BY MICHAEL WAUGH
Mr. Robot has been the biggest and most talked-about TV surprise of 2015 so far. It’s provided the most gripping, innovative and genuinely crazy narrative and characters on television this year, and its brilliance has made up for the disappointments of similar-length dramas such as True Detective Season Two. It’s so good, in fact, that a second season was ordered before the show even aired.
While its audience remains fairly small, this is a show that will only grow through word of mouth. It is too good to be ignored, and its many enigmatic elements are enough to keep fan theories flowing for a long, long time. In anticipation of next week’s finale, which was postponed due to its similarity to tragic real life events this week, now seems like a good time to take a moment to breathe and reflect on the chaotic rollercoaster ride of the series’ nine episodes to date. There was so much to take in.
This is a show that specialises in unexpected twists, insane set-pieces and eye-widening epiphanies. 11 of the most shocking moments from season one are documented here, from rooftop asphyxiation, to morphine-induced hallucinations, to episode nine’s jaw-dropping revelation: the true identity of Mr. Robot.
11. Anonymous Videos
Some of Mr. Robot’s craziest moments come in the form of the threatening videos that hacktivist group fsociety send to various corporations and companies across the course of the season. Clearly inspired by, and perhaps even a homage to, Anonymous’ famous real life videos, these clips comprise a mysterious figure wearing a tuxedo, top hat, cane and moustachioed mask (while it’s clearly supposed to be the Monopoly man, the face is elongated so that it evokes the trademark Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask) issuing mission statements regarding the aims of the group and making demands of its victims.
The voices are, as you might expect, heavily distorted to further conceal the identity of the person behind the mask. At the conclusion of each clip, the group’s symbol (again, a sketch of the mask in reference to Anonymous’ logo) flashes up onscreen. It has become one of the show’s most iconic images.
These clips are truly surreal, lending the show an otherworldly edge, despite being based on the real world actions of an actual hacktivist group.
10. Did You Enjoy The View?
This is definitely not the last time that power hungry Tyrell Wellick pops up on this list. Set up throughout as the villain of the piece, with actions that make him appear genuinely evil, there is a strangely compelling edge to him that suggests that everything is not being made explicit about his character. He’s a bit of mystery, although the conclusion of episode nine suggests that a lot is about to be revealed.
One of his creepiest moments occurs when he is trying to seduce Sharon, who is the wife of Scott Knowles – Tyrell’s rival for the role of E Corp CTO. After she rejects his advances, voicing her disapproval of his mocking remarks about her husband, Tyrell follows Sharon upstairs to the bathroom.
Sharon is sitting urinating when the schemer walks in and stares at her. Initially stunned, Sharon eventually succumbs to the game of chicken and spreads her legs for him. Tyrell believes he’s conquered her… Until, that is, Scott challenges him on the incident several days later, asking if Tyrell enjoyed the view. Sharon had told him everything.
9. Confessing To Krista
Some of the most intriguing scenes in Mr. Robot’s early episodes involved Elliot talking to his psychiatrist, Krista. From the beginning it is apparent that Elliot is mentally unstable, and that he hallucinates and disappears into his own world on a regular basis (making constant references to his imaginary friend, the viewer). As such, any opportunity to learn more about his thoughts is absolutely welcome.
One thing that also emerges from these encounters is that Elliot secretly hacks Krista in order to find out about her life, as he does with everyone he meets. He claims to do it because he cares, wanting to find out about her problems and help to fix them. In episode seven, in an incredibly heart-stopping scene, he finally confesses this to her. It’s the only scene in which the hacker really attempts to take responsibility for the repercussions and invasion of privacy that are the side-effects of his attempts to help his friends.
The entire sequence is totally tense. Krista, who has tried unsuccessfully to learn about what makes her client tick for a long time, suddenly discovers that he knows more about her than she could ever understand about him. He tells her that he has spied on everything from her familial relationships, to her failing attempts at dating, to her favourite types of porn. He knows her weaknesses, her darkest secrets. She sits there in stunned silence, tears welling up in her eyes, as Elliot explains that hacking others is his only escape from feeling alone.
It’s a devastating piece of television.
“What is fsociety?” That was the question that dominated the show’s pilot episode. When he manages to halt an attack on the servers of his employer Allsafe, Elliot discovers and secures a hidden .dat file named fsociety. Yet the file is accompanied by a message demanding that he shouldn’t delete it. Elliot, intrigued, leaves it there.
