What happens when you can't sleep until your daddy comes home? Ask Elliot.
You can never really know what’s going on inside someone’s head.
Fortunately, even though your normal Mr. Robot recapper, Jeff Jensen, is at Comic-Con and I’m handling the full recap this week, you can see a glimpse of what’s going on in his head when it comes to this show: Read his thoughts and theories on episode 3 here.
Everyone’s the star of their own story, and everyone around them is a bit player. But not everyone can be a star, and not everyone can be a bit player. Worse than not knowing what someone else is thinking is perhaps not knowing our own thoughts. How do we establish truth? How can we tell what’s real and what’s not? That sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach: Is it intuition or paranoia? It’s a fine line, but it makes a huge difference when it comes to the consequences.
Romero seems to know a thing or two about consequences. Back in the day, giving Mobley the hard sell on the arcade that fsociety would one day use as its headquarters, where Elliot may or may not have killed Tyrell Wellick, he dives deep into a history of consequences. He tells of a man and wife setting up a display of dwarfs billed as “Bedford Lilliputians” that became the talk of Coney Island. A whole miniature city built for these dwarfs. Of course, Gulliver pissed all over the Lilliputians, but that’s beside the point. Or is it? After all, Gulliver’s travels embody the interplay between fiction and reality. Gulliver may be on an adventure, but the skeptical reader knows not to trust his words. CC: Elliot.
Then the man up and killed his wife and kids and the space went to a woman named Mary Megan Fisher, and she turned it into something called “Games Games Games.” A little on the nose for Romero, but he admires the clarity. Clarity would be something in the world of Mr. Robot. Violence comes for ol’ Mrs. Fisher too, unfortunately. Drunk one night on life and booze, she falls off her stool and a pool cue goes straight through her neck. In the same spot as the bullet that traveled through Gideon Goddard’s neck at the end of last week’s episode? Perhaps. History has a way of being muddled.
Eventually the arcade became the shell our pals Elliot and Wellick know well. Ned Bosham took over in 2000, that year of fire and brimstone technology scares, branding the place Fun Society Amusement LLC. A classic arcade was born. But guess what? More violence followed. Ned’s oldest son Harold, unable to convince his father to sell the place, stole his twin brother’s hunting rifle and popped Pops Bosham in the face.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
Here’s the thing. Harold was rather simpleminded, if Romero is to be believed. The kickback on the gun sent Harold flying out of a 20-story window to his death. (Elliot, at least you survived your window fall). Head open and bleeding like a Gallagher watermelon. (You had a head wound too, didn’t you, Elliot?). Clyde, the twin brother, lived, but the gun registered under his name got him locked up. He got to meet Romero though, and he got to pass on the arcade, and the curse he believed came with it.
Violence is inherent. It’s in the walls, the soil, the cement. Every patch of land, every landmark, every single strip of highway, is built on violence. It doesn’t just go away. You can’t pave over it. It lingers, like a dead father’s mirage in a room. Romero is too broke to be superstitious though. A shame, because he ends up dead. Sounds like the violence followed.
NEXT: Talking to myself
Don’t you see that now you’ve gone
And I’m left here on my own
And that I have to follow you
And beg you to come home
Left alone with just a memory
Life seems dead and so unreal
All that’s left is loneliness
There’s nothing left to feel
That’s not Elliot, that’s Dusty Springfield. She understood, or at least interpreted Vito Pallavicini in such a way, that losing someone wasn’t the same as them being completely absent. Elliot knows a thing or two about that. Fathers and Wellicks, gone but not forgotten.
But is Wellick gone? The camera establishes the suburbs, rows of homes made to look like a server farm. Move to Elliot’s mother’s house, and the camera pans up the wall, Elliot’s bloody bandage sticking to the wall, the red of the blood merging with the red of the phone cord. Elliot wants to know where Tyrell is. “Not where I’m supposed to be … yet,” he says.
