Mr. Robot "Stage 3" review
Never underestimate a background minion.
- SPOILER WARNING: This review may contain plot details that would be considered spoilers. Proceed at your own peril.
As has become customary since the last few episodes, let's begin with a flashback to happier times. It's 2014 and cybersecurity firm Allsafe is hoping to punch above its weight and secure a contract with E Corp. Alpha sleaze Terry Colby is disinterested in the meeting and is dropping Freudian metaphors – “dicks up” this, “handjobs and teddy bears” that. He's even aggressively chauvinistic when Angela walks in to deliver some notes. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a eureka moment for bossman Phillip Price. Angela is important. Allsafe is a small, unworthy fish, but her presence clinches the deal. But... why?
Meanwhile, fast-forwarding ahead to crappier times, Elliot is still wrestling with his Mr. Robot alter-ego. His worse-half has “stolen” Elliot's night and is leaving scrawled messages on things. The latest communique is: “They Own The FBI”. Before this cryptic message can be deciphered, Elliot realises he's left his PC unlocked, giving Mr. Robot full access to the Trenton email that explains how to reverse the 5/9 hack. Elliot can also see that he's accessed an article on Tyrell Wellick entitled “From Hunted To Hero”. This begs the question, what did Mr. Robot do with this information last night?
Short answer: he went a-visitin'. After 23 days of being grilled by the FBI, like a well-done order of Red Wheelbarrow ribs, Wellick's been set loose (with stipulations). Being grounded by the Feds is the least of his worries. His son is now in a shady Denmark orphanage, his wife is dead, and Mr. Robot's just come calling to guilt trip him on blowing up 71 buildings. Wellick's not free, reminds Mr. Robot. The Dark Army must have plans to use him in some future scheme, otherwise, he'd be deader than Nickelback's MySpace page.
Just as the conversation becomes a punch up, the doorbell rings and Phillip Price, now a disgraced CEO, invites himself in for a pow-wow that concerns the three of them. He's here to re-hire Wellick as CTO of E Corp, but – slight catch – it's just a figurehead position that Price says he's inherited from “a deal gone wrong”. He demands Wellick's complete and utter obedience, plus, on the way out the door, he further divorces Mr. Robot of the notion that he was the architect of the 5/9 hack. His “revolution” was orchestrated by powerful men. Men like himself, though he's sure not looking so powerful nowadays.
Later, Darlene and Elliot are investigating their options with Trenton's info. Essentially, if they can find the encryption keys, they can recover all of E Corp's lost data, but what they require is in the FBI's evidence storage system, Sentinel. It's the Fort Knox of closed networks, a Mission Impossible that will probably require on-site infiltration (but not the use of a suspension harness, Tom Cruise at his most spry, and a 3½-inch floppy disk). Darlene thinks that option is suicide and instead offers to get what they need by going double-agent on her FBI contacts.
Dom is the weakest link in the chain, and Darlene lures her to a meeting at a dive bar. She secures an audience with her ex-FBI-handler by offering breadcrumbs of info on Whiterose and the Dark Army. Darlene's only getting in close proximity to Dom in order to secretly (hopefully) clone her security tag – a process that proves to be more difficult and time-consuming than she imagined. In order to solve the problem, Darlene decides to get into as close a proximity as possible with Dom for a very long time... if you know what we mean. Yep. Darlene takes one for the team, and in the morning she gets busted trying to take the pass.
All Darlene earns herself is a grilling downtown with a very unimpressed Dom and an even more unimpressed Santiago. Not only has his agent just slept with an ex-CHS (a grey area, but not the most professional thing in the world), Darlene has put him on the backfoot by revealing they have access to files that could reverse 5/9 today. If Santiago did that, who knows what his Dark Army overlords would do to him, but Dom demands to know why he's not entertaining the idea. He would lose nothing by trying. Santiago comes up with some pathetic excuse and sends Dom away. Now she knows. Her boss is playing for the other team.
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Elliot's role in his and Darlene's scheme is to “take care of the Dark Army” and the first step of whatever that entails involves Irving. In an impressive display of hacking, our hero disables the OnStar system of a car that this part-time fixer is test driving. Once Irving's full and undivided attention has been secured, Elliot throws down the gauntlet: set up a meeting for me with Whiterose because my stage 3 hack is about to mess with your timeline.
In next to no time he gets a prompt response from the Dark Army. Upon returning to his apartment (with a still cuckoo-as-a-clock Angela) Elliot is visited by his old friend Leon, old-school television aficionado and cold-blooded psychopath. His presence is enough to amp up the crazy in Angela, who starts spinning out weird conspiracy theories. Elliot manages to send her batshit-self away – without the need for Leon to resort to violence – and then the two gents go off for his meeting. (Note: Angela is picked up by some suited goons soon after – Price's men, is my bet.)
Whiterose has no time for Elliot, and so he has to deal with his underling, Grant Chang. He's a man who wants to know what this previously unheard of “stage three” involves. The young hacker spins some bullcrap about planning on taking down E-coin, the new world currency standard, but his real aim seems to be allowing the Dark Army goons to clone the contents of his laptop. They do so, decline his piss-weak offer to attack the cryptocurrency, and leave.
We round the episode out with Chang reporting back to Whiterose, and it's an odd conversation that elevates him from background character to co-puppet-master. Chang starts off respectfully reporting on the contents of his meeting, but by the end of the conversation, the power dynamic between the two has morphed considerably. Before he leads an intimate encounter with Whiterose, Chang effectively plants the idea that the young hacker must be eliminated. Darlene's story is more plausible than the E-coin attack; Elliot is targeting the Dark Army, not E Corp.
Sure enough, the cloning process was a trojan horse gambit that's allowed our hero to establish full remote control of their systems. The Dark Army has a new owner, Mr Elliot “Mad Hax” Alderson. Oh, this is gonna be sweet.