BY MATTHEW GILES
Reality is supposed to be truth, what is most accurately happening in our lives, but on Mr. Robot, it’s a much more flexible concept.
Mr. Robot has manipulated reality all season. The blurring is obvious in some ways. Elliot constantly references that we exist only to him as his imaginary audience, and the mentions of Evil Corp are clear indications that we see Mr. Robot through Elliot’s point of view. Even the notion that Mr. Robot is a daemon, an operating system that arises whenever Elliot fades to handle non-FSociety endeavors, is blurred to keep us guessing.
But last night’s episode was a turning point, and I am not talking about the massive developments that dotted episode eight — it was the first time the veil was lifted and we glimpsed the real world. We aren’t beholden to Elliot’s interpretations of the action happening around him. We’re able to see what is happening outside of Elliot’s purview, which enables the audience to better judge and interpret the implications of various characters’ statements and actions.
This reveal was evident from the episode’s start. The camera opens wide to show Darlene, on a balcony, with a man in a suit who, from behind, looks shockingly like Elliot. She’s with a hookup, talking about society’s class redefinition and wealth redistribution. “There’s you in the middle somewhere,” he says. “The consummate survivor.”
Today marks the meetup with White Rose, the unknown leader of the Dark Army, the world’s most menacing hacker collective, and Darlene needs some protection, breaking into her boy-toy’s safe (his password is the day and year he graduated Harvard Business School) and stealing his gun.
Esmail indicates the change in perspective through the scene between Angela and Darlene at the ballet class. One wears a black leotard (Darlene) and the other (Angela) a white one, a dichotomy that alludes to the forces pulling Elliot (whom they discuss in the scene).
We assume it’s the first time these two have ever met, that Darlene has some ulterior motive to further ensnare Angela within the Dark Army’s hack, but no: They are longtime friends, having taken ballet together for years and discussing details only intimates would share. Angela talks about waking up as a teenager and taking a two-hour train ride to make a 7 a.m. ballet class. “Silver lining, you get to see moi,” Darlene says.
We are finally seeing the world as it is. When Elliot talks about Krista, deleting the file that contains the hack of her life, he says, “But you have to admit, [Krista’s] just like everyone else. Too afraid to peek over their walls for fear of what they might see.” Esmail is allowing us to peek over the wall and see what happens when Elliot isn’t the world’s sole interpreter.
Though last week’s episode indicated FSociety’s efforts to hack Evil Corp and wipe clean the conglomerate’s tape-based data-backup archive was a bust, Elliot reveals that while mourning Shayla’s death, he has also still been studying AirDream, Steel Mountain’s temperature-control contractor, and monitoring that Raspberry Pi he planted to control Steel Mountain’s temperature facility.
According to Mobley, “Man, these AirDream guys are so dumb, who has all their thermostats phone home the same network?”
The Pi is still online, and, provided the meeting goes well with White Rose, FSociety’s scheme is still very much active. Much hinges on the outcome of this rendezvous, and while Elliot believes any member of FSociety will be tapped, it’s clear to all parties that Elliot is the group’s linchpin.
On the subway, approached by two ominous (and completely obvious) Dark Army lackeys, Darlene is instructed, “Tell him to follow the proper commands, and the sequence will initiate.”
Shifting from Coney Island to Manhattan’s boardrooms, it is still unclear whether Tyrell did indeed murder Sharon Knowles, or if her death was a hallucination. The camera crowds Tyrell’s face, flooding the frame with an extreme close-up that has the dual purpose of indicating his paranoia as well as an impending breakdown. He hears co-workers’ whispers, but we aren’t sure that those also aren’t hallucinations. In an episode where the curtain is pulled back around Elliot’s world, the storytelling surrounding Tyrell has shifted where all we view is from his perspective, and the cinematography signals that shift.
The scene also marks an American Psycho motif running throughout Tyrell’s scenes this episode. His interactions with the secretary, the pleasantness of the detectives at his house, his interior alarm but aloof façade when he is told the body found on the roof is the wife of Evil Corp’s new CTO.
While Tyrell is quietly imploding, Gideon, Elliot’s boss at Allsafe, visits. He alerts Tyrell that because Angela broke the chain of custody, Terry Colby’s case will likely be dropped, but he has personally secured the networks and installed a honeypot on the one of the servers, CS30, to catch the hackers (provided they are still in the network, and thanks to Darlene’s root kit, they are).