Tyrell really wants to be there though. “Oh I wish, I wish” he says, an echo of Henry Burr performing “Oh! How I Wish I Could Sleep Until My Daddy Comes Home.” That song came out of World War I, the war that changed everything, that signaled a shift in understandings of brutality, government, hope, fear. It’s fascinating. Just ask Phillip Price. He’s got an old satirical map created by Karl Lehmann-Dumont hanging in his office, a relic of the First World War, not to mention the newspaper announcing the killing of Franz Ferdinand. He’s always been fascinated by “how a man can change the whole world with a bullet in the right place.” It’s what Mr. Robot is hoping to do with Elliot? Is it what Elliot did with Tyrell?
It’s hard to know if Tyrell is dead or not. He tells Elliot how much he loves to reminisce about their revolutionary night together, how he can’t stop thinking about “the night we became gods.” There’s that pesky religion popping up again. Idols we create to gain control, to offer up some semblance of reason, and a way to organize the chaos. Religion tells us something’s in control of us. Seinfeld suggests otherwise. Our brains are a mess of muddled existential thoughts and ’90s sitcoms plots.
As Elliot points out to Mr. Robot though, could they really have just talked to the most-wanted man in America over the phone? That doesn’t seem possible. Who’s to say what’s possible though? Hell, George Costanza managed to retrieve a golf ball from a whale’s blowhole.
Romero doesn’t have any existential musings anymore. Mobley finds him dead in his mother’s backyard, a pool of blood around his head, his phone smashed, and white paint dotting his clothes. This is real.
What’s real for Ray though? Some of us aren’t even sure if Ray himself is real. Is he just an orderly at an institution where Elliot is housed? Is he another patient? Is he menacing, or does he just command respect? We don’t know. What we do know is that he enjoys scrambled eggs and a few pills at breakfast while he sits in an empty dining room and talks to … no one. It’s a theme with Mr. Robot. A machine pumps in the background and yellow fills the frame. If Ray’s in an institution too, his accommodations certainly outshine Elliot’s.
NEXT: Internal Fatal Error
Elliot isn’t about to take this whole Wellick business lightly. The increased presence of Mr. Robot has him freaking. The journaling isn’t working, and he’s clearly blacking out. So he gets some Adderall from Leon in order to vanquish Mr. Robot once and for all.
The plan: OD. Kill the source and the disease, kill the symptoms. Bye, bye, Mr. Robot. Easier said than done though. In his attempt to escape the voice in his head he manages to beckon more. There’s the Heisenberg-looking man who asks him for a moment on the street. Then there’s the men who kidnap him, throw him in the back of a van, and bring him to an abandoned warehouse.
Nothing good ever happens in abandoned buildings. Stringer Bell can testify.
Sure enough, the warehouse is a bad place with some bad men. A chair sits alone in a barely-lit, cavernous space. Is this patient isolation? Are these men just Elliot’s mind giving conspiracy-laden identities to hospital workers? Something’s not right though, because one of the men pulls a red wheel barrow out of the darkness. Not that Red Wheel Barrow, but you get it.
The man fills it with cement mix and begins stirring. Cement, bricking, foundation, death. Are these things Elliot’s thinking about? He’s reckoning with his journaling, with his recovery, or lack thereof. The man shoves a red funnel into his mouth and all the suited suits help pour in the cement.
A snap and we’re back in Elliot’s apartment as he’s throwing up the pills, Mr. Robot sitting at his desk with the Heisenberg hat and the red-handled shovel, encouraging him to continue to get those pills up. Mr. Robot wants his control back, but Elliot isn’t ready to give it up so easily. He maniacally sifts through his vomit to swallow the pills again. “I will not be owned.” Don’t speak too soon, Elliot.
Elliot’s visions are certainly trippy, but they’re not that far removed in tone and aesthetic from the real world. Just look at Price’s office. The satirical map, the newspaper, the distance he keeps between himself and Angela. They start off with a great divide between them. Price knows this. But he also knows opportunity when he sees it. So, when the episode comes to a close, they’re closer than ever, not only physically, but perhaps professionally. He’s invaded her space not only by creeping closer to her at dinner, but also by occupying a space in her mind, not unlike a certain dead dad. He’s given her the hard sell on E Corp and her role, and even given her the evidence to get back at some of the men who were responsible for the Washington Township scandal should she choose to do so. Will she take the bait? Gavrilo Princip couldn’t put the bullet back in the chamber, so she needs to think before she fires.
