BY KALI O'ROURKE
Like Mr. Robot’s pilot, “Ones and Zeroes” is at its most interesting when it’s not dealing with Mr. Robot’s (Christian Slater) hackers – F Society – and plot to take down Evil Corp. I’m not sure how good that is for the show going forward, especially if Elliot (Rami Malek) is going to more involved in the operation from here on out.
But the last five minutes and the way Mr. Robot’s “ones and zeroes” speech resonates as Elliot goes through his life give me hope that the Mr. Robot side of things will step up in the coming weeks.
The summary for “Ones and Zeroes” on my DVR talks about how Elliot has to choose between Evil Corp’s job offer and working with Mr. Robot, but really, it’s about Elliot choosing whether to act or not, whether to help Mr. Robot or not.
It’s a theme that echoes throughout the episode, and while the episode takes a while to get there, once it makes the connections clear, it’s effective. After Elliot gets cold feet about Mr. Robot’s operation – understandable, given that the hacking group is going to blow up a gas pipeline and possibly kill people – Mr. Robot asks him if he’s “a one or a zero…a yes or a no.” According to Mr. Robot, you’re either a person who acts, someone who puts up with whatever life throws at them, or a person who doesn’t.
Elliot counters by saying “life’s not that binary,” and I’m inclined to agree with him. Obviously, there are legitimate reasons for Elliot not to help. Besides the whole illegal thing, Elliot is being followed by men in suits – probably the Evil Corp people we saw at the beginning of the episode, but it’s not clear – and all he wants to do is go back to the life he had before. But Mr. Robot’s words stick, pushing Elliot closer into doing what F Society wants.
In the main non-Mr. Robot-related plot, Elliot decides to take more drugs than he normally does – and without his withdrawal meds – which his drug dealer, Shayla (Frances Shaw) initially has qualms about.
In fact, her objection to handing Elliot more morphine without the withdrawal drug is the most I’ve liked her so far; though, admittedly, she didn’t have much of a presence in the pilot. In spite of her dubious career, Shayla clearly has rules and cares about Elliot. Of course, she does end up giving him the morphine he asked for, but she tries to get him not to take it all at once.
The fact that he doesn’t do that is more on him than on her, and plus, she has other problems – namely, her drug supplier, Fernando (Elliot Villar), who ends up raping her by the end of “Ones and Zeroes.” This is where Mr. Robot’s “ones and zeroes” speech comes back into play because Elliot has a choice in this situation. Since he’s hacked Fernando, Elliot can turn him in and get him away from Shayla. But that would mean giving up his drugs since Fernando is the only one who can get the withdrawal meds Elliot needs.
It’s not a black and white situation, not a binary, which is why I lend more credence to Elliot’s side of the “ones and zeroes” argument, but thanks to Mr. Robot, Elliot begins to see it as a binary situation. He has a choice to make, and really, if he can go cold-turkey, as he thinks he can, why not turn Fernando in? Of course, I’m pretty sure going cold-turkey is going to be harder for Elliot than he thinks – and if his therapy session where his therapist calls him out on his abnormal behavior and he yells at her is any indication, I’m right.
Ultimately, Elliot chooses to turn Fernando in and also chooses to return to Mr. Robot, to help with the plot against Evil Corp – but with a little less death. I was honestly surprised when Mr. Robot didn’t immediately take him back. Although I knew that Mr. Robot told Elliot he couldn’t walk out the door and still be welcomed into the fold, I obviously didn’t believe he meant it, probably because Mr. Robot clearly wants Elliot for something.
So the last scene was a bit of a mindbender. Especially when Mr. Robot pushed Elliot off the pier. Now, here, I’m also inclined to agree with Elliot about his father breaking his arm. Of course, Elliot didn’t deserve to have his arm broken. He was a scared little kid. But Mr. Robot thinks otherwise, that Elliot broke his father’s trust. Just like he broke Mr. Robot’s, and for that, he has to pay. It’s kind of a terrible philosophy, but it’s the most interesting Mr. Robot’s been thus far.
With Elliot and Mr. Robot’s priorities and ways of looking at life colliding, I’m sure that something big is going to happen. And from the promo, it mostly seems like that something is going to be Elliot’s life falling apart. That sucks for him, obviously, but it should be great TV.
- I know that it’s important that Elliot isn’t swayed by the millions of dollars promised by the job at Evil Corp, but I’m pretty sure I would have taken that job.
- The “Mr. X” joke reminded me more of The X-Files than JFK. Probably this has to do with the fact that, like Elliot, I haven’t seen JFK, so Elliot’s handler would also be embarrassed by me.
- Frances Shaw and Carly Chaikin must look a lot alike because I originally thought it was Shayla in Elliot’s shower rather than Darlene. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t Shayla because that made more sense and also because this gave Darlene the opportunity to prove herself an interesting character in this episode.