A honeypot sounds innocent, but it is a trap designed to detect unauthorized intrusion. Gideon’s plan is to make FSociety think they are hacking the main server, but the data will be worthless and leave the group open to intrusion. Even though Gideon is an Evil Corp contractor, Tyrell is alarmed, which fuels the theory of his connection to FSociety. He wants to know why Gideon thought to install a honeypot and then investigates himself, attempting access that is granted in snippets.
Tyrell clearly didn’t plan for the honeypot, his judgment clouded after weeks of corporate maneuvering, and Allsafe’s actions caught him off-guard. Before he can instruct Gideon to further explain the anti-hacking measures, Allsafe itself is hacked, though it’s clear to Elliot the hack is a feint. “This hack is far from devastating,” he says. “They’re already on us. They’re not going for anything valuable. This is more of a distraction.”
When Ollie pulls rank and instructs Elliot to deliver some damaged files to a disk-repair shop, a trip a member of Allsafe’s IT department should take (not one of the company’s best cybersecurity technicians), we realize the “shitstorm” Cisco alluded to in last week’s episode. The Dark Army needed an excuse to get Elliot to one of their safe facilities, and Ollie was again a dupe.
This leads to the season’s first truly outstanding plot twist, and the best cameo appearance of any show in months. Elliot enters a faraday room, designed to block Wi-Fi, radio transmissions, and signals, and finally is face-to-face with White Rose, played by B.D. Wong in a casting reminiscent of his role as Song Liling during the late-1980s Broadway run of M. Butterfly. “Are you just going to stand there, or are you going to hand me those drives?” White Rose tells Elliot.
White Rose is obsessed with time — more specifically, the effect of time on the Dark Army leader’s day-to-day — and Elliot is given three minutes to explain why the hacking collective should still merge with FSociety for the Steel Mountain plan. During the conversation, it becomes clear that the CD infected with malware that Angela unleashed on Allsafe’s network wasn’t part of FSociety’s plan. The Dark Army was doing due diligence, investigating whether phase one of FSociety’s hack raised any lingering and potentially catastrophic red flags, which led to the discovery of the honeypot.
“It was you who failed all along,” says White Rose. “What you’ve lacked was focus. You strayed from the hack to target Terry Colby. This opened a vulnerability, suspicion, specifically by Gideon Goddard.”
Unless Elliot removes the honeypot, White Rose and the Dark Army will move on, and Elliot only has 50 hours and 23 minutes to ensure the plan continues. The introduction of White Rose is one of Mr. Robot’s most compelling and interesting subplots. The leader has been alluded to for much of the season, but when Wong slides into the faraday room, begins disassembling those drives, smokes a cigarette, and checks his watch so casually that you forget the legendary hacker is obsessed with time, it is a masterful scene. According to White Rose:
“Every hacker has their fixation. You hack people, I hack time, so you should know, when I set a timeline there’s a reason. You have 50 hours and 23 minutes; at that point when all parties are ready, we’ll initiate the hack.”
Elliot smoothly removes the honeypot, instructing Darlene to distract Allsafe with an FSociety video aimed at the company, and breaks into Gideon’s account, bypassing the two-step authentication process. But, similar to Tyrell, the cinematography indicates that a breakdown is imminent. The camera crowds his face. His façade — breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience as his imaginary friend — is slipping:
“Do you know more than me? That wouldn’t be fair. My imaginary friend knowing more than me. Sometimes it is hard to listen to an explanation, even when it is from myself. Especially when it is from myself. It would be so much easier to only pay attention when I needed to just … arrive at the conclusion. Is that what you do?”
What follows next is the episode’s three other twists, both as shocking as White Rose’s arrival. Tyrell and Mr. Robot know each other, and potentially aligned with FSociety plans; Darlene is Elliot’s sister; and Mr. Robot is a member of Elliot’s family.
Let’s unpack the first twist. Mr. Robot’s appearance in connection with Tyrell opens up so many more loopholes. Does this confirm Tyrell, like Mr. Robot, may be another personality and daemon of Elliot? We assume Tyrell is real, but he could be just another façade for the complex and winding character that is Elliot. Perhaps these are two daemons of Elliot’s meeting, discussing the next steps for Steel Mountain and Evil Corp.
Tyrell mentions that he knows damaging information about Mr. Robot, which he could reveal at any time, and Mr. Robot interjects: That sort of scoop won’t help anyone, so it is better to keep quiet. “There are people close to you who wouldn’t be happy if they knew what I know,” he warns.Does that mean he’ll unveil that Mr. Robot is a part of Elliot, a façade in his complex personality?
