Screenshot: USA Network

“Trusting thus opens one up to harm, for it gives rise to selective interpretation, which means that one can be fooled, that the truth might lie, as it were, outside one’s gaze.”—Karen Jones, “Trust As An Affective Attitude”

Trust might be the single most necessary human attitude required for any society to function. We can be suspicious of our leaders, but we ultimately have to trust that we possess the ability to support candidates we believe are least likely to cause harm. We can be wary of businesses and salesmen, but on some level we have to trust that the restaurant will serve us food that won’t make us sick, a car that won’t immediately break down, medicine that works. Sure, we put safeguards and regulations in place, the better to protect the social contract upon which all this trust depends, but the decision is finally with us. It’s not hard to argue that many of the more worrying trends in our world stem from the erosion of trust in the very institutions and relationships established to keep fidelity with it, and the concomitant lack of collective social agreement. Fake news, indeed.

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“My angle is, you trust me.” With those words, Darlene relied upon the entire history of her relationship with her sibling. Even after revealing that she had been lying to him and working with the FBI to protect them both from imprisonment, the elder Alderson sibling was able to able to fall back on the built-up reserve of trust the two had developed, a habit and an intimacy that Elliot wanted or needed to maintain. Especially with Angela now a shell of her former self, Elliot has no one else to whom he can turn. So he gets past the previous betrayal, because that’s what you do with loved ones—you give them the benefit of the doubt. And in this case, that trust may have cost Elliot his life.

Everyone else is all out of trust as Mr. Robot approaches its season finale, making it doubly ironic that Elliot’s valiant attempt to keep it with his sister backfires so spectacularly. Darlene doesn’t just fail to keep her compact with Elliot—she spills the entirety of the plans to Dom and Santiago. In other words, she doesn’t just betray Elliot’s trust again, she opens up to the very people her brother has just insisted can’t be trusted. Her naive wish to believe that Dom and her superior are more reliable outlets for the truth than her own brother suggests that Darlene’s world really was shattered by the death of Cisco last season. She’s lost her moral compass, regardless of her presumably noble intentions to keep her brother safe. By going against his wishes, she contradicts Elliot’s own plan to hack the Dark Army, and that confusion is what leads to Whiterose’s disciple Grant proposing the group kills Elliot. It’s the show’s theme playing out yet again, this time on a very human scale: the effects of unintended consequences.

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Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Tyrell Wellick has finally lost his trust in the Dark Army, though it took a visit from both Phillip Price and Mr. Robot to make that happen. And in the case of the latter, he almost took a beating in the name of pushing Tyrell out of his misplaced faith in their former collaborators. “Time to grow up—there are no gods,” Robot admonishes, hearkening back to Wellick’s childish dreams of control. Thankfully, Price ends up shooting himself in the foot with his bluster. Not only does he push the new Evil Corp CTO to strategize against his on-again CEO, but Robot and Wellick are now firmly in the same camp. They wouldn’t even necessarily care if they learned that Price was a victim of Whiterose, the same as both of them, though the irony of Price bluffing his way into convincing them he was part of this plan all along is pretty thick. No, Robot and Wellick want to bring these powerful men down; they don’t care who is playing who, they just want these shadowy actors off the field altogether.

Whiterose has occupied the role of villain for a large part of this season. Despite the pleasure of watching her take the odious Phillip Price down a peg or two, the season began with her malevolent-sounding speech about eventually killing Elliot, a far cry from the teary dreamer we occasionally saw last season. It used to be the dangerous Dark Army seemed to be a convenient means toward Whiterose’s idealistic ends, but now it feels like she not only begrudgingly tolerates the violence enacted in service of attaining her goals, but actively courts it. The unexpected humility and deference she shows Grant at the end of the episode had better be a tactic; it feels very out of character for her to suddenly and meekly accept chastisement from a subordinate, even if they are sexually involved. Whiterose’s world doesn’t include her allowing others to do what they think is best; it’s a place where things happen because she allows them.

