Warning: Spoilers for season one of Mr. Robot below. Turn back, unless thou hast completest yon show.
USA Network’s Mr. Robot is a psychological torture experiment from the brilliant mind of social scientist Dr. Sam[wise?] Esmail. The delivery device of this particular control group is the guise of a ‘television program.’ In this experiment, Dr. Esmail offers up the promise of a story to a number of viewers, when all he’s actually testing is how much human beings prefer uncertainty over satisfaction. Mr. Robot is a way of re-inventing the modern concept of a plot by making it unable to be parsed in any way. It is basically Lost on steroids, addicted to oxy, whispered over a bad phone connection by Gilbert Gottfried. And yes, it just won the Golden Globe for best something. Best comedy, maybe. Who gives a shit? It’s the Golden Globes. The Peoples Choice Awards have more credibility these days. So how did this fascinating show come about?
Well, it began with a shitload of marijuana, obviously.
It began in every stoned dorm room in every college in America where every brilliant proposed plot twist for every show has been whispered, incoherently to a pride of cackling dummies, only to be forgotten by everyone, every morning. Except Sam Esmail. He has done for conspiracy-theory laced weed banter what M. Night Shamalan did for the visual representation of urban myths: made a lucrative career out of them.
Imagine, if you will, a hazy, cannabis-filled room, where the original idea was cracked about Elliot and his dad:
“Dude. Dude. Dude. What if that other recruiter dude is like related to Elliot or whatever?
“Like: Elliot, I am your…father?”
“Wait…..what if we like, set up a twist and shit, and then we yank out the rug and people find out it’s like a totally different twist?”
“Yes! Like Luuuuuke I am your father! But I’m actually — wait for it — dead.”
“Whoa! No, no! I got it. It’s like, you think it’s his father and maybe it is, but yeah he’s also dead, and it isn’t even his father in reality! It’s like Elliot: I’m your dad and I’m dead but I was never here in the first place because I’m like a figment of your imagination and shit.”
“And he’s mentally ill.”
“And a junkie.”
“Right, so you never know if his mind is lying to him or his illness is creating things or if it’s a generic television plot twist.”
“Whoa. We’re onto something here, guys.”
And then imagine another hazy room where a number of different, completely unrelated baked yoots are trying to make sense of what they just saw after finishing Season One of Mr. Robot.
“So whoa…I’m confused…did his dad ever even exist?”
“Wait, is Elliot Mr. Robot or is his fake, dead dad Mr. Robot, or was it just the name of the store and his subconscious just kind of appropriated it?”
“I think the best version of the Mr. Robot store was the tattoo parlor. I didn’t buy that space as a bank for a second.”
“Maybe it was just an ATM kiosk location. Maybe it wasn’t a proper bank.”
“Or is there even a dad? How would we know? What if it’s like just all a figment of his imagination and he grew up in an orphanage? I know we saw photos of his dad, but with an unreliable narrator, how do know any of that is real?”
“And where’s the mom?”
“Or, does it even matter because when shit gets hairy on the show, Elliot just stares at us and asks us. HE LOOKS RIGHT AT US. And I’m like ‘whaaa? You’re asking me, bro? I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Bill and his fuckin’ cats, man.”
“Dude, when they broke those fuckin’ dogs out of death row, man? I’m still worried about all those dogs roaming the streets. It’s like, that emaciated 76 pound sister chick looks like she eats one pretzel a week, tops. How’s she gonna take care of those dogs? I mean, those hacker nerds may be world class coders but they don’t strike me as responsible pet owners. Look at her, man. Is that the person you want to be your mother?”
“I think if the choice is between her as your mother or Dante’s inferno, yeah I think you’re like HI MOM!”
“But don’t the hackers feel any responsibility for the dogs? Like a bond because they’re like on the fringe of humanity and the dogs are on the fringe of like…whatever the dog word for humanity is?”
“I think they were just like, we busted these bitches out, man. Like, you bitches are on your own, bro.”
“Oh man. That fucks with me.”
“You know there’s like a Portuguese Water Dog that’s gonna get recaptured like right away and put back on death row and he’s just totally self-hating. He just sits there smoking a cigarette and thinking about all the turns he didn’t take on the street and cars he could have hid behind and alleys he could have gone down. He’s just like ‘I deserve this. I got cute. I got cute.’”
“I’d watch that show. That show is already better than anything on NBC.”
“And you know what else? Where’d they get all those masks? Like did some genius mask manufacturer in Saugerties, NY go ‘this is the new mask, guys. We need to stop production on every other mask-“
“Like stop making Olaf masks from Frozen immediately!”
