Mr. Robot Season 1 Episode 9 Review: m1rr0r1ng.qt

USA Network

USA Network


Finally, we have something kinda-sorta resembling a definitive answer!

Mr. Robot Season 1 Episode 9 was a refreshingly clear hour with a ton of interesting plot developments and clarifications after last week's "Wait, what?" episode. It set up several new movements nicely as we careen into next week's season finale.

Speaking of: can you even believe the first season is over? I certainly can't. I'm always conflicted about whether I love or hate the concise episode count usually found in more high-brow network TV, but in this case the answer is clear: 10 episodes allowed for a perfect amount of time to establish memorable characters, execute a few excellent twists, and set up the universe of the show for future seasons.

Where to begin? How about at the beginning?

This show is very smart; that much has been made clear all season long. A great example of this can be found in the opening scene of "m1rr0r1ing.qt" – Mr. Robot is confronted by an obnoxious customer who insults him after accusing young Elliot of having stolen his money.

Mr. Robot (now known to be Edward Alderson, Elliot's father) displayed a reaction that perfectly demonstrated Elliot's very specific view of morality.

Young Elliot: How come I'm not in trouble?
Mr. Robot/Elliot's father: Even though what you did was wrong, you're still a good kid. And that guy was a prick. Sometimes that matters more.

In essence: sometimes good people do bad things. But what's more important is being a good person, in essence, despite the bad things you may have done.

Elliot, in the present, has taken this ideal to the extreme – he aims to take down E Corp because he believes that it is the right thing to do, despite the small (and large) wrong things (betray Gideon, verbally lacerate that friendly Steel Mountain dude) he has to do in order to get to that point.

When we realize that Elliot was really the figure of Mr. Robot all along, this is even more pronounced – Mr. Robot was prepared to kill many innocent people in order to further his plot to take down E Corp (the initial plan for taking out Steel Mountain's data backup).

Elliot, apparently the more level-headed and rational of his dual selves, resisted this impulse, and found another way to accomplish that part of the plan.

That's just one example that comes to mind. On a re-watch of the entire first season, we can certainly find more and more specific examples of Mr. Robot's inclination to do the wrong thing for the right reason, a bad thing for the greater good.

The series is all about a complex view of human morality, in a way that proves it's the worthy successor to Breaking Bad, as many other critics have since pointed out.

The reveal of the week (really, there's consistently been at least one big gotcha per episode) was that, as expected, Elliot is definitely mentally ill and that his father was truly dead all along. Mr. Robot was nothing more than a hallucination: equal parts personification of Elliot's darkest impulses and imagined haunt.

It seems that Elliot is most likely schizophrenic. That would explain the paranoia that Mr. Robot voices ("they'll try to split us apart again," "they're trying to control you with pills," etc.) as well as the auditory/visual hallucinations.

Portia Doubleday and Carly Chaikin both played their parts exceedingly well this week. They were believably distraught on Elliot's behalf but unsurprised that he was experiencing this. Clearly, he's had episodes like this before (they said as much).

The oblique references to Elliot's mental illness history are really intriguing; I want to know more, I want to know about the time that Angela was able to find him after his last episode.

Obviously, the show can't do everything: there is just not enough time in a given episode, or a given season. I do feel like they've dropped the ball a bit with Angela and Elliot's friendship. I hope the ways that Angela has saved him in the past, and the ways that Elliot has saved her (and Darlene) are discussed in greater detail later, at some point.

The two most interesting developments coming out of this episode: Elliot aligning with Tyrell Wellick, and Colby's job offer to Angela.

Apparently the cops in Mr. Robot-universe are not as buffoonish as your average fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants TV law enforcement, because they accurately pinpointed Tyrell as a person of interest in Sharon Knowles' death.

Beyond that, Tyrell was not having a good day (to say the least). Joanna successfully gave birth to their son (who seemed none worse for the wear given that his mom basically poked him with a fork), but then confessed to him that he was no longer a man she wished to be married to. Harsh.

Joanna: I didn't think it was possible to love anyone so much again. He reminds me of her.
Tyrell: Who?
Joanna: She was a girl, but still. They look similar. 
Tyrell: Who are you talking about?
Joanna: I was fifteen. It was all so... functional, the process. A lot of forms, address filing... signatures. You'd think I was signing up for a mobile plan. Her parents seemed nice. At the time anyway. I hope they stayed that way.
Tyrell: Why didn't you tell me?
Joanna: I didn't tell anyone who didn't need to know. I try everyday to erase that moment. It was cruel what I did. I try to forgive myself. I try to forget. Both seem impossible.

