Mr. Robot eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00 Recap: You Just Gotta Breathe

Recap Mr. Robot eps3.4_runtime-err0r.r00 Recap – SPOILER ALERT

In this week’s highly anticipated Mr. Robot, the long-planned Stage Two of the plot to bring down the global economy via destroying the monopolistic eCorp’s backup storage facilities is finally underway. This groundbreaking episode was designed to look like there were no cuts, a technique known as a “continuous shot” that establishes an inevitable momentum throughout the show’s 45 commercial-free minutes akin to a runaway train. In all the promotional material for this episode Elliot is shown saying “you just gotta breathe,” but in this breakneck 45 minutes, it’s not easy!

A gaunt-looking Elliott stands in a bleak elevator at the top of the episode, when a stranger says something mysterious to him in German that roughly translates to “every beginning is hard. Getting started is easy. Perseverance is an art” A television screen in the elevator plays the news that today the UN will vote to annex the Congo–a crucial win for Whiterose. Underscoring the scene, a non-diegetic choir sings a count of six. Before leaving the elevator, Elliot takes a call from Darlene who tells him to meet her in the lobby, after which a suspicious Angela invites him to lunch.

Walking into the office, Elliot describes his internal life through the metaphor of computer, and as he walks into the office to the sound of strange, twinkling music, he realizes that he is having issues recalling what happened over the weekend. “Corrupted memory can lead to a runtime error,” he hypothesizes and begins to root through his mind for the possible corruption that caused the error in his memory. “Glitches” begin, as Elliot accidentally speaks his inner monologue out loud to the crude guy in the cubicle next to him, Samar. This brief moment of human connection ultimately pays off, as his cubicle mate covers for Elliot later in the episode as Elliot hides from the security team intent on escorting him out of the building.

Elliot tries to log-in to this work computer and learns he has been locked out of his account — likely due to Angela’s discovery of his shipping hack and her subsequent request that he be fired. Elliot jumps onto Samar’s computer and learns the Dark Army logged onto his account earlier that morning and tried to launch Stage 2. HR and security approaches to fire Elliot. He narrowly escapes, thanks to Samar’s distraction.

Elliot is locked out not only of his computer but also of the physical building’s various floors and offices, forcing him to rely on others for assistance. As in Season One, Elliot has to use social engineering to manipulate others into helping him, with or without their knowledge of what he’s really up to. For a mentally ill introvert like Elliot, the task of hacking into the secure servers of the world’s largest corporation is more appealing than trying to convince a co-worker to let him use their computer.

Elliot jogs through the stairwell and his memories, trying to escape his pursuers and catch up with his recollections of the lost time over the weekend. The last thing Elliot remembers is an eCorp party four days ago, and he suspects that Mr. Robot has been in control for that long. He calls Darlene who confirms he has been gone all weekend, likely as Mr. Robot.

This episode cleverly uses close-up shots of activity on the computer screens to hide cuts, as well as quick motion-blurred pans and swipes across solid walls. One such hidden cut finds Elliot in a meeting where he again has to blend in a  corporate environment by impersonating the corporate drones he typically interacts with on a daily basis.

Elliot finally escapes to an elevator, where he summons his alter ego by asking himself “if Mr. Robot were here, what would he do.” For the first time this season we see Mr. Robot and Elliot in the same room talking to each other. Since he can no longer prevent F-Society from blowing up the back-up facility, Elliot decides to prioritize evacuating the back-up facility building.

Upon leaving the elevator, Elliot is finally escorted off the premises by security. He calls in a bomb threat to the back-up facility, while a crowd of protesters in the background shout “This is what democracy looks like.” Darlene shows up and confesses to her brother that she is working with the FBI. She also reveals to Elliot that Angela betrayed him by using his Mr. Robot persona to continue Stage Two. Betrayed by both his confidants, Elliot is left with no one to trust.

Through the crowd of protesters, hooded and masked vandals make their way to the front to incite a riot by tossing tear gas at the cops. The crowds storm the building and trash the eCorp lobby. Back in the elevator, there is another update on the small television screen about upcoming UN vote, which Price told Whiterose would not go well if Whiterose prevents China from accepting eCoin as the official national currency over bitcoin. The choir resumes singing the count to six, which speeds up and intensifies as the rioters arrive on a higher level and begin looting and destroying the offices.

Irving calls Angela, who is still hiding out in her office despite seeing the chaos through her clear walls, and tells her she has to go through the rioters who are part of the Dark Army’s “distraction” to pick up a package in the lobby. He also tells Angela that he needs her to get Elliot to a computer to implement a backup plan.