NEXT: Keep Calm and Carry On
But I will remain
And I’ll be back again, and again and again and again and again
The Highwayman wouldn’t die. His body might, but his soul lived on, again and again and again and again. It’s all I can think of as Johnny Cash sings about him while Dominique gets ready for her day after a sleepless night. There’s not a lot of sleeping here in general. Elliot is wide-eyed and bushy-tailed when he’s on the Adderall — stairs even seem to light up as he ascends — and Dominique figures 4 a.m. is as good a time as any to start chugging coffee from a red mug.
Dominique’s name pops up on an FBI roster that was found to be in Romero’s possession. She answers the call and checks out the crime scene. She knows more than most of the officers there, and they incompetently burn Romero’s computer to the ground. Romero may be dead, but at least he was a few steps ahead before he ended up that way. Maybe the bullet in Romero’s head is the one to change the world. Or maybe the “one bullet” is just a term for a collection of violent acts. Shayla, Romero, Gideon, Tyrell (?) are victims of, and in some cases agents of, massive changes in the world.
Mobley is freaked out, as he tells Darlene, because they just pulled of the “crime of the century” and now everyone’s ending up dead.
Don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum
I’m just as sane as anyone
It’s a just a game I play for fun, for fun.
I told ’em, look, I said I’m not the way you’re thinkin’,
Just when I’m down, I’ll be a clown, I’ll play the fool.
Please don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum
That’s from “Asylum” off of Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. The fun game turns into a dangerous game real quick though.
The actors and jesters are here
The stage is in darkness and clear
For raising the curtain
and no-one’s quite certain whose play it is
That’s from “If Everyone Was Listening” off the same album. Not knowing what’s going on in everyone’s mind is just another form of not being in control. The fear comes not from the absence of knowledge of another person’s thought process, but rather from confronting the fact that we have no control over anything. Whose play is this? Why am I here? What happened while I slept? What does the curtain hide? If you don’t have the answers, off to the asylum you go.
What’s the solution to the paranoia though? Darlene’s answer to Mobley and Trenton: “stop spazzing and be cool.” That sounds a lot like complacency though, like giving away your control to someone else. Isn’t that what fsociety is fighting against? Aren’t they supposed to be disrupting the chain of control and giving it back to the people?
fsociety is lost; so is everyone. No one knows who’s pulling the strings — Darlene is certainly trying — and E Corp ads adorn the subways, trying to lull the population back into complacency. “Still on your side” boast the ads.
NEXT: The panic is there
So there’s Ray, and there’s more to him than it seems. He’s not just some dude taking in basketball games and enjoying the company of his dog. He’s got an air about him. He sits in someone’s home and laments the fact that the person sitting across from him — he’s addressing a real person this time — had to be hurt.
The camera pans slowly to reveal a terrified wife and son in the background, and a man with a beaten face sitting across from Ray. Ray just wants “the site back up” and running. This man says he can’t do it though, that he needs to find someone to completely migrate the site. No amount of beating is going to change that. Ray is laid-back about the whole thing — the heat has him in a tizzy though — but almost too laid-back. He’s hiding something.
Meanwhile, Elliot is feeling freer than ever. The Adderall has given him a new lease on life. His eyes are as wide as his smile, the lack of sleep for three days apparently doing him good (or so he believes). A cheery song soundtracks the scene, but those chimes and electronic noises sound vaguely like the beep and blips of a hospital. Or is that my mind slipping too? It’s hard to tell.
You know things for Elliot are bad when Leon is freaked out by his presence. Away goes the happy-go-lucky nature, and the descent begins. Elliot’s voice-over begins to slip. He becomes hard to understand. We’re supposed to be his friend, but we can’t help him.
