BY KALI O'ROURKE
There’s something still not clicking for me about Mr. Robot, and I’m not sure what it is. The show is good, sure. It’s slick, it goes through the right motions, it has a strong message behind it – but I’m not sure how much I care.
Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) is still enigmatic, Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallström) – whom we get a peek inside tonight – remains terrifying, and the only two people I really care about are Elliot (Rami Malek) and Shayla (Frances Shaw). But is that a problem? The show is keeping me engaged – though barely – so does it matter how much I care about these characters?
I would still like to say that yes, it does matter, and it seems like “Debug” also makes that case for me in the end when the thing that pushes Elliot into re-joining F Society – his bug, as the episode makes clear – is his father’s death. Giving Elliot a personal stake in F Society’s mission is a good choice not only because it gives us a reason to care about whether or not F Society succeeds but also because it ensures Elliot can’t turn his back on these people, no matter what.
Mr. Robot again takes its time building to this point, and I couldn’t help but think how much tighter the story-telling would be in a movie. But there, we would lose a lot of the tone and atmosphere that keeps the show appealing.
The two main sequences I liked best were actually surprises on a technical level, rather than a character or story one. First, the montage of Elliot’s “normal” life of liking Instagram posts and drinking Starbucks was something the show hasn’t done before and was simultaneously very funny because it’s hard to imagine Elliot doing those things. Indeed, his boss doesn’t believe it, asking his secretary, “Was he drinking Starbucks?”
Second, “Debug” opens with Wellick’s stream of consciousness rather than Elliot’s. It’s a shock after two weeks of living in Elliot, but I liked it, even if we what we found out was that Wellick likes to pay to beat up homeless people after a hard day at the office.
Even though he hasn’t been featured much so far, it’s clear that Wellick is being set up as a foil to Elliot. While they are similar in some ways – as highlighted through their conversation in the pilot – Wellick is ambitious, gregarious, violent where Elliot is not. But they do use similar tactics, like finding people’s bugs, to get what they want from others. With Elliot joining F Society and Wellick firmly on the side of E Corp, I expect this conflict to come to a head at some point this season.
Returning to the concept of people’s “bugs,” I didn’t find this as effective thematically as “ones and zeroes” last week. Probably because finding and exploiting people’s bugs – aka weaknesses or at the least things that people feel they need to hide – is typically pretty morally despicable. Though “Debug” toes the line or whether it’s all that bad.
- Ollie’s (Ben Rappaport) bug is his side-fling, and while it’s bad for him when the relationship comes out, it causes Angela (Portia Doubleday) to dump him – at least initially – which is something Elliot wants.
- Angela’s bug is either that she’s too good – according to Ollie and the fact that she returned a wallet she found on the sidewalk without realizing it was stolen – which would be a boring bug to have. Or it’s tied to her relationship with her father and the fact that her mother died from the same disease as Elliot’s dad.
- Wellick exploits a secretary’s bug by inviting the guy to sleep with him. This was the most squicky to me because it seemed to heavily imply homosexuality was a weakness, especially since Elliot’s voiceover over the two kissing said, “Because after all, a bug’s only purpose, its only reason for existence, is to be a mistake that needs fixing, to help you right a wrong.”
- But Shayla’s bug is her artistic nature because it causes her to stand out in the bad spot she’s in, something that Elliot finds beautiful and reminds him of himself. Showing him her bug is what allows Shayla to trust Elliot more and to agree to be his girlfriend.
But most of these are long game concerns. They show us why the characters do what they do or reveal who they are as people, but they don’t have immediate impact in the episode like Elliot’s choice to be a “one” did last week.
The only bug that changes anything immediately is F Society going after Evil Corp’s cover-up of the Washington Township toxic waste scandal, the reason that Elliot’s dad got cancer and died, because it causes Elliot to do what Mr. Robot wants and return to the F Society fold.
Of course, Mr. Robot – both the show and the character – are all about the long game, so maybe this isn’t really a problem. I’m fine with watching as everything unfolds, but I wish I had some reason to care about what’s happening while it does.
- If you want to pretend you’re in that montage, here’s the music to do it.
- As someone who only has a vague knowledge of the hacking language/world that Mr. Robot lives in, I’m not qualified to talk about how the show has been doing on that front, but this article about it is really interesting. You can also read what the show’s cyber-crime expert has to say.
- I really like other languages, so yay for the Swedish!