BY BRYAN LUFKIN
“You knew all along, didn’t you?” Elliot asks the viewer after the biggest reveal of Mr. Robot season 1. Many, maybe even most, viewers did predict this week’s plot twist. But heading into the season finale, there’s a lot happening in the hacker drama that’s plenty crazy and confusing.
All the viewers whose Fight Club senses were tingling were right: Mr. Robot—Elliot’s confidant, at-times antagonist and, as we learned last week, his father—has indeed actually been dead all along. That means the specter’s actions throughout the whole series, particularly roping Elliot into FSociety, were all Elliot’s own doing.
But at the beginning of this episode, Elliot hasn’t yet realized that Mr. Robot is dead. Rather, he had just learned the man is his father, who seemingly died 20 years ago. It was Mr. Robot’s Darth Vader moment.
However, before this week’s reveal, Mr. Robot shows up at Elliot’s apartment to at long last have that “I’m your dad, remember!” talk. Elliot flips the hell out, throwing over tables and shoving Mr. Robot against the wall. Why didn’t he tell Elliot? And how could Elliot not recognize his own father, or last week, his own sister? Lots of anger and confusion, but before long, the two hightail it out of town as Evil Corp suits begin hovering on the street outside.
They take the train out to New Jersey and break into their old house, returning to Elliot’s old bedroom. Still in shock and now flooded with reactivated angry memories, Elliot pushes Mr. Robot out the second-story window. It’s what Mr. Robot did to Elliot when he was a kid. Of course, this time, since Mr. Robot isn’t real, it turned out Elliot flung himself out the window, though Elliot isn’t aware of that yet.
It all leads up to a hobbling Mr. Robot leading them to a cemetery. Angela and Darlene are there, too, after heading all the way to the trio’s hometown upon realizing Elliot had gone missing. The girls approach and ask who Elliot’s been talking to, and then, where Elliot was standing with Mr. Robot moments beforehand, he looks down at a tombstone with his father’s name engraved across it.
A somewhat hackneyed “they’ve-been-dead-the-whole-time” reveal scene, but it, along with the rest of the episode, rocketed to new heights with insane performances from Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, and Portia Doubleday. Like, when Angela asks Elliot, “Who did you think you were talking to?” it pulses with genuine concern for her lifelong friend, but also tinged with the dread knowing that this might not be the last time Elliot will go off the deep end, and with the knowledge that it hasn’t been the first.
That’s what prompted the two women to track down Elliot in the first place. Elliot went “psycho, legit” this time, Darlene tells Angela, who, in a separate twist earlier in the season, were revealed to be longtime friends. (Darlene, of course, was revealed to be Elliot’s sister.)
By the way, I could watch the scenes between any combination of Elliot, Angela, and Darlene all day. The more these never-ending twists and reveals reframe their relationships (and the entire show) for us, the more compelling their interactions become. But they’re also raising even more questions, particularly around Darlene. I’m starting to wonder what her motivations are, and whether they’re manipulative or harmful to Elliot. Why is she even there? OK, she probably wants to avenge her father’s death. She’s a capable hacker on her own, though—why does she need Elliot?
By episode’s end, she’s in Elliot’s apartment, explaining to him FSociety was all his idea, and deep down, she knows that he knows starting the hacker ring to take down Evil Corp was the right thing to do. Poor guy: All around him are people, real and fake, dead and alive, constructing memories and feeding him stories, promising history book glory once he takes down Evil Corp and change the world. It makes sense considering what we learn about Elliot’s childhood in this episode, but since he’s also the show’s troubled narrator and has an obviously loose grip on reality, it makes us continually question who and what is real.
My colleagues at Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and elsewhere have all compared Elliot to a superhero, and that this episode is his origin story.
This episode shows how Mr. Robot (real name Edward Alderson) and his unconventional value system had a profound effect on Elliot’s own worldview, sense of ethics, and future ambitions to become a Robin Hood of hackers.
The episode opens with a flashback to 1994, where Edward, who’s coughing and clearly entering the throes of the illness that’ll soon kill him, is sitting in his small computer supply shop, where young Elliot seems to occasionally help out. An irate customer enters, claiming that Elliot stole a $20 the other day while the guy was buying a mouse.
