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Darlene and Dom face a reckoning on a powerful Mr. Robot

Screenshot: USA Network
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“Intelligence is characterized by a natural incomprehensibility of life, since it represents clearly only the discontinuous and the immobile.”—Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

At some point, all of us face a moment in life from which it seems there is no coming back. It’s the breakup that leaves you shattered and unable to breathe, or the accident that renders you forever altered and unable to move, or the death of a loved one that upends the very ground from beneath you. These are the burn marks of memory, incidents that sear through the normal arrangement of our histories, poking through to remind us time and again that they will never leave, never fade, never abandon us. They are ongoing, and they are devastating. They’re also bearable—not because we can live with them, but because we have to.

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It’s hard not to think of such moments during “Request Timeout,” an episode that looks at all the emotional fallout that has accumulated in the wake of this story, and wonders if it’s possible to go on. Last week, Elliot was finally confronted with the truth of his childhood, and it left him bereft, benumbed, and feeling like nothing was possible. The reality of his father sexually abusing him as a child is something that cuts across his entire identity, and rips up his own understanding of himself. This episode is spent following his younger self around, an idea that works both visually as a means of depicting Elliot’s journey back into his younger mindset to come to terms with the hurt he suffered, and thematically as a way of representing how the past is never through showing us new parts of ourselves, for good and ill.

Still, after all that, he would rather live as himself in this pain than as someone else. When Mr. Robot expresses the wish that he could go back in time and fix everything, to make things as though the abuse never happened, Elliot rejects the idea. “Then I wouldn’t be me…and I wouldn’t have you.” This cuts against the grain of Whiterose’s entire project, as far as we know—and flies in the face of Angela’s hope that their whole lives could be reset. It’s touching in a way, but also heartbreaking; Elliot then begins weeping, finally being held in a supportive way by the imaginary persona he created all those years ago. “I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he whimpers, and while it’s wholly understandable, it threatens everything he’s worked for. Nothing in the now can hold a candle to the agony of the then.

Photo: Elizabeth Fisher (USA Network)
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But for all the dramatic intensity of Elliot’s travels back to the Queens Museum that symbolized safety for him as a child, there’s a visceral intensity to Dom and Darlene’s storyline that seizes control of the narrative this episode, because good lord: Janice is one scary motherfucker. Captured and threatened with death—and the death of Dom’s entire family—Darlene and Dom find a strange kind of strength in one another, a way to buy time and stay alive until the FBI agent can get the drop on her Dark Army captors. Of course, ‘alive” might be putting it kindly; from the moment Janice sticks a knife through Dom, piercing her lung, the sequence establishes a mood of dread and ticking-clock mortality that electrifies, helped along by Esmail’s continual cross-cutting between close-ups of everyone’s faces and the bound, claustrophobic layout of the room. (The camera continually cutting to Dom’s point of view, looking up at Darlene’s terrified face, is an especially effective tactic.)

Additionally, Janice’s casual evisceration of the uncomfortable, awkward relationship between the two women adds a layer of cringeworthy black humor to the proceedings—bringing up how Dom masturbates to the interrogation video of Darlene, continually referencing some indefinable chemistry between the criminal and the crimefighter, and breaking down the basics of Dom’s personality just to emphasize how she’s “easy to control.” Each woman is trying her best to take the blame, to draw attention away from the other, but from the moment that blade is sticking out of Dom’s chest, there’s no ignoring the link connecting the two—or whose pain deserves top billing. Darlene uses her scorn as a last resort, and Dom is playing the noble pawn, but each can’t bear the thought of the other ending up in a position alone with Janice. Darlene gives up Elliot’s position to save Dom’s family, and Dom tells her not to say a word, but they both know the value of what they’re doing: They’ve lived through this show, after all, and it’s nothing if not a paean to the threads tying us together. There was never any chance either would abandon the other.

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Which is part of what makes Janice’s comeuppance so satisfying. It’s a rug pull that finally justifies the time we spent with Deegan, the Irish gangster who came across like a weird distraction until tonight. He takes out all of Janice’s men with extreme prejudice, and then we get to experience the satisfaction of her calling only to have it go straight to voicemail—until Deegan answers, informing Janice that the DiPierro family is safe and on their way to a safe house. The anxiety provoke by actually watching the Dark Army goons storm Trudy’s home is counterbalanced by the catharsis of that bloody cell phone, lying unanswered, until Deegan picks up, laughs in the face of Janice’s threats, and Dom pulls out the knife in her chest so she can slice the tendon of one of her captors, then shoot all three of them in the head. Even the words that might be Dom’s last are courageous, telling Darlene to go find Elliot, and help him take down Whiterose and company. This show doesn’t valorize its characters, but this is awfully close to self-sacrificing hero territory.

And then, there’s the final exchange between Mr. Robot and Elliot. “Hey kiddo,” Robot says, and there’s a world of sadness in Christian Slater’s line reading. He knows why Elliot has let him back in, and it has nothing to do with the plan to hack the Deus group, meeting in only 60 minutes. It’s just about Elliot’s need for someone, anyone—even the person wearing his father’s appearance. But the trip to the museum already helped Elliot process the very thing Robot is scared his creator won’t be able to let go of: that he’s not Elliot’s father. “You’re the father I needed,” the anguished hacker explains, and lets all his vulnerabilities bubble to the surface. Mr. Robot was a guardian, someone to create the sense of security destroyed by Elliot’s actual father, and so, in a sense, he’s wrong that it was never his secret to keep. Elliot established the persona precisely to help push back against the terrible reality of his childhood; It was solely his secret to keep, in a way.

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And so we end on an open wound of a scene, the emotional counterpoint to Dom’s actual open wound. Elliot’s hunched, weeping form, being gently held by the person created to make him feel safe, is the embodiment of the hurt visited upon all those who have suffered through this tragic story. And the sense that he just can’t go through with his plan, that he’s not psychologically capable anymore? Maybe’s he’s right. Maybe both Elliot and Mr. Robot are in no shape to handle this. Sounds like that might require a third person.

Stray observations

  • Back in episode 2, Dom’s words to Deegan McGuire suddenly take on new meaning: “Mr. McGuire—I think we can help each other.”
  • And all this time, I thought that kid sitting in Wellick’s chair at the end of episode two was a young Tyrell. Nope—it was young Elliot. (But in case you need reminding, he’s not the third persona; as the mother tells him, they’re not waiting for Elliot or Mr. Robot, but “the other one.”)
  • The reveal about Elliot’s father reminded me of something I haven’t thought about since I first realized Christian Slater would be playing an an invisible alter-ego of someone on this series: The actor’s first starring TV role was back in 2008, on NBC, playing a man who had a secret other personality as a secret agent, and in the pilot the two personas begin swapping back and forth at uncontrolled times, throwing their life into chaos. The title? My Own Worst Enemy.
  • I do think it’s a little odd that the show chose to have young Elliot speak out loud to Mr. Robot when the two were alone, just to emphasize that Elliot’s other persona already existed at this point in 1995. We’ve already established that Elliot’s conversations with Robot take place entirely in his head, with no one else even aware that they’re happening, so that played like a bit of lily-gilding.
  • Sam Esmail executes one of the most perfectly employed camera spins I’ve ever seen in this episode, when Janice makes the fateful decision to phone her Dark Army operatives to kill Trudy, and it starts relentlessly spinning among the three women, expertly building tension to that climactic call.
  • Another heartbreaking performance from Malek this week, especially in the conversation with Krysta outside the police station. His delivery of, “He made me feel special,” was wrenching.
  • R.I.P. Janice. We didn’t spend enough time with you this season, but you were a terrific villain.
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About the author

Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.