliot believes he’s the only one to stop the hack, thinks he’s brilliantly crushing Whiterose with his shipping scheme, and in the process, he takes his eye off the larger picture. But after the garbage gets delivered to his step and he sees both the infamous jacket and the hard drives brought back to him, he chooses to check the drives again. Something compelled him to do so.

And he finds the email. It’s from Tr3nton, and it’s entitled, “Don’t delete me.” Inside, we don’t see the entire thing, but the message begins, “I may have found a way to reverse the hack.” It’s impossible not to see the “meant to be” of this moment, the non-coincidental coincidence. Throughout the episode, Elliot searches for forgiveness and an end to his crippling guilt as he visits Mobley’s brother and Trenton’s family, and even blackmails the former to make sure his colleague gets a good funeral. He seeks forgiveness from people, but never goes further. However, his actions show a man whose mind has shut down and whose heart has taken control.

That’s a monumental sea change for Mr. Robot, and while temporary, it’s why I enjoyed the episode so much. It wasn’t as entertaining or exciting as many of its predecessors, but from a depth standpoint, there was so much about it that provided a sense of hope in a fictional world of hopelessness. Even with the purple ribbons and memorials, there’s the National Guard Detention Center and the feeling of martial law on the streets of New York. But, as Elliot listens and effectively learns from Shama’s little brother, his attitude and focus are only in the world, but no longer merely OF the world.

If you remember Elliot asking his neighbor to watch his dog for the day, so he could do “important things,” try to close your eyes for a second and think to his face as he heard the man tell him he has his toy and enough food and would be glad to help out. There’s no darkness in Elliot here. There’s nothing nefarious. There’s a genuine smile from Rami Malek, who again was exquisite in this episode.

This was a powerfully gripping hour, even if it felt like a fantasy land. In some ways, we watched 1955 Hill Valley. It was a simpler time, and even though trouble was all around, both foreign and domestic, people’s devices (both technological and internal) didn’t completely dominate them. Or, more accurately, the people we care about were out of the system. Interactions were pure and people listened to one another. They asked each other for answers, and they didn’t always see themselves as the center of the universe.

Perhaps the hearts, or maybe even the souls were whispering…”Don’t delete me.” The mind almost never has the right answers, unless it’s listening first.

Purely my opinion of course, and maybe you saw it all differently, but because of the message that might not have been intended, I finished the episode with a smile of my own. This was a rest period, but it was blissful, dreamless sleep. Now, we wake up, and with Tr3nton’s email, Elliot begins a new quest to thwart the Dark Army.

And it’s going to be awesome. What a season.

I’m @JMartOutkick. Most critics have s****y taste. But I don’t. Right? I did love The Martian.

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