Edward basically tells him to fuck off, and when Elliot appears from the backroom after the guy storms out, he’s incredulous, and asks his father why he’s not in trouble, clearly surprised with the boundaries he’s able to push. “Even though what you did was wrong, you’re still a good kid,” Edward explains. “That guy was a prick—and sometimes that matters more.” Then off they go on a father-son moving outing to R-rated Pulp Fiction. (The show’s ‘80s-style logo makes sense now, too—as seen on the storefront, the name of Edward’s shop was “Mr. Robot,” which was probably opened in the ‘80s, assuming it had been Edward’s longstanding job.)
You can see how this explains a lot about Elliot. In this scene, his dad was berated by an up-in-arms, tie-wearing businessman who calls Edward a nobody and calls his livelihood something “my retarded nephew could do.” Surprise, father and son hate corporate America! It’s less clear what Darlene’s role is in FSociety, and in the show, however. After all, according to Angela, Darlene’s reappeared out of nowhere, disrupting the good progress Elliot had been making. In the beginning of the season, Elliot was in a cubicle leading a seemingly normal, stable life, rampant drug use and nighttime hacker vigilantism aside.
But as the episode’s title (“ieps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt’”) implies, Elliot is mirroring several other characters. He and Angela are both involved with Evil Corp, but now, in different ways. He wants to take it down, but Angela, who’s visited by the smarmy, framed Evil Corp exec Terry Colby at her father’s house in New Jersey, is offered an extremely lucrative gig by the company that killed her mother and that she’s currently suing.
Elliot’s also mirroring Tyrell Wellick. This week, both had massive breakdowns. Wellick’s wife, Joanna, has her baby, but tells Wellick that this is actually her second kid. When she was 15, she gave another baby up for adoption, and never felt the need to tell her husband this. She then essentially kicks him out of the family unless he “fixes” what he screwed up: Not only was he passed over for Evil Corp CTO, but he murdered the successful candidate’s wife, triggering an investigation that ultimately leads to him being fired from Evil Corp altogether later in the episode.
While Elliot’s being tailed by Evil Corp thugs, Wellick’s being followed by different anonymous suited men: investigators who need to question him about the murder. Wellick eventually ends up at Elliot’s apartment at the end of the episode, fully aware of Elliot’s role in everything: FSociety, Allsafe, Terry Colby. He demands to know what his grand goal is. He puts on the same surgical gloves he used to assault a homeless man for fun earlier in the season, ready to switch to violence if Elliot doesn’t cough up info. And so Elliot takes Wellick to Coney Island, into the heart of the hackers’ arcade HQ—the same place Mr. Robot had taken Elliot for the “first time” on episode one.
It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles the Mr. Robot character in season two. Will Christian Slater stick around? Now that the twist so many suspected is finally complete, will Mr. Robot still appear in the form of an otherworldly, Clarence-like advisor to the worldly Elliot?
Even though Elliot is apparently a computer genius and mathematical prodigy, the fact that he has no idea what’s real or what isn’t is enough to make life way harder, but factor in hacking the biggest company in the world, and you’ve got an exponentially worse situation. Now, more than ever, we’re unsure: Why is Elliot doing all this? Or rather, who wants Elliot to do all this, and why? Even in the episode’s final scene, when Elliot leads Wellick, murderer, former hacker and newly fired Evil Corp exec, to FSociety headquarters, Wellick asks him: “What did you hope to accomplish by doing all this?”
“I don’t know,” Elliot responds, and clearly doesn’t. But then he says: “I wanted to save the world.”
He also lies to Wellick, saying that Elliot is FSociety and that no one else was involved. Remember, Elliot can read people—and he knows that Wellick is no one to be trusted.
As we now know, Edward had instilled in Elliot and a very particular brand of right and wrong. But when you mix in paranoia about who’s following you, who’s telling you the truth, hell, who’s even alive, it’s enough to explode into yet another breakdown for our hero. At this point, his sanity seems to be the shakiest it’s ever been, but we do know more about what motivates Elliot Alderson as a person.
A brilliant hacker addled with extreme neuroses and fragile mental health—surrounded by dubious people ready to exploit his talents that could send fiscal shockwaves the world over—doesn’t seem like a scenario that’ll end well. And it’s exactly how we’re heading into next week’s season finale.
All images courtesy NBC Universal