BY ALEX MCCOWN
Just when Elliot thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. In a scene that plays like a quickie version of the “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage in Spider-Man 2, our troubled protagonist thinks that FSociety is over. He makes new plans, to “lead a bug-free life.” He agrees to attend Gideon’s dinner party. He even decides to ask Shayla to be his girlfriend, a feat that seemed beyond the pale until now. Gideon sums it up nicely, leaning out the door to watch Elliot walk away—then asking his secretary, “Was he drinking Starbucks?”
And then it’s revealed Colby knowingly allowed Elliot’s father to be exposed to toxic waste, leading to his leukemia and eventual death. And it all goes to hell.
Elliot is the Alpha and Omega of Mr. Robot. Sure, watching the other characters and subplots can be fun, but as the recipient of our hero’s unreliable narration, the audience’s investment in the show lives or dies with his emotional journey. And this week’s arc exposed the depth of his desire to live life as a regular person, his unrelenting longing a perpetual desire for belonging. Let’s rewind, briefly: While episode one introduced us to Elliot, his mental state, his fragile physicality, his self-medication, and his anxieties, episode two filled in the backstory. The knowledge of how his father died, and his own ambivalent feelings of complicity and resentment, have created a void within him. More specifically, those feelings have created a void he dove deep within, retreating from physical connection and maintaining a suspicious distance from everyone, safe inside his own head. (Sure, it’s a little odd that he can be cool with the odd sexual encounter and flinch at the thought of a handshake, but let’s chalk that up to the drug use, for now.) Elliot lives inside a world of his own making, and the pull of that secure bubble scares him, drives him out into the world.
Which is where his anxieties really manifest. Is Mr. Robot real? This is obviously a question the show is going to have some fun with for awhile. Christian Slater’s performance leans hard on his charismatic wiseass persona, but it works quite well for this character, especially if it turns out to be a figment of Elliot’s imagination. Today’s trip to the bar did nothing to quell this suspicion, as Robot’s florid pronouncements there (as well as his painfully loud comments at AllSafe) go unremarked upon, lending credence to the notion that Elliot is imagining his mysterious interlocutor. Thus far, this show is like a cross between Fight Club andEnemy Of The State, with a healthy dollop of the first act of V For Vendetta thrown in for good measure. If Mr. Robot is Elliot’s Tyler Durden—and let’s be honest, his “wipe out the debt” plan is basically exactly that—I can only imagine what lengths the series will go to to keep that up in the air.
Unfortunately, Darlene is all too real. Maybe this is a specialty of actress Carly Chaikin, who has excelled at playing über-obnoxious young women in the past (Suburgatory, In A World...), but every time her hacker alter ego stomps into frame, it makes me itchy. She’s like the jock dudebro role in every frat comedy, who you just wish would stop being so boorish and self-centered. (“The ‘Stifler’ of this show,” I wrote down.) I was relieved last week, when Elliot tuned out while listening to her, and I was even happier this week when, upon finding her in his apartment, he interrupted her presumptuous attitude with a simple, “Get out.” Here’s hoping her self-professed lack of social graces at least develops into an awareness that she shouldn’t be such an asshole to Elliot.
Speaking of jerks, “Eps1.2d3bug.mkv” gave us a much better glimpse into just who Tyrell Wellick is. I’m not loving the decision to make “closeted gay man” a part of his makeup, as it feels like a tired throwback to an ’80s thriller, where “secret homosexual” was a sign of a moral as well as sexual deviant. Instead, I’m hoping his sexuality is purely a tool, like Cersei on Game Of Thrones—he does sleep with Anwar just to slip a bug into his phone, after all—and that Tyrell’s polymorphous ways simply telegraph his willingness to be (or do) anyone in the service of his goals.
The reveal of his pregnant wife, and her physical appetites, at least added some gender parity to the situation, and made his home life intriguing. He insists, before heading out, “Us… is me,” but he’s clearly not as in charge as he professes to be. The opening montage, showing Tyrell slapping himself around in preparation for his big (canceled) meeting, was also a nice touch, revealing the tightly wound, stressed-out, insecure man at the heart of the manipulative corporate exec. His “coming on too strong” manner with Elliot last week showed Tyrell’s not nearly as clever as he thinks he is in the business world, either; the opening minutes were very American Psycho, especially once he pays a homeless man for the privilege of beating the shit out of him.
On the less creepy side, two welcome developments occurred this week: Angela started to be fleshed out as an actual human person, and Ollie found his conscience, at least to a degree. Confessing to Angela the whole situation with his affair and the blackmailer is the first non-douchey thing he’s done. Even more interesting, her first instinct was to do exactly what their mysterious hacker wants—load the CD into a work computer and infect it with the virus. For someone who’s been consistently portrayed as “too good for this world” (to quote Ollie), watching her buckle immediately under the threat felt very human, and very real. It was endearing.
Not as endearing as Shayla, of course. Frances Shaw is absolutely killing it in this role, playing the character as a streetwise but damaged hustler, who nevertheless is believably attracted to Elliot. The scene where she shows him her artwork was smartly shot, cutting between Elliot’s sudden realization that Shayla is simply “wanting normalcy, just like me,” and the reveal that her vulnerability was accepted by him, making their kiss both inevitable and understandable. I’m rooting for them, even if achieving this intimacy so early on doesn’t bode well for two people in a series about a massive corporate conspiracy and a computer genius with a fractured psyche.
Even though it didn’t end with an amazing and unexpected twist of the sort that closed out last episode, it feels like Mr. Robot is moving forward. This was definitely a “setting the table” episode, working through Elliot’s emotions and getting us more invested in his life so that, when the time comes for shit to go down, we’ll care. Plan-wise, I can only assume we’re about to launch into the strategy Elliot explained previously—a way to take down Steel Mountain without killing anyone—but character-wise, we’re in much richer territory now. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a bug? To be a mistake to fix, to help you move forward, and be the best ”you” you can be?
- Welcome to the weekly reviews of Mr. Robot! Enough people were liking what this show was offering up (myself included), so here it is. I’m not normally one for hyperbole, but this series has really impressed me thus far with its ability to take some fairly hack material (massive corporate conspiracy, antisocial antihero, etc.) and give it just a half-twist until it becomes quite clever and relevant. I look forward to your comments, discussions, and theories about just how real this whole situation actually is.
- To wit, since I didn’t get the chance to weigh in on the first two episodes: Elliot’s rants against capitalist culture have enough heft to feel worthwhile, and the look of the show manages some beautiful moments. Nothing this week had the elegance of last week’s opening credits, but director Jim McKay did some great work with that final tracking shot through the computers at the Coney Island hideout. Feel free to call out any of the other great shots below—Tyrell’s opening mirror scene was near-flawless, for example.
- “Shit—I’m gonna have to let him hug me, aren’t I?” Gideon’s scenes with Elliot are oddly affecting, even if, as he reveals at tonight’s close, he still doesn’t trust our boy.
- Ouch, that flashback with Elliot’s Mom. That’s a cold lesson to teach your son.
- I liked the “debugging” metaphor, even though they hit it awfully hard tonight. I’m curious what you all thought of it; how are you liking the allegorical structure Sam Esmail is weaving into each episode?