BY NATE SCOTT
The premiere season of USA Network’s Mr. Robot is so good that we had to start writing about it. The post below is chock full of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the finale of the first season, “zer0-daY,” it’s probably a good idea to hold off on this post. Here’s a photo of Elliot.
Before I even begin, let me say that recapping an hour of television like that is going to be impossible, so I’m not even really going to try, and just share a lot of impressions I had. So for lovers of the scene between Mike/Lenny and the therapist, Tyrell’s wife and Elliot (maybe the best scene in the episode), Gideon and his financial planner … I’m sorry. Like a blogging Whiterose, I just don’t have enough time.
Also, it should be said: The scene where the executive kills himself on live television in front of Angela was one of the most shocking and horrifying scenes I’ve watched on TV in a long time, and a scene that was made all the more horrific after the videos that were posted on the internet last week of the man who shot two journalists during a live broadcast in Virginia. USA Network ended up postponing the episode a week because of the eerie (and accidental — the episode was filmed in July) similarities, which I think was the right decision.
In any event: What an episode of TV. Some thoughts —
1. WE SPENT ALL SEASON BUILDING TO A CLIMAX WE DO NOT SEE
Showrunner Sam Esmail, it would seem watching Mr. Robot, delights in nothing more than confounding the audience and upending our expectations. Season 1 had a lot of plot points, but the main crux was building toward a large-scale hack of Evil Corp. Elliot and his fsociety gang would delete the world’s debt, and we would start over.
Likewise, last week’s episode built us up to a climax between Tyrell and Elliot, as the two stood in the arcade, Chekhov’s gun waiting in the popcorn machine.
The finale starts three days later. The hack we’ve been waiting to see all season has already been executed — the world is plunging into chaos. Elliot wakes up in Tyrell’s car, with no sign of Tyrell. It’s a little like the opening scene of The Walking Dead, just instead of zombies you’ve got angry New Yorkers whose AmExes stopped working.
We have no idea if Tyrell is dead or alive — his wife confessed she hasn’t seen him in a chilling and wonderfully acted scene with Elliot — or anything that happened to bring down Evil Corp.
I got to speak with Sam Esmail about the finale (you can read the entire interview here) and he spoke about the importance of introducing the idea that Elliot is losing his control, that he’s quite literally losing time.
“We have to start losing time. Elliot has been making decisions that he’s not aware of, that he’s not conscious of,” Esmail said. “If you think about it, it’s sort of crazy, going on experiencing this with Elliot in terms of: What if you start losing touch with reality? If you literally don’t remember what you’ve been doing.”
For someone who just might have brought down the entire global financial infrastructure, Elliot (who pleads with the audience several times during the show to explain what’s going on) is not in control.
Even when he’s taking down the world, he’s not doing his own bidding. Not really.
2. EVERYONE ON THIS SHOW IS DESPERATELY LOOKING FOR A MASTER
The biggest lesson I took away from this episode is about people’s desire to submit to something greater. Elliot all season has been doing the bidding of Mr. Robot. In this episode, he has lost Mr. Robot, so what does he do? He threatens to get himself arrested to make Mr. Robot appear.
This is a neat play on a similar scene that happened in Fight Club, but with a crucial difference — when Ed Norton’s unnamed character realizes that Tyler Durden is him (sorry, spoilers, whatever), he sets out to destroy him.
Elliot doesn’t want to destroy Mr. Robot. He wants him there. He needs him. When Mr. Robot leaves, he does everything he can to bring him back.
It also hints that this has happened before. Remember, in episode 9, both Darlene and Angela seem to understand that Elliot is talking to someone who isn’t there. This has happened before. He’s blacked out the people before in his life, then gone and found Mr. Robot, and started the cycle over again.
In the Times Square scene (which man that cinematography!), Elliot as a boy tells Elliot as a young man they’ll always be there inside him. This isn’t some cute “we live on in your heart” thing, no. This is a threat. This is a delusion telling Elliot he’s never going to get better.
“I’m only supposed to be your prophet,” Mr. Robot tells Elliot earlier in the episode. “You’re supposed to be my god.”