“Exactly. Like Gather round, everyone. I been in the mask game a long time, but this, this is something I ain’t never seen…”
“THIS RIGHT HERE IS WHY I GOT IN THE MASK BIDNESS IN THE FIRST PLACE!”
“Like, no more Kylo Ren masks!”
“Whoa whoa. Don’t get crazy.”
“And how did they pay for the masks? Like, every credit card becomes invalid and then there are like 10,000 Fsociety masks made and they were all bought by people who had cash? When’s the last time you carried cash? How much cash do you guys have on you right now?”
“See? Me neither. If they turned off plastic for real, today, we’d all be basically blowing people for food, but we’d also somehow manage to buy a mask? If I’m choosing between a McRib or a mask, I’m going McDonalds 100% of the time.”
“I’m concerned about how easily you decided we’d be quote “blowing people.”
“What I don’t get is that the big thing is to wipe out debt, so why isn’t that crowd made up entirely of like middle aged fathers who are like THANK HEAVENLY JESUS I don’t have to pay for the house me and my wife picked out in 1998 that we’ve been upside down on since day one? Why is it like, young people? We have college loans but we’re too young to realize how fucking debilitating debt is yet.”
“You’re right dude. That crowd shouldn’t be a bunch of hipsters. It should look like an open casting call for The King of Queens out there. There should be so much man flesh on that street that they have to bring bulldozers in to move people out. It should look like a diabetus convention.”
“My dad isn’t gay (I don’t think) but if you went to him right now and said ‘presto chango, you are instantly debt free’ there’s a good chance you’d get a handy from him. Just like out of relief and euphoria.”
“Relief and euphoria handjobs are the best.”
“Now I want one.”
“Don’t look at me, fucker.”
“In all seriousness, if you’re the actor who played the like bald tough guy on the computer, how do you like not fucking crack up when Kevin Bacon puts his fingers under your nose and is like I had sex with your mom, here, smell.”
“I don’t even know. That’s the funniest shit ever.”
“That’s not Kevin Bacon, you asshole. It’s fuckin-“
“Oh yeah. Um-“
“The guy, ugh what’s his name Christian Bale.”
“Christian Slater. Christian Slater.”
“Poor Christian Slater man, he was like the top Christian in Hollywood for a long time, bro.”
“Now he’s like -wait- somebody google Christian and see what autofills first, maybe this show put him back on top.”
“I got it…Christian…”
“#1 with a bullet: Christian Movies.”
“Christian Movies, then #2: Christian Movies 2015. Then Christian BALE, then Christian Slater. He’s #4 after that Kirk Cameron faither.”
“That’s just insulting.”
“Oh man. Ohhh I’d be so pissed if I was Christian Slater. I’d be like YOU FUCKERS DON’T KNOW ME? NUMBER FOUR? I WAS CLARENCE WORLEY, MOTHERFUCKERS! BREASTESES? AND I WAS J.D. IN HEATHERS AND WILL SCARLET AND GLEAMING THE CUBE AND FUCKING WINDTALKERS, YO! AND DON’T FORGET KUFFS AND SHIT? KUFFS? DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK! I BEEN HERE FOR YEARS, SON!”
“YOU ASSHOLES DON’T REMEMBER ME IN FUCKIN’ LIGHTNING JACK??”
“He wasn’t in Lightning Jack you stupid, empty-headed motherf-“
STOP GUYS MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE.
What I’m suggesting is that a burning ember of weed is logically both the alpha and omega of this show. It’s your standard Mary Jane bookend.
Put simply, Mr. Robot is what happens when you take:
— a stellar cast
— absolutely beautiful camera work
— rock-solid writing
— some universal concerns like the weight of debt and people hacking your home made porn and mistrust of the government and drug culture
— add job security woes
— frame it inside a disenfranchised generation of young people
— borrow the trick from Lost where you answer no questions and just basically distract everyone with new plotlines
— and sprinkle in the movies Fight Club, The Matrix, American Psycho, Blade Runner, Wall Street and V for Vendetta
…and shake them all up like a snow globe. That’s what this show is. And somehow, someway, the general consensus is that it’s good.
It’s really, really good. Riiiiiight? Good.
So, is that the trick? If you can’t explain it to your grandma on a porch swing over lemonade in fifty words or less that means it’s confounding enough to keep the interest of an exhaustive internet generation? Is that the golden goose?
So what is this show really about? We can view-from-10,000-feet this thing from now to eternity, and how it lays bare a culture of corporations run amok and a society in danger of losing it’s soul (hence F*** Society) but tell me the story of what our eyes actually see. Not the egghead analysis for your senior thesis. What’s the story? How would we explain it to grandma if we assume that she’s not on the bong with us in our dorm room?
