BY ALEX MCLEVY
“First, capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was.”—Walter Benjamin, “Capitalism As Religion”
R.I.P., Trenton and Mobley. The former Fsociety hackers were in over their heads right to the very end, fearful and dispirited ideologues who gave up on their revolutionary dreams in the name of safety and security, only to see their actions push them into exile, and finally death. The dream of a better world became a nightmare for the two of them, and all their talk of potentially reversing the results of 5/9 disappeared into the darkness, along with their lives. It was a bleak and unsettling end for two people who had been with Elliot and Darlene almost since the beginning, and a harbinger of worse things to come—an albatross for the Aldersons.
This is the end result of faith driven to fanaticism, in revolution as much as in corporate finance: It pushes people ineluctably into scenarios they would never have chosen for themselves, and forces them to recognize—on some deep level—that they would not be there, would not be acting as they are, had that belief not led them into it. “Fredrick+Tanya.chk” examines each of our protagonists in turn, shows them the situation, and makes them regret their role in the world, following all their choices that led them to this dark place. It’s the dimmest episode yet of this season, and ends on arguably the most pessimistic prediction of any installment of Mr. Robot: Dom tapes the handwritten note with Whiterose’s name to the suspect board, and murmurs, “You’re actually going to get away with this.”
Woe be to Elliot. Our hero is reduced to tears, running to his psychiatrist in the ultimately futile desire to confess, to find someone who will hold his hand, tell him it’s ok, and guide him through this pain. It’s mere minutes, but to Elliot it feels like a life sentence; despite his best efforts, a part of him led to this massacre. He may have been fighting the Dark Army’s plans, but without his participation in the first place, all those people would still be alive. No amount of assuring him this wasn’t his fault will suffice. Blame is a universal ethic: Either you feel guilt for your actions, or you become Phillip Price—you become a monster. There is a third way—to simply claim helplessness in the face of overwhelming odds, as Irving does—but it requires conceding your soul, abandoning the notion that things could ever be better. So, guilt it is.
Woe be to Mr. Robot. He’s furious and fuming at the way the Dark Army has gone off the agreed-upon script and pursued its own agenda. So much for Whiterose letting people be in control of their own plans—when something this massive happens behind his back, the ability to trust is gone. It’s why Irving takes him to the party of rich assholes, laughing and drinking in the face of unimaginable violence and grief. “Your revolution was only allowed to happen because it was bought and paid for by people like them,” Irving tells Robot, driving home the point. Trust is incidental to profit, and without profit, there would be no Fsociety, no 5/9, and no incentive to allow Robot his access to insurrectionary strategies. Whiterose says much the same thing at Mar-A-Lago: With enormous disaster comes enormous opportunity to make money. If capitalism is a religious cult, any widescale tragedy is a worthy sacrifice to god. It always ends with the wealthy having a cocktail party. That’s the sacrament—champagne-fueled soirees are church services for the one percent. Blessed are the inside traders.
Woe be to Angela Moss. The one thing for which she kept looking for reassurance—no unnecessary loss of life—went spectacularly awry, a death toll aimed straight at her moral center. It’s one thing to have faith in some vague (and still unknown to us) plan by which the world’s clock can be reset, a means to return those who are already gone. It’s quite another to end someone’s life in the name of that goal, to remove the soul of someone who was here one minute ago, to snuff them out. if Angela was so convinced Whiterose had the ability to turn back time, she wouldn’t have needed the assurance of no casualties. Instead, she gets those casualties back tenfold. Faith to fanaticism: In the face of such colossal suffering, she can only retreat to the numbing recitation of her gospel. “They’re gonna be okay, right? Those people who died?” she first questions, before providing her own answer, rewinding the footage again and again to restore the collapsed building. “They all came back.” In this belief system, being devout looks indistinguishable from being broken.
Woe be to Tyrell Wellick. He’s been the loyal soldier, executing orders even when the rules seemed to be changing on him. Wellick willingly gives himself up, per the Dark Army’s orders, in order to finger Mobley and Trenton as the architects of the attack. And for his efforts, he gets corrupt FBI agent Santiago casually telling him his wife is dead, his son has been placed in foster care, and any attempt to stray from the plan will make things worse. Wellick’s blind faith is rewarded with the capricious cruelty of fate; the Dark Army may not have killed his wife, but they certainly don’t care that she’s dead. It’s the ultimate proof that Wellick will never be a god, and it comes in the form of the harshest blow possible. Remaining the loyal follower might benefit his son, but Tyrell has already lost his life. He looked to the heavens and mistook the void for a security blanket, realizing too late that when he turned to it for comfort, there would be nothing there.
Woe be to Santiago, hating himself as he rails against the position he’s been put into. We don’t know if he’s being blackmailed for a particular reason—perhaps the Dark Army is paying for those treatments his mother requires—but he already knows he doesn’t want this any more. Woe be to Darlene, who is watching the dissolution of her friend in front of her eyes. She still doesn’t know if she’ll have a brother when this is all over. Woe be to Krista, finally awakened as to the role her troubled young charge has played in this mess but helpless to do anything about it. Woe be to Phillip Price, laid low by vanity. Woe be to Irving, having already given up and resigned himself to being yet another pawn in the hands of what he sees as unchangeable fate—i.e. the rich. And woe be to Dominique DiPierro, who knows she’s being played but can’t do anything about it, or so she believes.
The only one who seems above the suffering is Whiterose. Her plan goes off exactly as anticipated, and the long-awaited chance to slap the hand of Phillip Price finally arrives. It was “the opportunity to teach a lesson,” as she tells Price, the cost of his hubris. As we learned last season, if there’s something close to a god for Whiterose, it’s time. The one thing no one else seems to have left, she has in abundance. Whiterose is pledging faith to a different religious cult than capitalism, one where the ticking seconds on a clock are the body and blood of her savior. Time is both the vessel and the goal for everything unfolding. Until Elliot (and by extension, Mr. Robot) understand the nature of the plot that has so perverted their actions, they’ll be raging against the wrong foe. It’s time to hear the good word from Angela about resetting the clock, forever and ever. Amen.
- Leon loves Knight Rider, but his fondness for sitcoms finally founders on the shores of Frasier’s lack of plausibility.
- Trenton’s driving is even worse than you would suspect from someone who’s never been behind the wheel.
- It’s pretty clear at this point that Dom knows something is rotten with Santiago. She could really use a win, so here’s hoping she can at least get something on him.
- Noteworthy music cues of the week: In addition to the show-opening Knight Rider theme, when Leon arrives in the middle of nowhere with Trenton and Mobley we get Gang Starr’s “Moment Of Truth,” and when Robot tracks down Irving at his auto shop, Robert Plant’s “In The Mood” is blasting.
- Price’s impotent fury was one of the only reassuringly satisfying moments of the episode, when he quivers with anger while asking Whiterose why he’s being taken down. “I had to ask you twice.”
- Fascinating to see Robot actually hurt by the idea that Krista doesn’t believe him, and thinks he’s delusional. Maybe his rant shouldn’t have been quite so generically “us-vs.-them” on the nose, paranoia-wise.
- It makes total sense why Trenton and Mobley would make the best patsies, but it still hurt to see them go.