BY TIM SURETTE
Here's Maxence Cyrin's piano cover of The Pixies "Where Is My Mind" that closed "Mirroring" for your listening pleasure. And yes, that's the same song that ended Fight Club.
Thanks to the collective think tank known as the Internet, we've all had plenty of time to postulate insane theories about Mr. Robot, a series that has gone from innocuous USA drama about a hacker to one of the boldest shows on television. The journey to and through "Mirroring" has been a mind-melting head trip for us as we tried to piece together what was happening, what was real, and what were just television parlor tricks.
Now imagine how all this felt from Elliot's point of view. "Mirroring" wasn't about revealing answers to us, it was about revealing answers to Elliot, and that's what gave the episode its power as a fantastic follow-up to the head-'sploding "White Rose."
From the day Mr. Robot premiered—heck, weeks before in fact, thanks to USA throwing the pilot online before it aired—the popular theory regarding the character of Mr. Robot was that he didn't exist except in Elliot's mind, a Fight Clubbin' Tyler Durden-esque hallucination created by Elliot's psyche to justify, influence, or excuse his actions of saving the world by destroying Evil Corp. It's a theory I was fully on board with early on, took one foot off of for a while as we saw Mr. Robot interact with other characters occasionally, and eventually put aside as more pressing matters came forward (Shaylaaaa!). But Mr. Robot handled the entire question masterfully through the reveal in "White Rose" that Mr. Robot was actually Elliot's father (and Darlene was his sister). Even with that reveal, things were vague enough to leave us wanting more and "Mirroring" didn't dilly-dally with giving us the goods.
For some, Mr. Robot's existence was more important than others. Like I said, I stopped thinking about it to enjoy other parts of the series and I made myself believe that it wasn't intrinsically valuable to the core of the show since there was so much more to love about Mr. Robot, and I had already settled on the fact that he was a figment of Elliot's broken psyche. But that's a selfish audience-centric view of television because whether or not Mr. Robot was real or not was incredibly important. It's just that it was way more important to Elliot than us.
I say this because "Mirroring" answered the big question about Mr. Robot and it wasn't for us greedy me-first viewers, it was for Elliot, and it was the absolute best choice for the show because for all the trickery and fun Mr. Robot has with camera angles and unreliable narrators, Mr. Robot is a character drama with Elliot at its center. Following up on Mr. Robot's request that they "need to have a talk" from the end of "White Rose," this week's episode saw Mr. Robot and Elliot revisiting Elliot's childhood stomping grounds as Mr. Robot promised answers. And the answer came in startling fashion while Elliot was at his father's grave. Mr. Robot, the version that was his dad, was never there as Elliot—and you and me—saw him. Elliot had imagined him in his mind, including through the recruitment process into Fsociety and all the meetings since.
Instead of playing it as a "Gotcha!" to the audience, "Mirroring" put the focus where it belonged: on Elliot. A show in less capable hands would build up the truth about Mr. Robot and ride on the big switcheroo, but creator Sam Esmail and his writers were savvy enough to be a step ahead of us and know what we would think—that Mr. Robot didn't exist. They even wrote that in Elliot's voiceover panic: "This can't be happening, this can't be happening. It's happening, isn't it? And you knew all along, didn't you?" We did know all along, but watching Elliot come to terms with his world shattering was more powerful than any trick Mr. Robot could play on us. The scene in the graveyard was absolutely devastating thanks to perfect pacing and acting, but even more so in how it was handled with respect to us, the audience. We may have finally reached a point in television where twists and reveals aren't treated like magic tricks that showrunners think will elicit an "ooh" and an "ahh" as we sit dumbfounded and clap our hands like idiots. We're a smarter audience now, and these so-called "twists" need to reflect back on the story and characters with relentless effect. That's what happened here.
It doesn't entirely change Elliot as a character, either, but it does open up a new layer to him. We've all figured he was somewhat crazy, and he had his suspicions, too. But now we know this wasn't an isolated incident and that he's done similar things before, things that were pushed down with a river of pills and medication and therapy. Things that have worried Darlene and Angela before. But now that Elliot knows the truth about his father and Mr. Robot, there's so much fun ahead in seeing how he'll react to everything, including the plan to take down Evil Corp.
Does he need his imagined dad to push him towards greatness? We saw how Mr. Robot was worried that Darlene and Angela would threaten to "take him away again," and we saw how desperate he was to stay by Elliot's side forever. And in seeing that, it didn't feel crazy or weird; it felt almost necessary, as if Elliot needed him in his life even if it meant moving further away from sanity. Whatever Elliot needs to resolve within himself—the guilt, the secrets, the pain of being alone—might also destroy what makes him great. This is a much better look at the slippery slope of mental health that something like ABC's atrocious Black Box tried to scrape at before, and added another layer of importance to a show that was already tackling touchy and necessary subjects of corporate greed, social justice, and privacy issues. Is there anything this show can't do right now?
What amazes me was how Mr. Robot was able to juggle all of these things in the first nine episodes without ever feeling weighed down by trying to do too much. I know there's one more episode left in the season, but it's so clear that Season 1 was incredibly well thought out and meticulously planned. In fact, Season 1 so far feels like a character-based preamble to what's ahead. I'm stunned by what we've seen over the last four episodes, guys.
- Another very cool intro sequence, this time time-warped back to 1994. And I love how it showed how important Elliot's dad was to him. "Even though what you did wrong, you're still a good kid. That guy was a prick. Sometimes that matters more." Isn't that the tenet of Elliot's beliefs right now?
- One show I haven't seen Mr. Robot compared to is NBC's Awake, the Jason Isaacs drama that I loved about a man whose realities are split into two. There's some parallel here, especially if Elliot decides he wants to figure out a way to keep his imaginary dad around.
- Elliot leading Tyrell into Fsociety HQ was one of those GASP moments.
- So, what do we consider Tyrell to be right now? He seemed to be groomed for the series' big antagonist, but at this point he and Elliot are two sides of the same coin and they might end up working together. Neither of them are what I would call mentally stable, they both want to take down Evil Corp, and they're both computer geniuses. Could this unlikely alliance actually hold or will Tyrell's ambition get in the way?
- There's no way Angela would accept that job at Evil Corp, right? RIGHT? Or would she be a good mole to have on the inside for Elliot?
- The screener I watched may not have had all the post-production audio mixed in, but you know what it did have? CURSING! F-WORDS! It's great with those.
- Other characters who have suffered from psychogenic amnesia, according to Wikipedia: Jason Bourne, Leroy Jethro Gibbs from NCIS, Teri Bauer in 24, and King Lear.
- Terry Colby: "I don't even understand the case, I have lawyers for that." Rich dicks, FTW!
- A big thanks to Cory for filling in me for me while I was on vacation, and for taking on what was probably the most difficult review of the season so far. "White Rose" was an amazing hour, and all I would have been able to say about it is, "WHAJEOIFHEIOHFOJOFEJ!!!"