“Well, Grandma, Mr. Robot is a story about a feral sociopath named Tyrell Wellick who will - pardonne moi Francais- fuck anyone -man or woman-, steal anything and kill anybody to get ahead. And just when you think he’s completely beaten, he takes over the world by somehow making this other dude named Elliot sleep in a Chevy Tahoe for three days and then becomes the head of this like secret organization that has just freed everyone from debt and stuff. So like, even though this guy is like the most horrendous monster ever and devoid of even basic empathy he takes over the world. Or not. I say that because when Fsociety commandeered the assets of a multitrilliondollar international conglomerate and permanently encrypted all of the data with no way to reverse it, I’m guessing Tyrell Wellick built a back door for him to move the assets into his control. But he’s not working by himself. He’s got this rocket hot pregnant Lady Macbeth wife who whispers to him in Swedish about how he’s supposed to Ayn Rand the fuck out of everyone and you know she’s serious because she breaks her own water with a fucking fondue fork she jams up her vajingle while the cops are zeroing in on her husband for when he strangled his boss’s wife on a roof deck during a party. And when the baby is born she dresses him down and is like “if you want to keep being around me jamming myself with stuff, you better come correct.” And so Wellick is like oh man and he sorta leaves her and vanishes and then he somehow takes over Fsociety. Because really, maybe Elliot is actually Wellick. You still with me, Gram?”
“So this fucking smoking hot Lady Macbeth who is like the most gorgeous person you’ll ever see from some angles and then is like just wrong looking, like a fucking Rocky Dennis man-made wrongness suite from other angles, meets up with Elliot outside her home and he’s like basically “where’s my psychopathic alter ego and shit?” And she has to think quick so she’s like he’ll be here in ten minutes but I also haven’t seen him for a week. This is all happening above the carriage of their cooing baby.
So anyway the baby is like, listening to his parents be all like where’s dad? And he’s right there. I mean, if Elliot is Wellick, he’s right fucking there. And Lady Macbeth is like how do I trigger the sociopath? Hmmm I better try to talk the magic Swedish words to him but Elliot is like huh? Because when he’s the Elliot Sybil he like, doesn’t speak Nordictrack. But the huge mindfuck is the baby, because you know the whole thing about Elliot’s dad not being there? No? I didn’t mention that? Okay, I’ll get to that but basically the baby is like reliving the sense of loss of his father even though his father is right there. I mean wow. Or maybe Wellick didn’t build a back door encryption breaker for personal use, in which case, who gives a shit where he is? He only matters if he has power. Stay with me Grandma. This is probably gonna get easier.”
“So the part I forgot was that Darlene is like Elliot’s sister, but he always forgets or something because he has blackouts or something? And maybe that’s somehow tied to how he’s completely erased himself from the internet? Huh? No grandma, I can’t erase you from the internet. No one can. It’s impossible unless you’re like the Gene Hackman character Brill from Enemy of the State and you live in a chicken wire Faraday cage with no land lines since before the internet started.”
“So Darlene is like this girl whose voice has -I’m not kidding- it’s so shrill and nasally that it chased the mice out of my apartment. If you don’t notice it, then you’re okay but once you do, it’s like when that beetle crawled in that dudes ear in that movie and he flipped out and stabbed himself in the ear just to kill it because it was driving him actually insane. That’s how piercing her voice is. But Darlene is Elliot’s sister. I don’t exactly know why that’s important. The way we find out that he’s his sister is because she’s like I love you so much! And he’s like awwww yeah! Shayla’s dead and I’m horned up so let’s mush- Huh? Who’s Shayla? I didn’t tell you that?”
“Okay so Shayla is obviously the low-level drug dealer that Elliot falls in love with or doesn’t. Maybe he just likes her. I don’t know. Did I mention that Elliot has a chemical dependency? Yeah, well he does. And he goes to therapy too but only so he can hack his shrink and know that she enjoys anal. Yes, anal. Try not to interrupt me, Gram. Anyway, there’s like this whole thing with Shayla where she ends up getting kidnapped by like this slightly higher low-level drug dealer clearly modeled after Jamie Kennedy’s Brad B-Rad Gluckman character in Malibu’s Most Wanted. So the B-Rad guy is like you have to break me out of a federal penn if you want your girl back and -this is how good Elliot is- he does it in like forty seconds. He just obviously piggybacks a signal on the back of a remote patrol car wifi- anyway it’s computery, but it works. I totally get it. And then B-Rad is like, yo lady’s in the trunk, asshole! And they slit her throat Grandma! They slit her throat. I have to take a minute. That was some Game of Thrones shit there.”
