Mr. Robot: “eps1.43xpl0its.wmv” - We are what we fear

Photo via USA Network

Photo via USA Network

BY ALEX MCCOWN

“Many among us find it gratifying to entertain the thought that alienation is to be overcome only by the completeness of alienation, and that alienation completed is not a deprivation but a potency. ..no expression of disaffection from the social existence was ever so desperate as this eagerness to say that authenticity of personal being is achieved through an ultimate isolateness and through the power that this is presumed to bring. The falsities of an alienated reality are rejected in favor of an upward psychopathic mobility to the point of divinity, each one of us a Christ.” — Lionel Trilling, Sincerity And Authenticity


People are people. We’re all mostly the same, as Mobley says during his frantic brainstorm with Mr. Robot and Romero in the van, while Elliot waits helplessly for an elevator to escort him out of Steel Mountain. We all tend toward generalization, because we share fundamental qualities. The fact that humanity is primarily defined through society, not through individuality, is analytically important. Because our identities aren’t created in some secret internal chamber, hidden deep within us. No, they’re created in the space between us and the people who surround us. We’re formed intersubjectively; all the parts of me have been shaped by all the parts of everyone else. Simon and Garfunkel were being disingenuous. I am not a rock. You are not an island.

Photo via USA Network

Photo via USA Network

The question of how we view ourselves vis-a-vis other people drives ”eps1.43xpl0its.wmv,” as our characters all try, in one way or another, to articulate what separates them from everybody else. Elliot does it almost automatically, as he explains why people make the best exploits: Their vulnerabilities are the most easily hacked. Mobley has impulse control; Romero is arrogant; Mr. Robot is insane. Elliot’s—in his mind—are his drug addiction, fear of being outside, and us. “I’m talking to you right now and you don’t exist.” These are weaknesses, which can then be used against against them.

But Elliot is too scared and paranoid to really be aware of it when Tyrell Wellick parrots his own thoughts back at him, taken to their logical conclusion. Regular people are like insects to him—“The life of an ordinary cockroach whose biggest value is to serve me salad,” he opines of the waiter—barely worth the effort it takes to manipulate them. His alienation from the world around him is complete, and his scorn for everyday people has curdled into disgust. Here are Elliot’s own worst tendencies, manifest in human form. Wellick even knows that Elliot was behind the framing of Terry Colby, and doesn’t care. “Revenge. How ordinary,” he sniffs. He leaves our protagonist to his machinations, because for all his jokes about just being another person, Wellick left his humanity behind. He thinks it makes him stronger. And despite Wellick’s hubris (his own exploit), Elliot’s scared he might be right.

Photo via USA Network

Photo via USA Network

Which is what makes Elliot’s dismantling of Bill Harper so upsetting. It’s a necessary step in their plan to gain access to the climate control system, but it’s inhumane. Part of the painfulness stems from seeing Elliot’s flashback immediately preceding the act, the internal resource he draws upon in order to wield that cruelty in service of the mission. But Elliot’s mother’s behavior, knocking her son down and shouting at him, “You’re worthless, you’re nothing,” is leavened by our recognition of her emotions overriding her decency. She’s angry, and volatile, and lashing out. Elliot offers no such excuses. When he stares down Steel Mountain’s tour guide, and flatly proclaims him to be nothing, it’s so upsetting precisely because Elliot has stripped it of any affect. He is directly appealing to Bill’s most vulnerable fear, and by not coating it with the bias of human emotion, he makes it sound like a death sentence. This poor, lonely man didn’t do anything wrong. He just happened to make a useful exploit. Wellick would be proud. 

Speaking of Wellick, he and his wife have their own side adventure this week, a dinner date that culminates in one of the most potent and uneasy scenes the show has offered up yet. Wellick’s wife plays the role of outgoing guest with tactical zeal, lavishing just the amount of attention and interest upon their hosts. This gives Tyrell room to make his play for the right-hand-man position of Evil Corp’s new CTO. And, much more compelling and creepy, he locates the exploit of the CTO’s wife. “How do you not blow your brains out, being married to him?” he asks, before she gets up in a huff, only to be walked in on while on the toilet a moment later. And Tyrell, for all his insecurities, is very good at reading people. They lock eyes, and a minute later, she slowly parts her legs. It’s dark and David Lynchian, and it made for riveting TV.

Around the edges of these two narratives, we get Angela, moving on from Ollie and in to her father’s house. It’s a nice counterbalance to all the portentous stuff happening upstate, and serves to further humanize her. Between the wonderful “fuck you” moment when she leaves Ollie and the avuncular “The kid’s a douchebag” proffered by her loving dad, we get new reasons to like her. It’s a little unclear where they’re going with the Evil Corp insurance story—we don’t need to see her arrive at a literal fork in the road, Mr. Robot, you’re better than that—but it sets up some motivation for Angela to get more involved in the central premise, rather than fret on the sidelines.

Darlene, by contrast, gets the Dark Army rug pulled out from under her, and spends most of the episode flailing about in one state of agitation or another. To be fair, her character is continuing to improve week to week, and Darlene on the defensive, fuming and frantic, is much preferable to smug vainglorious Darlene who treats Elliot like shit. Seeing her suffer a true failure gives us a reason to side with her. More importantly, it gives Elliot a reason to allow her back into his life. He sees that, to her, the important thing isn’t so much that she screwed up, but that she let the rest of them down.

And dealing with the rest of them brings us to the ongoing mystery of Mr. Robot himself. It seems to be the prevailing consensus that Mr. Robot is a figment of Elliot’s imagination, but this episode went out of its way to give us a final scene that potentially scrambles that reading. When they arrive back at the Coney Island headquarters after the successful Steel Mountain operation, Darlene has a very loud, very explicit conversation with Mr. Robot. Not with anyone else, or somehow talking around him: She responds directly to him.

Photo via USA Network

Photo via USA Network

Now, we could certainly continue on the Fight Club interpretation of events, wherein Elliot is also speaking as Mr. Robot, and imagining himself watching from the sidelines as this fight plays out. But I think there’s something stranger going on. Because “we” are there, too; we are Elliot’s unseen, fictitious recipient of his inner monologues. In a very real way, we are being told all of this from Elliot’s point of view, and it’s not yet clear how much we can detach from that perspective. Elliot didn’t remember all his hallucinations, but we do. I think we have some yet-to-be-revealed role to play in all this, still. “Am I his malware?” Elliot asks us, referring to Wellick. Here’s a better question: Are we Elliot’s?

Stray Observations:

  • We didn’t get much of her this week, but Shayla, as always, is a total joy to be around. “What happened?” “...Obamacare.” I’m already way too worried about her abduction. Bad things need to happen to her jailed sexual abuser, and fast. I don’t want to lose her this soon.
  • In his defense, Wellick is totally right about Evil Corp’s new CTO. Wine snobs are insufferable.
  • The climate control company, of course, is named All Dream Software.
  • I was intrigued by the discovery that the Dark Army backed out the agreement long before now. The elusive group has mostly served as a placeholder for “abstract dangerous entity,” but Darlene isn’t about to let this refusal slide.
  • While we’re at it, Darlene had a legit great moment this week. Way to scream and throw things in that library, Darlene.
  • Wellick’s wife unwittingly offers up what appears to be the key to next week’s Shayla-centric adventure: “You just have to take away what they already have.”

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