"How many other versions of ourselves exist? Can we conjoin our mental states with theirs?"

 

You've heard of the Mandela Effect. It's that thing where people swear they grew up reading stories about a family of anthropomorphic bears called The Bearanstein Bears (and not the Bearanstain Bears), insisting that the discrepancy is owed to something like time travel or a dimensional swapping instead of just acknowledging that we're really just not that attentive as children.

Still, the idea of a dimension just a few degrees over from our own, where things are slightly different but mostly recognizable has always been an attractive one, and it's one that Mr. Robot has been floating with less and less subtlety since last season. What started as a plot point about an FBI surveillance program called Project Bearanstain has bloomed into lines of dialogue specifically asking the viewer to consider the existence of a parallel universe—particularly one that might contain alternate versions of our own selves.

This was, frankly, a little concerning. At first blush, it's a concept doesn't quite belong in a relatively straightforward psychological thriller about a mentally-ill hacker working to pull off one of the largest crimes in history. Mr. Robot is certainly chock-full of stylization (sometimes to its detriment), but it smartly avoids the suggestion that it's taking place outside of our more or less "real" world. In a second season already hobbled by needless convolution and weighed down by a glut of allusions and references, a fucking parallel dimension would have been the absolute last thing Mr. Robot needed.

But it turns out Elliot's parallel universe isn't that simple. The show isn't threatening us with going there; it's instead telling us that we've been there all along. Elliot is more or less alone in it, and the by the close of "eps3.3metadata.par2," just about everyone in his orbit is conspiring to keep him there.

After phishing the FBI, Elliot tracks Darlene back to her FBI-subsidized apartment where she's able to reassure her brother that she's still on his side. By now, poor Darlene basically a shell of her former self. Wracked with guilt, besotted with loss, and in the process of watching her brother psychologically fall apart right in front of her face (as she actively betrays him, no less), Darlene is at the point where all she is wants a moment of human connection. She can't have it with her brother, because even if Elliot's fractured mental state weren't making him impossible to reach, her work with the FBI has rendered their relationship fundamentally dishonest and false. The closest thing Darlene can come to an honest moment of person-to-person communication is forcing it out of an uncomfortable Dom.

Like Elliot, Darlene thought the 5/9 hack would usher in a new, better era. Like Elliot, Darlene is starting to realize she was wrong. Wrong as hell. Unlike Elliot, however, Darlene doesn't have mental health issues demanding her attention, nor does she have a direct path to the hack's undoing. All she has is a lead that might wind up getting her killed, but it's her only shot at a kind of moral redemption (her brother is a lost cause either way, and she knows it), so she flatly informs Dom she'll be following it whether the FBI approves or not.

As just about everybody in his life teams up against him, Elliot finds himself squaring off most aggressively against himself. His relationship with Mr. Robot has by now become openly antagonistic, both of them engaging in sustained deceit as they work to either understand or thwart each other's actions, and it's here that the "parallel universe" concept starts to make the most sense.

Reality has more or less been re-made on Mr. Robot, with the E Corp hack being one of the most significant economic disasters in the history of the world. Alongside this greater objective reality, though, Elliot is scrabbling for control of his own personal reality, stuck between two "alternate dimensions" competing for dominance. Mr. Robot is the alt-universe "shadow" version of Elliot, and while it looked as though the two were on benign terms in season two, it's become clear that Elliot's alter ego will engage in no shortage of manipulation to make sure his plan comes to fruition. Elliot, on the other hand, is caught between his moral humanism and his desire to actually be a part of something significant. He's caught between two versions of himself, stuck in the middle of two versions of the same reality, and struggling to find the way if he can reconcile the two.

It's a messy place for such an unstable guy to be, and the people around him aren't making it better. Angela is committed to leading Elliot along in whatever way necessary, including sticking him with a sedative whenever he trades places with Mr. Robot at an infelicitous time. Darlene is straight-up spying on Elliot for him and for the FBI, and Tyrell has one of his patented temper-tantrums once he learned that Elliot has been re-routing the shipping requests. Angela struggles to keep the train moving as White Rose moves the deadline forward without realizing how hard Elliot has been working behind the scenes to keep Phase 2 from leaving the station in the first place.

Mr. Robot's third season is coalescing nicely, seeming to have learned its lesson from season two. This is a show that works best when in motion, and the forward momentum of this third season is serving the material nicely. At this point, Phase 2 is a ticking time bomb in more ways than just one, and at this point I'm equally as interested in seeing it go off as I am in seeing it fall apart.

 

Oh, and also...

• Elliot's douchebag desk mate might be my favorite new character of this season.
• Just kidding, Bobby Cannavale is absolutely smashing it UP on my television right now.
• I really, really like the parallel dimension metaphor the show seems to be suggesting, and desperately hope that it's just that and not something that will be made literal in absolutely any way, at absolutely any point.

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