“You’re asking what changed when she died? Um, well nothing I guess. She was just some neighbor but based on the amount of screen time she had and all the resources Elliot devoted to saving her, we’re like ‘well, she must be important.’ But I guess she wasn’t? I honestly don’t know. One second it’s like this show is Ocean’s Eleven let’s break into an impenetrable fortress and the next it’s the Jesse / Jane relationship on Breaking Bad. It’s like all things to all people and maybe nothing to no one. I can’t tell you because I have no idea what’s going on. The point is that Elliot, who may or may not be Tyrell and is absolutely his dad…or not, is this ubergenius Neo from The Matrix type hacker and he has recruited his sister and some other blonde girl who is apparently also family but maybe not a sister to bring down the world. Except the blonde is probably being set up by Evil Corp, who are the bad guys. That’s why they’re called Evil Corp.”
“One thing we know for sure is that Elliot loves to hurl himself out of shit and he somehow survives every fall. Like out a second story window onto an asphalt driveway or off an elevated boardwalk onto rocks. We know that because when he woke up in the Chevy Tahoe there was a pair of sunglasses in the moonroof and obviously when you pull on one of the ear support thingies, it’s a USB drive and someone had put a YouTube video on it. Do I know who put it there? No I don’t know who, Grandma. Maybe Tyrell? Yes, Elliot is Tyrell maybe. I don’t know. Sometimes you think no, he’s not Tyrell because when Elliot went up to Wellick’s secretary and said “where’s Wellick?” she’d be like “um, you are” but then other stuff makes you think they’re the same dude? I don’t know. It’s the most confusing show ever made. My brain hurts just thinking about it. I’m not sure this is actually entertainment in the general sense.”
“Anyway, Grandma, when anything gets too hairy, Elliot just looks directly into the camera and those Rami Malek eyes soulgaze into you and he’s like TELL ME WHAT’S HAPPENING GREEK CHORUS! And of course we can’t. So it’s like oh man, this is rough! Not that we know anyway. Not that anyone knows. I promise you that no one, not even Sam Esmail knows what’s going on. Like, at the end of the season finale someone is knocking and we’re like is it Tyrell? Is it Mr. Robot? Is it the B-Rad guy? Is it White Rose? (whoever the FUCK that is) (I love you B.D. Wong - especially as Edward in The Freshman) It could be anyone. It could be Elliot. It could be no one. Maybe there’s no knocking at all. Maybe the audience hearing the knocking is what’s fucking with Elliot because no one is there, Grandma! NO ONE IS FUCKING THERE! Because they’re doing this E=MC squared thing where the act of us viewing Elliot fundamentally changes his actions or something. And there was this little button at the very end where White Rose is part of the Illuminati or some world-ruling shadow government. You can always tell when it’s the Illuminati because there’s always one sheikh and one dude dressed like Kastagir from Highlander.”
“That’s the absolute golden rule with world-ruling shadow organizations: It ain’t all that freaky ‘til you see that dashiki. That’s like, rule one.”
“What are they up to? I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know anything. This may as well be scenes from fifty different shows. Every time I watch Mr. Robot I have to draw on every single iota of knowledge from my liberal arts degree to try to make sense of it. It’s like a malaria fever dream that a banished-for-alcoholism English Lit professor would come up with. It’s like if a digital yarn wall could make a hyper-pretentious student film that was actually decent. God I wish you smoked weed, Grandma. It would make this so much easier.”
And that’s Mr. Robot. In a nutshell. I just don’t know. I don’t know if this is important television or a complete circle jerk, but despite it being on USA Network, it feels closer to A than to B. It feels like the cast is strong enough and the writing is interesting enough and the visual experience is provoking enough to give it the benefit of the doubt, so I will. But honestly, by the time I got to the end I was irritated. It didn’t feel fresh to me, it felt lost and unhinged. It’s like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, except instead of a rabbit, it’s just a bunch of more hats. And he’s charming, so you stick with it, because there’s the promise of a rabbit coming out of one of these hats and the performance on its own has merit. But as more hats keep coming, you start to wonder if the magician actually knows where the rabbit is.
Once this show decides to tell me what it’s about, I’ll be ready to tell you how I feel about that. In a world without rules, where can anyone be expected to plant a flag? For now, we’ll applaud the execution and hope that whoever or whatever is on the other side of that door will bring a little more clarity. At the very least, we can view it as a cautionary tale of sorts, about an out of control financial sector and questionable ethics in corporations. Don’t help The Man fuck you. So if you’re the type of person to, say, complain about big brother and then helicopter your dingus in plain view of your Xbox Kinect camera? Maybe don’t do that.
Sam Esmail, congrats on your Golden Globe and shine on, you crazy diamond. Good luck shaking that snow globe next season!