In this single decision, everything begins to come together. Elliot is introduced to the shadowy Mr. Robot and his group, fsociety, which turns out to be a hacktivist group determined to take down the all-powerful corporation E Corp.
It may seem like a small detail, but that moment when “fsociety” showed up Allsafe’s servers was the show’s first real revelatory moment: a word from which many mysteries and stories developed.
7. She Was With You The Whole Time
One difficult technique that Mr. Robot manages to pull off impressively is balancing the main plots (Elliot’s induction into fsociety and Tyrell’s quest for power) with side stories that reveal further elements of each character’s personality. The strongest of these involved Elliot’s relationship with Shayla, his (eventual) girlfriend and drug supplier.
Shayla is bullied by her dealer, Fernando Vera, who (as well as looking bizarrely like a young John Turturro) rapes her and reminds Elliot that he owns her. Elliot hacks him, getting Vera arrested for dealing both arms and drugs, but the dealer quickly finds out that it was him.
Holding Shayla captive, Vera threatens to kill her if Elliot doesn’t help him to escape. In a genuinely tense episode, Elliot must hack the prison’s security system and set Vera free so he can be told where Shayla is.
Vera’s last words to Elliot before disappearing are gut-wrenching. “She was with you the whole time”. As he runs away, Elliot opens the trunk of the car he’s been sitting in and finds Shayla, her throat cut.
6. Beating Up A Homeless Man
While it’s fairly clear from the start that Tyrell is a dangerous individual, cold of heart but brilliant of mind, the true extent of his psychotic nature isn’t revealed until the third episode. Raging from the confirmation that he isn’t being promoted to the position of CTO, Tyrell instructs his driver to lead him to a subway where a homeless man is rummaging around.
Tyrell gives him a wad of cash, which momentarily seems bizarrely generous. Has the viewer got him all wrong? Is he charitable? Does he use a “homeless network” for information like Sherlock Holmes?
Nothing of the sort. Slowly pulling on clear plastic gloves, Tyrell smashes his fist into the homeless man’s face. He proceeds to beat him senseless, kicking his twitching body as it writhes on the floor. He then walks away, leaving the money behind.
Now it’s about as clear as is possible that Tyrell is a sick man who pays to take his frustrations out on the homeless.
5. Commit To The Sacred Pact
The biggest mystery of the show is undoubtedly the identity of Mr. Robot, a man who by turns torments and comforts Elliot throughout the course of the series. All sorts of theories emerged as to who he might be (and more on them later!) but one of his most insane early scenes comes in the second episode, and involves a heart-to-heart chat with Elliot while sitting on the wall of a pier.
Elliot has drifted from wanting to join fsociety to rejecting them and back again. Mr. Robot isn’t very happy about his apparent inability to make up his mind, and demands that he prove his loyalty to the cause if he really wants to be back on the team. The condition? He has to openly and honestly talk about the death of his father. Mr. Robot wants to know exactly what happened and how it made/makes Elliot feel.
Elliot explains that his father spent a long time suffering from leukaemia, and that only his son knew. He had made his son promise never to tell anyone. This is, of course, a huge responsibility to force on a child, and Elliot admits that eventually he confessed to his mother that his father was unwell. His father never forgave him (pushing his son out of a window and breaking his arm), right up until the day he died. It’s something that has haunted Elliot ever since.
Mr. Robot places his hand on his shoulder, before doing exactly what no-one expected. He mercilessly shoves Elliot off the pier, disapprovingly saying that he “didn’t commit to the sacred pact” he’d made with his father – the implication being that he can’t be trusted to remain loyal to fsociety. The screen fades to black as the episode ends.
4. Bad Trip
Mr. Robot may be full of weird moments, but it’s definitely the show’s fourth episode that provided the biggest mindf*ck of the season so far. Determined to kick his morphine habit, Elliot tries to head out on an fsociety mission while going cold turkey. As you’d expect, it doesn’t really work and he finds himself throwing up and blacking out. He begs Mr. Robot for a hit to keep him going, and that moment the entire episode begins to unravel.
In one of the bravest TV moments of recent times, the show put its central narrative to the side and experimentally focused on Elliot’s mind. It’s not immediately clear that Elliot is hallucinating, which makes the extensive chaotic scenes that follow temporarily mind-boggling. In what seems to be simultaneously a nod to David Lynch and a reference to Trainspotting, Elliot has numerous dreamlike visions where the various aspects of his life crash into one another in bizarre and often creepy ways.
