‘Mr. Robot’ Refocuses On Elliot’s Grief In ‘Don’t Delete Me’

A review of tonight’s Mr. Robot coming up just as soon as you hold my flux capacitor…

Where “Fredrick & Tanya” saw the plot and supporting cast of the series reacting to the bombings Whiterose orchestrated, “Don’t Delete Me” was an Elliot solo spotlight, setting the story of the show aside almost entirely (until the closing minutes) to show our hero drowning in the guilt over all the deaths he inadvertently helped cause, from the victims at the 71 different attacks to Trenton and Mobley being murdered as scapegoats.

Unsurprisingly, Elliot’s not doing well with any of this knowledge, and “Don’t Delete Me” winds up being Rami Malek’s best acting showcase of the series in a good long while. Back in the early days, Mr. Robot was so focused on Elliot that the sheer force of Malek’s performance overwhelmed everyone around him. The start of season two arguably went too deep inside his own head, and it’s felt like Esmail has been overcompensating ever since by spending more time on the ensemble and on the increasingly complex conspiracy plot. Making the other characters matter has been a huge help in many ways, but episodes like this one are a potent reminder of just how much Malek and this character brought to the table before the creative team started working more on the side dishes.

And a lot of the power of “Don’t Delete Me” comes from the fact that it’s really only Elliot here. Darlene shows up to express concern about him early on, and Elliot pays that forward with Angela at the end, but Mr. Robot himself is conspicuous in his absence. Christian Slater pops in briefly as Mr. Alderson, who collapses at the movie theater right after Elliot has refused to forgive him for the shove out the window (their final conversation ever?), but Elliot’s alter ego only manifests himself as the jacket that Elliot can’t get rid of no matter how many times he tries. So where the show can occasionally get too cute in depicting the war for control between the two personalities, this was a more grounded and emotional story of Elliot giving up and attempting to end his own life, partially as penance for all the damage he’s caused, partially because he simply can’t live with the guilt — or in this broken world his action have created — any longer.

For a largely internal episode, “Don’t Delete Me” does a nice job of depicting the ramifications of the bombings coming so soon after the hack. Every time we see Elliot wandering around the city, some new horror floats up as a background detail, like the omnipresent garbage, or the way that city playgrounds have casually been converted into open-air detainment facilities, akin to when Santa Anita racetrack was briefly turned into an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Despite all those terrible things in the margins, plus Elliot being suicidal for most of its running time, “Don’t Delete Me” is also at times a surprisingly whimsical episode, as a good chunk of it involves an annoyed Elliot babysitting Trenton’s little brother and taking him to the movies to see Back to the Future II on the actual day when Marty, Doc Brown, and Jennifer arrived in 2015. As someone trying to get the kid into the franchise (rather than simply taking him to see The Martian, which is much better than Elliot assumes it is), bringing him into the confusing and inferior sequel was probably not a great move, but it fit both the calendar and all of this season’s talk by Angela and others about trying to undo dark events from the past to make the present better. To Elliot, the world he lives in now is a lot like the 1985 where Biff runs the casino and George has been murdered, and Angela seems to think there’s a way to fix it in the same way that Marty and Doc defeat Biff by going back to 1955 again.

Will the undoing involve actual time travel? Well, Esmail keeps laying the references on pretty thick, including playing Robbie Robb’s “In Time” from the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure soundtrack over the scene of Elliot sharing a memory with Angela from opposite sides of her apartment door. But it may be a less science fiction approach, involving the plan Trenton came up with in the season two finale to repair the damage of the hack, which was automatically emailed to Elliot after she died.

The world is so ruined, and the bad guys so firmly in control of it, that it feels like nothing short of a plutonium-powered DeLorean can fix everything. But it feels like both Elliot and the series have reached a turning point by the end of this episode, and are going to be proactive rather than reacting to whatever evil ideas have been cooked up by the Dark Army and/or Mr. Robot, whom I’m guessing will reappear as Elliot’s ally pretty soon.

There are a lot of ways an episode that’s essentially about Elliot being roused from a suicidal stupor thanks to his interaction with a cute kid (plus the help of a kindly Chasidic Jewish ice cream vendor played by Richard Masur, who chooses to think of War of the Worlds as a story of triumph, not despair) could have gone terribly awry and felt mawkish and/or silly. But the spell that “Don’t Delete Me” cast really worked. Well done.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.