'Mr. Robot' returns, energized and frightening

It’s been about a year since the last new installments of Mr. Robot, but as the third season commences Wednesday night on the USA network, it hasn’t been that long for Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek). He’s recovering reasonably well from that gunshot from Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) and is coming to accept the bedevilment of his inner demon, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). Me, I bailed on this show somewhere midway through the last season — too darn slow, too wrapped up in its own self-importance. This, after thinking the first season of Mr. Robot had been so good. Well, the pendulum is swinging back: The third season, based on the four episodes I’ve watched, is strong and exciting and moves the narrative along at an invigorating pace.

Not that I’m going to tell you much about that narrative. Mr. Robot, as conceived by its creator, Sam Esmail (he’s directing all the season’s episodes again), thrives on twists and surprises. What the opening hour showcases most clearly is a certain maturation in Elliot’s thinking. Had you become a little tired of this show’s prating about “Evil Corp” and capitalist corruption? So has Elliot, who now concedes that E Corp is, perhaps, a “necessary evil,” albeit one that “needs to be kept in check.” And so the stakes are set up for the third season: Elliot working to undo some of the chaos he helped set in motion in the previous seasons — “hitting undo,” in the language of the show. Less anarchy, more pragmatism.

Far from being an admission of wayward storytelling, the new direction the show takes opens up more room for new characters, chief among them Bobby Cannavale as a used-car salesman who doubles as a fixer for the Dark Army. With his aviator frames and Ernie Kovacs mustache, Cannavale goes deep into character-actor mode, bringing a lot of welcome grim humor to the show. Another smart move: BD Wong’s Whiterose has been made a series regular.

Bobby Cannavale as Irving in Mr. Robot. (Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network)

It’s fun, in the first few episodes, to see Elliot back to hacking away, manipulating communications systems with speed and purpose. It’s sobering to glance at TV screens scattered within various scenes, playing campaign speeches by Donald Trump, and seeing how the candidate is folded into this season, set during the last election. It’s clever to see the way the famous William Carlos Williams poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” figures into a significant storyline. All in all: Mr. Robot — it’s back to doing all the things it does best.

Mr. Robot airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on USA.

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