Joanna's confession about the baby she gave up for adoption was unexpected and moving. She's still a stone-cold lady, but that story did give us the merest of hints that there is more to her character than meets the eye. It was clear that she truly loves her son, and that she truly loved her daughter. Her guilt over having given the first baby up for adoption was palpable.

The scene in the hospital, after their baby's birth, was also the first time that we really saw any semblance of Tyrell's love for his wife. We've definitely seen them as co-conspirators, collaborators, lovers, and schemers – but not so much a loving married couple. I'm not sure if I fully bought Tyrell's professions of love for Joanna, but he did make a go of it, so points for that.

Then, the inimitable Mr. Wellick got unceremoniously fired. I, like Phillip, did not expect Tyrell to beg to keep his job. It was uncomfortable to watch, and, like the boss-man said, it was definitely a disappointing reaction. I was happy to see that, like Scott Knowles, Phillip was not a blindly stupid stock-suit side character. He, too, saw through Tyrell's impressive sheen, down to the nefarious plotting that was going on below the surface.

Tyrell: Phillip please don't do this. I was on a track.
Phillip: There was a moment, a point in your recent past, a mistake, a compulsion, a decision, something that led you to this point right now. My only advice to you is to find that moment, understand it; it's the only way to reconcile this failure with yourself.

Tyrell capped off the episode by turning to Elliot (or, rather, showing up and letting himself in like a weirdo).

And what's up with those latex gloves? Does he just, like, carry a box of those around in his briefcase or something? For when he gets the hankering to beat someone up, sans fingerprints? Too bad for him he didn't have one of those handy when he was hit with the urge to strangle Mrs. Knowles.

Here's a thought: what was the use of the Vera arc? The relationship with Shayla and the horrible way it was cut short were certainly catalysts for Elliot in terms of his personality, mental health, and hacking mission, but what else?

I'm going to guess that eventually Tyrell will be arrested. And eventually, his new pal Elliot, a proven prison-hacker, will be called in to assist.

I predicted a few weeks back that Angela might wind up on the inside of E Corp, taking it down from within. Colby's offer to her in the final minutes of the episode introduced that idea but also cast it in doubt. 

Angela: I'm not working there. They killed my mother.
Terry Colby: Every fast food joint around the corner delivers diabetes to millions of people. Philip Morris hands out lung cancer on the hour, every hour. I mean hell, everyone is destroying the planet beyond the point of no return. Are you really going to start taking all of these things so personally?
Angela: Maybe I will. Maybe someone has to.
Terry Colby: A suggestion? If you want to change things, perhaps you should try from within.

I thought this was an odd and utterly unbelievable development. Half of me thinks that it's part of some kind of elaborate double-cross by Colby – setting Angela up for some kind of fall. I can't otherwise reconcile the idea that any company, no matter how obscenely wealthy and unruffled by law suits they are, would willingly hire a woman spear-heading a class-action lawsuit against them. It just doesn't make sense.

That said: I certainly think that this could be an interesting predicament for Angela in season two. For that reason, I hope she accepts the job in the final moments of next week's finale.

Spare parts:

  • Christian Slater is great at playing manic. He's been great in the role of Mr. Robot. I'm not sure how they'll keep him around in the future, but I hope they find a way to have him pop up from time to time.
  • Terry Colby is a smarmy bastard. I love it.
  • Last week, a reader/commenter pointed out that Joanna speaks in Danish to Tyrell and that Tyrell responds in Swedish. I had no idea that several Scandinavian languages allowed for communication across languages so, fun fact! Very interesting.
  • The episode closed with Elliot looking at the popcorn as it popped in the machine at fsociety headquarters. It reminded me – isn't Darlene's stolen gun still buried in that popcorn? Are we dealing with a very literal Chekhov's-gun-in-the-popcorn situation here? (Probably.)
  • I really like Darlene and Angela's friendship. They are believable childhood/close family friends.
  • The scoring in that last scene was wonderful. The instrumental cover of Where Is My Mind by Maxence Cyrin was absolutely lovely and fit the tone perfectly: an offbeat mix of melancholy and uplifting.