His fish Qwerty chats to him, before being eaten by Angela in a restaurant that also happens to be their workplace. He is goaded into wearing the fsociety mask on camera by the mysterious video maker. He marries Angela. He tries to return to his childhood but is halted by a 404: Error message. He finds a key but no lock. The whole sequence is shot in a way which uses the medium as the message, with the screen bursting into static at times and warping constantly, as if the viewer is experiencing the same hallucinations as the character.
This was arguably the moment where the hints that the show was likely to be more than just an exciting series about hacktivism were finally realised. Mr. Robot is something genuinely innovative: a series unafraid to use abstract techniques and study the deepest thoughts of its characters.
3. Murder On The Roof
The moment when Tyrell’s merciless pursuit of power reached its inevitable conclusion. Sharon, having seemingly won the battle of wits with him after confiding in her husband about Tyrell’s bathroom ogling, meets the businessman on the roof. They begin to kiss, with Tyrell’s seduction having finally worked. The blackmail of Scott Knowles can begin.
Or not, as it turns out. Tyrell, increasingly unable to control his anger, climbs on top of Sharon and places his hands around her throat. A painfully slow murder scene plays out, soundtracked by FKA twigs’ amazing Two Weeks, as Tyrell strangles the woman to death.
He gets to his feet, shock playing on his face. It will soon emerge that the elation he felt from killing Sharon far outweighed the fact that it messed up his promotional plans. Tyrell is no longer just crazy – he’s officially deadly.
2. You’re My Sister
The final two entries on the list provided the show’s two central mysteries, and led to large fan speculation about who each character actually is in the narrative. Elliot’s mental instability, the sneakiness of those around him and the unconnected dots generated many theories, and intriguingly the show answered each of them in episodes eight and nine – leaving the finale to stand on its own, separate from those other enigmas.
The first, and one that had arguably been pretty well hidden (with the clues being fairly subtle), was the revelation at the end of episode eight that fellow fsociety member Darlene is a lot closer to Elliot that he had originally thought. She tells him she loves him, and he kisses her. Revolted, she pulls away and demands that he remembers who she is. “I’m your…” “…Sister. You’re my sister!” he realises, suddenly. Given that he clearly had no idea, it is shocking for the viewer. What? His sister? How could he not know? How does he know now?!
Elliot’s mind begins to unravel, and he rushes home. Both Elliot and the audience are deeply confused. Why can’t he remember any of his life? He searches through his files for something about himself, and he finds an unmarked CD. Loading it reveals hundreds of pictures of Elliot as a child with his apparently deceased father… Who is Mr. Robot.
Suddenly there’s a knock at the door. It’s Mr. Robot. “We need to talk”, he admits, as the episode concludes.
Genuinely mind-blowing stuff. Is Darlene actually Elliot’s sister? Is Mr. Robot Elliot’s father? Isn’t Elliot’s father dead? Why doesn’t he remember any of this? Episode nine couldn’t arrive quickly enough…
1. This Is Happening, Isn’t It? You Knew All Along, Didn’t You?
In episode nine, the latest episode to date, all is revealed. Mr. Robot is indeed Elliot’s father. In a flashback, he is shown to be a man that loves his son and tries to bring him up in the right way. In the present, Elliot demands answers. Why wasn’t he told? How did he forget? What is going on? His father agrees to show him everything, but confirms that they must be careful. People are watching them. People have been drugging Elliot to make them forget about his past. People don’t want Elliot and his father to team up.
They return to Elliot’s childhood home, and in a rush of blood Elliot shoves his father through the same window that he had been pushed out of in his youth. Meanwhile, his sister Darlene and friend Angela are searching for him. They’re worried that he’s going off the rails.
The injured Mr. Robot leads his son to a cemetery, and tells him that he’ll never leave him again. He says that no-one can force them to be apart. As Mr. Robot collapses to the ground, Darlene and Angela arrive and demand to know: “who are you talking to?” The show is self-conscious enough to know that many fans have already worked out what is going on. Elliot speaks to his imaginary friend, the viewer, and realises “This is happening, isn’t it? You knew all along, didn’t you?” He glances down, and Mr. Robot isn’t there. Instead, there is a grave marked with his father’s name.
Elliot had invented Mr. Robot as a way of dealing with his repressed sadness about his father, and as a way of justifying his own actions with fsociety. What is exceptional about the scene isn’t the revelation itself (there were many clues in the show), but the way in which Elliot himself works it out. It may not be a shock to the viewer, but there is no doubt that it’s a shock to the lead character.
The episode concludes with the enlightened Elliot and the fired Tyrell joining forces in fsociety. Who knows what could happen in this crazy show’s finale?!