But Elliot needs a god. And after that spectacular Times Square scene, Mr. Robot takes control again. He tells Elliot to take the subway home, to sit at his computer, to see what he accomplished. Elliot, crying in a way that is really hard to tell if from sadness or joy, is happy to submit. He has a master again.
And quickly, this episode got me thinking a lot about the word “robot.” It comes from the Czech for “forced labor” or “servitude.” Servitude, right? What else is Elliot trying to do here?
I asked Esmail about it, and he refused to comment too specifically on it because I was “scratching at some things” to come later in the series, but did say this about the Times Square scene:
There’s hacker terminology: “I owned you” or “You got owned.” That speaks a lot to what’s happening with Elliot and Mr. Robot. I mean, at the end of the season that’s what I wanted to accomplish, especially after that Times Square scene where Mr. Robot is saying to him “We’re not going anywhere.” At the end of the day, Elliot got owned.
3. POWER WILL ALWAYS FILL A VACUUM
And it’s not just Elliot who needs to submit. Tyrell is unmoored in episode nine when the two people he has made his masters, his wife and CEO Phil, both scorn him. He has nothing left.
Speaking of Phil, dear lord, what an episode. Actor Michael Cristofer (who’s had a pretty incredible career) has been a revelation over the last few episodes, but his scene with Angela, where he tells her how to process the man who’s just shot himself on TV in front of her and then tells her to buy new shoes, was a jaw-dropper.
What’s most interesting about Phil in this episode is that he is calm. He explains to Angela that these are only people who have brought down Evil Corp. They aren’t aliens or zombies. People. And Phil knows people. Phil knows that people, like Elliot and Tyrell, are all looking for a master to submit to. They are all looking to be led, or enslaved, however you want to look at it.
You can set the people free, but like Elliot returning to Mr. Robot, they will come back.
4. ANGELA SHOWED US THAT WE ALL HAVE A MONSTER INSIDE US
My favorite scene in this episode is Angela sitting down with a shoe salesman. She’s just been given money by CEO Phil, who when challenged by her, slammed money down and told her that her blood-covered shoes “wouldn’t do.”
As the salesman figures out who she is, and what she just witnessed, he’s horrified. She just saw a man kill himself in front of her, and now she is here?
Angela snaps back though, the power from Phil seeming to enter her body like a virus. She demands to see the Pradas, and in that moment, we see that Angela has a monster within her. Phil and Terry Colby, for all their double talk about why they hired her, perhaps have seen that monster as well. They know when someone has what it takes to become one of them.
5. FSOCIETY ENDED THE WORLD. NOW WHAT?
Darlene and the rest of fsociety, sans the missing Elliot, spends the episode cleaning up after the hack. They go to a puppy incinerator to burn up all their data and hard drives, and while there, in the spirit of their mission to save the world, they let the dogs free.
It’s a sweet, earnest, youthful gesture of rebellion, freeing the dogs who are to be put down. It’s also a perfect metaphor for what they just did with the Evil Corp hack. They freed the dogs, yes, but now what? Who will take care of the dogs? Where are those dogs supposed to go?
Likewise, they used a giant hack to free the people of the world. That night, they host a party to wipe down all the fingerprints and to celebrate their success. Darlene looks out at all the people, and tries to get excited.
She tells her burned-out fsociety colleagues that they did it. These people are free. But she doesn’t sound convinced.
After the credits, we will see Whiterose and Phil sitting in a house out of Eyes Wide Shut (shown to us complete with Kubrickian tracking shot), talking about the world. Of course the Dark Army and Evil Corp are connected. They are people of power. And power will always fill a vacuum.
Darlene won’t admit that to herself, but you suspect she knows it as she looks out over the people she just freed. They may have escaped the bondage of Evil Corp, but there they still are, dry-humping to “Baby I Got Your Money.”
And that’s the big joke at the end of Season 1, I believe. Elliot is back with Mr. Robot. Phil isn’t concerned (though as Whiterose hints, maybe he should be), and the people in power are still hosting their parties. Nothing has really changed. Baby, they got our money. They always will.