Or it could mean that Mr. Robot, despite all evidence, is actually real. Many have assumed that if Mr. Robot isn't imaginary, he's Elliot’s father, and the final scene — Elliot finding a photo of his family with Mr. Robot posing with his mother, and Mr. Robot suddenly knocking at his door, saying, “I think we should talk” — would confirm that theory.
I am undecided whether Mr. Robot is actually Elliot’s father. Tyrell has mentioned his father’s passing, noting it is a matter of public record, and Angela referenced the death during the barbecue at Gideon’s apartment. If his passing was a ruse, or if Elliot somehow forgot the death (and then imagined the statements from Tyrell and Angela), that would seem far too messy a plot for a show as intricately conceived as Mr. Robot. But there have been countless clues that our point of view and knowledge are skewed, since we are forced to rely on Elliot to narrate, so it’s possible that Elliot’s father didn’t die and Elliot’s recollections are tainted.
However, when Elliot finds the unlabeled CD in his booklet (a quick aside: I loved that Krista’s CD was labeled as a Talking Heads record), he is confronted with hundreds of photos of Mr. Robot, both alone and with Elliot, so there is a familial connection. Perhaps Mr. Robot is Elliot’s stepfather. Either way, the options for what could happen during the show’s final two episodes are limitless.
The more brutal twist was the reveal that Darlene is Elliot’s sister. After he informs her that the Steel Mountain plan will go off in less than two days, she’s elated. “‘Be happy — you did this. Just like that, you’re going to change the world,” she tells him. “I would love to take credit on this … you are seriously the best person I know. I love you so much.”
As he leans in to kiss Darlene, she recoils, angrily rebuking him until she realizes what has happened. “Did you forget who I am?” she asks him, tears brimming. Rami Malek has emerged as one of the most exciting actors working at the moment, and his portrayal of Elliot during this twist is fantastic. The way his eyes shift back and forth, how he tries to laugh it off. He knows who she is — you’re Darlene! The way he reacts when the realization hits him that she is his sister is staggering.
Darlene is the little girl during episode four’s detox hallucinations, the one signing "Frère Jacques" and encouraging him to seek out his monster. And this revelation is also why I have trouble believing that Mr. Robot is Elliot’s father. We now know (or at least think we know) Darlene’s motivation for the hacks — if she is Elliot’s sister, she would also want to avenge her father’s death. If he didn’t die, though, what’s her rationale then?
As Esmail has demonstrated throughout this first season, reality isn’t always accurate. This is abundantly clear in the 21st century: There is a distinction between online reality and IRL, and what appears real in both spheres might also be untrue. Think of catfishing, online scams, Ponzi schemes, and all the other machinations that exist in our dual worlds. This theme has been central to Mr. Robot, and this episode in particular was evidence that even when the truth is plainly presented and without bias, it’s still difficult to know the truth.
I didn’t mention Joanna, but I can’t wait to learn more about how she intends to maneuver past the police. If she can stab herself with a pickle fork to induce labor, she would be willing to do anything to ensure her family’s survival.
When Elliot smashes the camera, I thought that was a neat way to even more firmly acknowledge the fourth wall and explicitly show the changing viewpoint.
Is Elliot’s name even Elliot? If he wiped himself from the internet, removing all traces of his history, might he be another person altogether? The Elliot we know might be someone else, and he has created this backstory as a way to easily explain his actions. We know Elliot was arrested and assumed his visitations with Krista were a condition of his parole, but I have to believe the arrest was accompanied by a psychotic episode. That would also explain, during the detox hallucinations, Angela’s comment about Elliot “only being born a month ago.” He might have been establishing this personality for some time, but putting the pieces together only began recently. Considering the discovery of his erased life on that CD, just another thought.
Again, I am still collecting my thoughts about what role Mr. Robot plays within Elliot’s family (if any), but there have been extremely subtle hints. Last episode, Romero tells Mr. Robot to “say hi to the kids.” At the time, it was assumed he meant FSociety, since all of its members are in their 20s, but perhaps he was alluding to something else. Also, when Darlene nearly initiates the Steel Mountain tape-burn, it sounds like she yells, “Dad!” to Mr. Robot (it also sounded like "God," but this show invites conspiracy theories like no other outside of Lost).