Angela dashes back to the elevator, where live footage of the UN vote resumes, but the elevator loses power before the results are tallied. A security guard asks Angela what’s in her package, and she says hard drives, but a bump reveals that the envelope actually contains an ID badge with special access for Elliot. The security guard, now suspicious, apprehends Angela and tries to take her into custody, but a Dark Army rioters knock the guard out. Emphasizing that no one in this world is to be trusted, despite one rioter saving Angela, another chases her into a secure server room.

A gorgeous overhead shot of reveals the chaos outside eCorp still underway while Angela kneels before the server like a congregant at the altar, her small frame made smaller in contrast to the mob outside, the concrete walls of eCorp, and the hulking monolith of the server cabinet before her.

To an underscore of crashes from the still-active rioters outside, Angela attempts to execute the plan but has to get a USB drive, so she ventures back out into the unsecured antechamber in search of one. A random stranger bursts into the room, and questions how Angela got in, but before Angela can awkwardly lie her way out of it, the stranger sprays a rioter in the face with pepper spray before running away, also exposing Angela to the irritating chemicals. Through foggy eyes, Angela types in the necessary lines of code to presumably destroy the back-up building.

The cinematic language of this episode limits the viewer to this one location, so there is no way of knowing whether the building Angela attempted to blow up has exploded, or if anyone was evacuated. Her mission complete, she wipes her prints off the door and steals an F-Society mask and dark hoodie off the floor. Now having performed the actions of a terrorist organization, she dons the apparel of said terrorists to make her escape.

It’s interesting to see Angela, who lacked proficiency at hacking just last season, now able to follow a list of seemingly intricate commands vital to the mission. While viewers still do not know whether her hack was a success, she seems sure of herself on the phone with Irving. Back in the elevator, the headline reads “China to Annex Congo After U.N. Vote”. Whiterose has succeeded.

“Just because we lit the fuse doesn’t mean we control the explosion,” Irving tells Angela. Angela tells Irving she was “made” because of the woman with the pepper spray, Lydia Riley, and Irving says she’ll be “taken care of.” Irving instructs Angela to deliver a package to his associate on her floor and assures her that the recovery facility was indeed evacuated, and that “she” (presumably Whiterose) “can make all of this better. Organ music fills the air, a possible signal that Angela’s act of worship at the altar of F-Society/The Dark Army has atoned her sins, despite her having now done to another family what eCorp did to hers — cause the death of a loved one.

On Angela’s floor, a familiar man in a hazmat suit sits eating Red Wheelbarrow Barbeque. She hands him the package, and he hands her a takeout bag from the same restaurant. Sirens overpower the organ as Angela struggles to her office, fighting back tears that are presumably because of the contents of the bag. Suddenly, Elliot is there. “Angela,” he asks, “is there something you want to tell me?”

Elevator scenes were the connective tissue in this episode, punctuating the limited location available due to the constraints of an episode made to look like one continuous shot with news reports on the ongoing security council vote. Rather than feeling claustrophobic, the elevator felt huge and served as not only literal access to the environmental world of this episode via multiple floors but as metaphorical access to the wider world through the television screen and news report.

This episode leaves many questions to be answered. How did Elliot get back into the building after being escorted out? Why did Darlene break down and tell her brother she was working with the FBI? Did Elliot’s transportation hack to divert backup records to remote facilities succeed, or did Tyrell manage to get all of the records to the single point of failure? And did Angela successfully blow it up? Did Irving evacuate the people before it was too late?

With all of these questions, plus a reveal from Sam Esmail himself on the after show that “people have started to realize” what this season’s twist might be, theories continue to revolve around time travel and multiple timelines. This episode’s possible clue could lie in Elliot’s employee ID number, casually and quickly rattled off as 07231991. When expanded, the numbers reveal a date recalled by many who have collective false memories of Nelson Mandela dying on July 23rd, 1991. This phenomenon is known as “the Mandela effect” and often cited as evidence of a multiverse, where parallel timelines occasionally brush up against each other and cause these inconsistencies in group memory. Perhaps the continuous shot of this episode served a greater purpose than amplifying the tension and claustrophobia of the siege on eCorp. For a show that so frequently jumps around in time, especially this season, an episode that unfolds in real, linear time is significant. Could Esmail be underlining the relationship between space and time, and their inseparability?

Mr. Robot, written and directed by Sam Esmail, continues its 10 episode season Wednesday nights on USA at 10 p.m. ET.

Missed the previous week recap? Read it here.

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