BY ALEX MCLEVY
“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether or not life is worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.”—Albert Camus, The Myth Of Sisyphus
It was supposed to be an easy death. A bag of morphine, some time alone on the beach—it was all Elliot Alderson needed. He may not have been able to save the lives of the people who perished in the 71 buildings three weeks earlier, or managed to rescue the reputation of Trenton and Mobley from public condemnation, but he could make sure Mr. Robot didn’t help get anyone else killed. Self-negation (or deletion, as he calls it) was a way to get rid of that which is no longer desired. The “unwanted,” he dubs it, when discussing the decision to clear the files of the now-dead fellow Fsociety members from his computer. Only, he wasn’t discussing them, not really. He was talking about himself.
Elliot was going to kill himself, but the world wasn’t ready to let him go. This seems to be the way of many aborted attempts at suicide—something simply delays the act until the point where the person is forced to contend with the fact that life will go on, and maybe that’s okay. There’s no big cathartic moment, no “a-ha!” revelation or instant that it all makes sense. If anything, it’s the opposite: The world continues to be a confusing and terrible place, but just by virtue of getting through the night, life returns to being livable, if only a little. We don’t seek death to erase ourselves, most of the time. We seek it to erase pain. And if even one iota of pain is lessened by the passing of the hours, then more of it could eventually ebb away, too. That’s not much, but it’s enough.
Full disclosure: I loathe the “innocent soul helps tortured man rediscover the magic of life” trope in nearly all its forms. It crops up often enough to feel creaky in even the best of circumstances (I think Before I Disappear was the most glaring recent time I encountered it, a film with an arc similar to this episode). So consider it a testament to Esmail’s studious avoidance of schmaltz that it manages to somewhat work here, albeit in the usual predictable way. As soon as Trenton’s (sorry, Shama’s) little brother showed up on Coney Island, all wide-eyed and curious, it was obvious what was happening.
Thankfully, Esmail keeps the focus not just on Elliot, but on the scenario. The trip to the movie theater helps lend a surreal quality to the evening, as the Back To the Future marathon (an easter egg that has long since stopped being an egg and hatched into an awfully allegorical chicken) provides a waystation for Elliot, and an exemplar of the things that once meant so much to him. Now, it’s a chance to be reminded of the film’s fundamental message, as debated among Elliot and the others in line: “It’s about how one mistake can change the world.” Given that Elliot hasn’t spoken to Angela since the day of the explosions, there’s no reason for him to read into this as much as we do. Angela hinted at her motivations during their last confrontation, but in the heat of the moment Elliot likely didn’t pick up on much. Besides, the above description of Back To The Future II is only half right. Yes, one mistake can change the world, but the film is actually about how mistakes can be fixed—in time.
But when the key exchange happens, it takes place in the mosque, where Elliot’s been helpfully deposited by your friendly neighborhood Jewish ice cream truck driver. “I wish you were dead!” is instantly followed by Elliot’s “So do I!” and the corresponding silence leaves a lingering understanding that the youngest Alderson assumed he would already be gone by now. Contending with his continued existence means contending with the idea that death may not come, and soon, he’s taking blame for everything, removing the guilt that hangs around Shama’s brother—and Shama herself, as Elliot also stressed to her father–and in accepting that sentence out loud, he also comes to a realization that death may be the easy out, rather than the road to atonement. By the time he’s weeping on the Biswas’ doorstep, and getting a sucker in return, he’s managed to endure.
After all that drama (good writing paired with formulaic plotting, a rarity on this show), “dont-delete-me.ko” finally gets to its real emotional heart: The reunion of Elliot and Angela. Whereas he previously doubled down on his refusal to accept her betrayal—“Guess I’m an asshole,” he tells Darlene—having to open the door to possibly forgiving himself means he can’t avoid forgiving her. So they sit, and he reminds her of how they used to wish for a better world for themselves. “No matter what happens, it’ll be okay,” she would always say, and his memory pries apart her numbness, reinstalling a sense of grief coupled with humanity, rather than the absence of it that defined her hollowed-out “it doesn’t matter” attitude immediately following the attacks. Their childhood wishing game is now being played out in real time, since the first episode of the series. The only difference is, it took them awhile to realize their eyes were closed.
With all the emotional outpourings this episode, it’s easy to forget the most cutting one happened in the first five minutes. Just before he collapses in the Washington Township movie theater, Elliot’s father admits he’s sick, apologizes for not being a better father, and haltingly asks his son if he could find it in his heart to forgive him one day. Elliot shrugs: “No.” It’s a brutal scene, especially when Elliot takes the jacket, wanders into the theater, and we (presumably) witness the birth of Mr. Robot. That’s a moment that will linger, will haunt both parties—and a guilt that has perhaps been with Elliot ever since. As usual, his inability to forgive others is ultimately a failure to forgive himself. He’s still carrying a heavy burden, but Trenton’s final communique suggests he may have not just a path to redemption, but a clear mission. He was a counterrevolutionary before; now, he’s on a mission to turn back the clock. If only he knew that for Whiterose, Angela, and many others, that’s not just an expression.
- It’s far from justice, but at least Mobley (now Sunil, we know) will get a funeral, and probably a damn fine eulogy from his brother, if that guy knows what’s good for him.
- “What’s a dictator?” “Like a really bad president.”
- There were a few good exchanges between Elliot and Mohammed, most of them in Rami Malek’s dumbfounded delivery of Elliot’s frustration.
- There’s already billboards up commemorating the victims of the E Corp attacks, and a citywide curfew is in place.
- Some interesting moments of how race and ethnicity, which are often sidestepped in the larger narrative of the show, are very present for everyone else in this story. “This country blames Muslims for everything” stands out, as does Elliot’s short drive with the kindly Jewish ice cream man.
- Noteworthy music cue of the week: Robbie Robb’s “In Time,” from the soundtrack to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, another none-too-subtle time travel shout-out.
- Okay, for those who don’t have a pause button: Trenton’s email says that Romero installed hardware keyloggers (programs that record every keystroke made by a computer user) on all the machines at the arcade, and after the NYPD imaged all his data, she managed to get a chain of custody document. She thinks that if Romero got those keys, or even just the hard data for the encryption tools, there might be an “answer” for how to undo the hack buried within the information. Hence, Elliot’s new mission.