Rami Malek in USA Network’s “Mr. Robot.”
Now comes the part where we totally explain everything that happened in this episode, put it in context, and discuss what it all means going forward.
To repurpose a nineties-ism, “AS IF.” If you came here looking for an explanation you can just keep on walking, Missy. Oh, wait. Here’s one: Everyone’s on drugs and nothing is real. The end.
From our notes (which wound up looking like a schizophrenic’s manifesto after the third viewing):
“Elliot shows FSociety his plan for Steel Mountain.”
Then, right under that:
“WTF IS STEEL MOUNTAIN”
In other words, if you think we’re going to explain this one to you, you’re shit out of luck. The best we can do after an episode like this one is talk about the tone and the visuals, because the actual storytelling has left the building. Or at least, our ability to make sense of it did. We admit, we love that the show does absolutely fucking nothing to explain itself or any of the concepts it keeps throwing at the audience. It’s probably one of the very best things about it, and what sets it radically apart from the normal USA Network fare. In fact, as evidenced by a notable scene this week regarding bad Hollywood hacker movies, the show is deliberately and completely disdainful of the idea of explaining things to the audience. What we’re left with – those of us who aren’t hacking nerds and couldn’t possibly follow any of the many technical conversations – is how the show makes us feel.
And how did it make us feel? Brilliantly, it made us feel what Elliot was feeling: the twitchiness, glitchyness and sweaty paranoia of withdrawal, coupled with only the slowest of dawning realizations that we’re not hallucinating a few things, we’re (or rather, Elliot’s) hallucinating everything. It took the nagging idea that Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot is a fiction created by Elliot and simply kept exploding outward, until entire scenes, settings and conversations were all happening solely within the confines of Elliot’s fevered imagination. It was like a hallucination grenade, going off very slowly.
Although we have to point out that even though they all but came out and said that Mr. Robot was a hallucination in this episode, his scenes are still staged ambiguously enough that they have deniability later. Because it seems to us a story like this has to have some serious twists and turns along the way, and since everything so far has been slickly, competently and stylishly done, we find it a little hard to believe that “Surprise! Mr. Robot ISN’T REAL” is going to be one of them. It would be a bigger shock to have sudden confirmation that he was real, actually.
See? See how it fucks with your head? If nothing else, this show is brilliant in its ability to induce a state or feeling in its audience. It’s easy to make them laugh or make them scared, but to make your audience paranoid takes real skill and a decent knowledge of the inner workings of the mind.
Although as much as we enjoyed the trippiness of the imagery in this episode, this kind of formal experimentation so early in a show’s run has limited appeal or effect because whatever truths that get revealed are likely to be fairly shallow simply because we’re still being introduced to these characters and trying to remember their names. For instance, it’s telling to see Angela in a wedding gown in Elliot’s hallucination, but it doesn’t have that much resonance simply because we barely know her – or Elliot, for that matter. We know that he loves her on some level, so the wedding gown makes a certain amount of sense, but it doesn’t go much further than that as an image.
And besides, the best image/relationship in the whole episode was the talking fish. We can all agree on that, right?
Not that the episode completely lacked plot developments. After a night of unlikely partying and light girl-kissing (for which we can’t blame her since she’s surrounded by unimpressive specimens of manhood at the moment), Angela goes all-in on uploading the whatever-whatever to All-Safe’s network. Also, the insanely obnoxious Darla is of course in love with that equally obnoxious Dark Army rapper-hacker dude, because the circle has to close just a little tighter around Elliot each week.
Don’t you just love the incisive specificity of the preceding paragraph? We’ve really put it all in perspective for you, haven’t we? You’re welcome, of course.