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'Mr. Robot' recap: 'eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt'

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Christopher Saunders/USA Network

Mr. Robot

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
tvpgr:
TV-14
seasons:
2
performer:
Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday
broadcaster:
USA
genre:
Crime, Drama

It’s the nature of the beast that is Mr. Robot that whenever a massive, earth-shattering twist comes along, a recap dissecting only the big shocker could never do an entire episode justice. A ton happened, so as tempting as it is to dive right into the revelations about Elliot and his deteriorating grasp on reality, there’s plenty to discuss.

But, it needs to be said: Y’all called that one.

And one additional but very important note: Next week, there will be an important scene that occurs after the credits of the season finale. (Think Marvel Studios.) I’m told that this extra bit is something fans will definitely want to see…

Apart from the crazy things we learn about the Elliot of today, the hour also sheds some light on who Elliot used to be. The year before Edward Alderson’s death in 1995, our hero was just a little boy — a mathematical prodigy, we learn later — playing in his dad’s computer shop, Mr. Robot. Of course, his version of play involves some light pickpocketing, but nevertheless, we can already see the seeds of who this kid will become and how his father’s influence left an impression. “Even though what you did was wrong, you’re still a good kid,” Edward tells his son in between coughs. “That guy was a prick, and sometime that matters more.” This sentiment, coupled with the tragedy waiting just ahead, is effectively Elliot’s  superhero origin story and the blueprint for his mission to “save the world” two decades later.

While the fun thing to do would be to point out that Christian Slater appears to be the same age in both the 1994 scenes and the ones set in 2015, the cold open’s significance is deeper than that. Mr. Robot has become increasingly addictive week to week because of where it places its big narrative bets — always on character. Even though we know by now that not everything is right inside the head of Elliot Alderson, it’s much more important for the character and ultimately the arc of the show that we understand why he would build fsociety. The slightly skewed morality instilled by the father who would take him to a movie during the middle of the day — paying stolen money — tells us something essential about who Elliot is by the time we meet him.

The series’ emphasis on people is also why we end up caring so much about Angela and Darlene, characters who on plenty of other shows would have been written off as bare-bones, sidelined female foils to our cool, male hacker hero. It’s particularly easy to imagine how a lesser show would portray Angela. Questioning Elliot and getting in his way would become her sole purpose, and yet here, she is defined by her actions, her decisions, her desires, and her emotions. When she’s faced with a dilemma like the crushingly believable one presented by Terry Colby — go broke or sell your soul — it means something to the larger story. Angela is acting as a counterpart to Elliot, working within the means of the legal system to take a swipe (albeit a seemingly futile one) at the massively powerful, but she’s not defined by that relationship.

Darlene’s big moment came at the beginning of last week’s episode. Up until we understood her connections to Elliot and to Angela, it was understood that something motivated Darlene, and that mystery was one of the dozens that fueled the series’ propulsive pacing. But it’s in the reveal that Mr. Robot has always defined itself, and the truth of Darlene’s prior friendship with Angela isn’t a simple shocker; it completely recontextualizes her, redrawing the map of allegiances, and adding color to an increasingly human story. The most recent episode follows through with that set-up by pairing Angela and Darlene together during their search for Elliot. These are two people who care deeply about a main character for different reasons. Because of that, they disagree on certain things, but ultimately care about each other and Elliot enough to put that aside.

All right, let’s do this. It’s crazy time…

NEXT: About that twist… [pagebreak]

“You knew all along, didn’t you?”

Well, yeah. Kinda, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The question of whether Mr. Robot was real or not — or whether he’s actually Elliot or not — popped in the minds’ of fans almost as soon as the show premiered, and by no means was that an accident. The show uses narrative and cinematic language we’ve seen before in films and television shows that have pulled similar tricks. Mr. Robot made a habit of appearing almost out of nowhere for a main character who has his own doubts about how real his reality is. Plus, Mr. Robot’s contact with other supporting characters was limited, nothing that couldn’t be explained away with a little help from Fight Club. But does the twist’s predictability make this a bad one? No, I really don’t think so. If the show’s aim was to completely catch us off-guard, I don’t think we’d have Elliot immediately addressing how easy it was to guess.

The other reason that this twist holds up in a sniff test is because the development really isn’t about the surprise. Just like the reveal of Angela’s and Darlene’s long-time friendship, the fact that Elliot is himself Mr. Robot and that Christian Slater is playing a mental projection of his long-dead father recontextualizes and deepens the entire series’ story, its themes, and its characters. (Not to mention that it retroactively fixes the questionable off-the-pier cliffhanger from episode two and the show’s iffy title.) The reason that none of us should be disappointed by this outcome is that it’s less of a pure shocker and more a natural progression of the story — you know, the kind of thing you should see coming if you’re paying attention.

It’s not just that Elliot is kind of crazy. The person we’ve come to know as someone haunted by the memory of his father has suffered far greater than he’s ever let on. No matter how much Elliot tried to keep the full extent of his trauma and past from us, he couldn’t keep it all in. The past forced itself into Elliot’s present and into our view. Privacy and the weakness of the modern structures we put so much faith in has been a recurring theme from the very beginning, but for Elliot, the system that ultimately failed him is his mind. The truth was always going to find its way out. It’s only now that Elliot is learning how far it’s slipped.

Now for this next part, I’m going to need some help from the sleuths out there. From my understanding of things, the only major unresolved aspect of the Mr. Robot twist is Tyrell Wellick. His SUV conversation with Mr. Robot in the previous episode about the dirty little secret appears to be at odds with his interactions with Elliot at the very end of the latest hour. Are there two Wellicks — one real and one being more trickery on the part of Elliot’s loose screw? Is Elliot the one beating up homeless people? Probably not the latter, but I think the show has some explaining to do in that regard.

Finally the Elliot and Tyrell pairing feels like the payoff that the entire season has been working toward, as we’ve closely followed both even when their paths haven’t necessarily crossed since the second episode. Like the rest of the status quo heading into next week’s finale, this part of the endgame feels appropriate and inevitable. Having lost his job and his family, Wellick is wounded and unpredictable. He can either be Elliot’s greatest ally, or this could all be him trying to go back to “that moment,” to fix the source of all his problems. That’s a hell of a way to set the stakes incredibly high for the end of the first season and imbue the final episode with mystery just minutes after revealing the season’s supposed biggest twist.

We’re going to have the watch the entire season again, aren’t we?

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