This is part of the 5 Favorite Episodes of 2017 Series. Check out the previous entries here. This is the subjective countdown of my favorite episodes that aired in 2017. Articles include SPOILERS.
Last year, Mr. Robot also took the top spot on my list, and I tried really hard to not put it at the top again. I’m trying to be objective and avoid being a fanboy of any particular show, but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. There were lots of episodes I loved this year, but in the end, Mr. Robot’s “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” was the only option for #1.
After all, how could you pick anything else? The entire episode is seamlessly edited as a single shot, Birdman-style, which is a trick that doesn’t work as much as you may think. A lot of times, if can be gimmicky – I didn’t particularly care for the You’re the Worst episode like this last season set at a wedding – but in the hands of Mr. Robot, it was executed to perfection. The episode toggles between interior and exterior sets, tracks through multiple levels of an office building, both inside and outside, and choreographs the chaos of a riot smack dab in the middle of it all.
The sheer level of planning that goes into playing out all of this action in the frame is daunting, even as a viewer. Blocking the immense cast of extras to get everyone where they need to be as the camera flies through and then timing what Elliot and Angela walk into, out of, and through sounds like herding cats through a corn maze. Even just lighting the incredible set pieces must have taken a huge team working around the clock for days.
But all of that work paid off and then some. Looking back, it’s hard to even remember that the episode switches between three different storylines completely organically. First, Elliot attempts to stop Stage 2 of the Dark Army’s plan without being removed from the building by security since he’s been fired. Once he fails and is kicked out, he meets Darlene, who tells him that she’s been working with the FBI and that Angela is not who she seems. Just then a riot breaks out and into ECorp, bringing us to Angela who has to clean up the mess that Elliot has caused and get Stage 2 back on track.
The reason I sum up the story is not to remind you of the story or to fawn over the cat-and-mouse game between Elliot and the Dark Army, but to simply point out the sheer amount of stuff that happens in a single shot. Each storyline physically brings us to the next, reminding us that all of this is happening all at once and heightening the suspense of an already tense situation. The choice to shoot the episode like this isn’t just done to manufacture tension out of nowhere, but the embody the emotions of the story they are already telling, and that’s what makes it work so well.
All of this would have been for nothing if Rami Malek and Portia Doubleday (Elliot and Angela) couldn’t carry an entire episode with a camera directly in front of them. Nearly the entire episode has one of them in a medium shot, facing the audience, using only their faces to reflect what we’re witnessing. You feel their desperation through your television screen as they race against the clock, without a moment to breathe. While cuts can be used to ratchet up the action of a scene, not cutting can be even more effective at keeping up suspense over a long period of time. It keeps us singularly focused on one thing and never gives a second to relax. We’re not sure what might lurk around the next corner, but it feels like there must be something since we’re still watching this single shot, and it’s in those moments of fear and pressure where Malek and Doubleday thrive.
It’s also where the episode soars. These moments examine the world and physical space around the story, taking time to check in on the U.N. vote on China’s annexation of the Congo, take a quiet elevator with violent rioters, follow the protests through the eyes of a reporter, watch Elliot stall for time by crashing a meeting, and to peer over the edge of the building.
More than any other episode of television this season, “eps3.4_runtime-error.r00” is immersive. It transports you to Elliot and Angela’s worlds, existing side-by-side, and gives you the unique chance to experience this crazy series of events through their eyes.