Kernel panic. The blue screen of death followed by creepy girls ripped straight from The Shining — we see you, Esmail — wearing fsociety masks. “The panic isn’t just setting in anymore,” says Elliot. “It’s just there.” RIP is written in the code alongside Kernel panic. Make of that what you will.
Elliot is losing control again, but Angela believes she has it. She’s meeting Price for dinner assuming she’s in line for a promotion or something else generally positive. Alas, two colleagues are at the dinner as well. The stink of male privilege and entitlement practically seeps through the screen.
They dine at “Fidelio.” Not just a restaurant, but also an opera penned by Ludwig Van Beethoven. It it, Leonore dons a disguise, or a mask, to rescue her lover, who’s locked up as a political prisoner. The opera explores themes of heroism, sacrifice, and liberty. No television back then, but certainly a statement for the necessity of revolution, of fighting back against oppression. Angela receives evidence after the dinner to put her two colleagues away for life. Again, the bullet is locked and loaded. All that’s left is to fire.
All it takes, as we know, is one bullet to change the world. But when will the world end? Dominique wants to know, unable to be the Master of Her Domain even with the help of kinky chat rooms. Her AI Alexa provides an answer: billions of years from now when the sun explodes. That is, if something technological doesn’t kill us all first. Alexa knows the truth. Alexa was programmed with the truth.
NEXT: While the guilty roam free
“My dam of guilt is finally cracking.”
Is that an admission from Elliot that he killed Tyrell? Does the fact that it happens during one of his strange church group meetings mean that it’s not true, or happening inside his head? Either way, he’s reckoning with his actions, from the fsociety attack to his attempt to block out Mr. Robot. What’s the point of all this mental exploration though, of life in general?
See, religion and faith offers the “point.” When a man in the group tells a story about viciously beating an Indian — close to Cuckoo’s Nest territory again — he finishes by saying when the sky opened up after the attack he knew God had forgiven him. In the words of a stoned Elliot: nah, man.
Elliot can’t sit there and listen to this. He can’t listen to all the ideas that there’s a higher power keeping track of everyone’s purpose. That means giving up control. God is the dealer, and we’re all just addicts unable to recognize the horrors brought on by our dealer.
“So f— God. He’s not a good enough scapegoat for me.” Does Elliot need a scapegoat for something he’s done? That’s a big question. He tosses out his Red Wheel Barrow as he leaves the group.
Elliot heads to the diner, but it’s clearly not his scheduled eating time with Leon. Does that dismantle the “hospital/asylum” theory? What does it suggest about Elliot’s state of mind?
Ray shows up at the diner with Elliot’s journal. He says he’s “the chaplain’s old friend” and that he figured Elliot would need the journal in the future. He tells Elliot about how his wife died five years ago and how after weeks of grieving he managed to make himself breakfast, hook up to his dialysis machine, and start a conversation with someone who wasn’t there. He’s been doing it ever since, for comfort, for routine. That explains that baffling scene from earlier, but it doesn’t necessarily explain who Ray is.
Plus, as we learn later, Ray seems to know a bit about Elliot. As Elliot sits in front of an American flag — so normal compared to the one hanging in the new fsociety headquarters — the two talk about his journal and its purpose. Elliot says he wanted to control his life, but Ray says that the rules don’t matter. Or rather, that one day they don’t matter. He uses his wife, a “perfect” driver killed in a car accident, as proof.
“Then what do we have?” That’s the question. That’s the scary part. Ray’s response: “The whole thing is a fall,” meaning everyone’s just stumbling and grasping for something. Elliot is grasping for a purpose, and Ray seems to be leading him to one. For now, he just wants to play chess.
The world outside of Elliot doesn’t stop so he can play games though. Dominique, thanks to some expertly placed moving materials, finds the old Fun Society, the classic arcade that was the headquarters for fsociety. So long to the “U” and the “N.”
There’s violence in those walls, and maybe in the popcorn machine.
RELATED: In the latest episode of EW’s Entertainment Geekly podcast, Darren Franich and Jeff Jensen discuss the “What’s real?/What’s not?” tension of Mr. Robot.