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Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network

Angela’s trust in Elliot evaporates this episode, as well. She quickly turns on her brother the moment she sees Leon waiting in Elliot’s apartment, casually smoking a joint. It’s too bad this pivot happens so quickly, because last episode’s closing reconciliation between the two was quite touching, and a reminder that the foundation of why we keep watching is because there’s an investment in these people’s relationships, not just a bunch of ’70s-style political intrigue. But Angela Moss has gone full tinfoil hat, having taped up most of her apartment with plastic, and by the time she gets picked up once more by that same anonymous white minivan, she’s in total crazy-person mode, wandering the streets with Qwerty sitting atop her remaining fanatical possessions. Let’s hope Whiterose’s people can snap her out of it.

It’s already been pointed out how “stage3.torrent” is chockablock with irony, but it’s there on a metatextual level, as well. This is a show whose central conceit is the conspiracy theory model, one in which nothing happens by accident or chance, where mysterious powerful men in smoky rooms are controlling the world, the secret unseen forces behind every terrorist attack, economic calamity, or dangerous moron being elected president. And yet it’s now arguing the very institutions that are never anything but tools for the one percent must retain stability, that revolutionary efforts to overthrow them come from a misguided faith in bringing down the gatekeepers of our corporate stranglehold. The show has always lightly satirized Fsociety’s revolutionary fervor, revealing how the rhetoric never matches reality, but it simultaneously agreed with it, maintaining a complex but necessary double consciousness about the need for radical political change. We’re all hypocrites, Mr. Robot argues, but that’s beside the point: The idea isn’t necessarily to change the world. It’s to somehow understand it. Consider it a strangely optimistic form of the observer effect—that just by watching something, we’ll alter it.

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Photo: Michael Parmelee/USA Network

Elliot’s behavior is now oddly in service of the (former) status quo. His (and Robot’s) revolution didn’t quite play out as they’d hoped, so now it’s time to walk it back. He gets Irving to set up the meeting so that he can tell Whiterose about the fictional “Stage 3,” destroying the Ecoin currency that has kept the corporation afloat. But he already knows they’ll reject it, that the attack was just a means to an end. He’s counting on them taking everything he has, which includes the exploit that ultimately grants him access to the Dark Army’s network.

It would be more hopeful of an ending had Darlene not blown it with her clumsy attempt to steal Dom’s ID info, and her subsequent confession that flies in the face of everything her brother is simultaneously telling the Dark Army. Dom’s trust is all gone, too, and whether she actually believed Darlene wanted her at first—either she’s a fantastic actor, or there was genuine pathos in her awkward and guarded reaction to that seduction—she sure doesn’t any more. The one bright spot may be that she finally realizes Santiago isn’t just being obstructionist or subservient to bureaucracy. If this doesn’t get Dom to finally realize her boss is working with the Dark Army, then she’s not as good of an FBI agent as she thinks.

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Stray observations:

  • I see Wellick still has a thing about putting on those blue rubber gloves before he commences beating the shit out of someone, last seen way back in season one.
  • Interesting to see Price was taking a personal interest in Angela since the very beginning. I’ll be curious to see if we get any more insight than Wellick did as to the motivation behind his decision to hire AllSafe—whether it had anything to do with the sudden discovery of Ms. Moss, or whether it was even his choice to begin with.
  • Speaking of that opening flashback, what a fantastic shot of Wellick, framed from below against the immensity of the E Corp building, that segued into the title logo.
  • Fun seeing Irving get hit with the same OnStar trick he used to ferret away Darlene and Elliot back at the beginning of the season.
  • Nice upper arm tats, Dom!
  • Price is always an asshole, but he’s also not entirely wrong when he chastises Robot for “still thinking like a lone wolf,” and then hitting back when Robot claims that he’s still a leader. “Then where are your followers?”
  • The 71 attacks have rattled all of the Dark Army’s embedded allies, delaying the transfer of her big mysterious (and presumably time-altering) project to the Congo.
  • The show seems to be setting up the hack of the FBI’s Sentinel—the “Fort Knox of closed networks”—as the next big adventure. We’ll see if the season finale can do justice to such an ambitious plan while still providing a satisfying conclusion to the year. This season may not have hit the highs of previous one, but its back half been more consistently solid than any previous season. Even overt table-setting episodes like this one have been strong.

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