The following post explores the specific question as to whether Mr. Robot — the title character in the USA Network series played by Christian Slater — is real, of if he is a Fight Club-like alternate identity of Elliot’s. If you have not watched the show, do not read ahead (and go watch the show). If you do watch the show and do not want to know the answer, also don’t read ahead, as I think there’s a fairly definitive answer.
In the opening moments of USA Network’s new series, Mr. Robot, Elliot delivers the following voice-over narration.
“Maybe I should give you a name.”
“That’s a slippery slope. You’re only in my head. We have to remember that.”
“It’s actually happening. I’m talking to an imaginary person.”
The question that’s probably on everyone’s by now is this: Is Mr. Robot Elliot’s imaginary friend? Is he real? Or is the Christian Slater character just another of Elliot’s hallucinations?
Let’s take a look at the evidence so far, through three episodes.
This is what we know.
Elliot “hides,’ as he shrink tells him, and when he “hides, his delusions come back. It’s a slippery slope.” He also told his shrink that the “men in black” he’s been seeing are gone because the meds she’s been giving him are “working.” But are they? Is he even taking his meds? Is Mr. Robot like one of the men in black of his past delusions?
In their first interaction on the subway, no one else reacts as Mr. Robot shouts at Elliot, although this is likely common behavior on Manhattan subways.
The second time he spots Mr. Robot, Mr. Robot is begging for change from two men who wave him off. However, in the next second, Mr. Robot is gone.
The first time that Elliot and Mr. Robot actually speak, they’re on the subway again. No one else is around.
Elliot follows Mr. Robot to their Coney Island bunker, where they meet with other hackers. Importantly, however, no one interacts with Mr. Robot; they only react to Elliot when he’s speaking to Mr. Robot. See here, when someone answers the door, they don’t even look at Mr. Robot.
Throughout the scene, other other characters only look in Elliot’s direction, never Mr. Robot’s.
After leaving the bunker, Elliot asks himself, “Was that real? Or a delusion? I’m schizo.”
Maybe he is.
Later, when he returns to the Coney Island bunker, he asks Darlene, “Where’s your boss?” She looks at him awkwardly and says, “Cut the bullshit,” as though she were saying, “Uh, you’re the boss, asshole.”
Mr. Robot only appears right after Darlene leaves. The two continue to talk, alone, on the ferris wheel.
In another interaction with Darlene in the second episode, Mr. Robot is not mentioned, but when Elliot asks her, “How do you know where I live?” she responds, “Why wouldn’t I know?” as though she’s been there several times.
Back in the Coney Island bunker again, everyone only reacts to Elliot, save for one interaction when Darlene seems to reply to something that Mr. Robot said, but could just have well been looking through him and responding to Elliot’s silence. Her reaction would feel just as natural if it were to Mr. Robot’s statement or to Elliot’s silence.
The rest of Elliot and Mr. Robot’s interactions in that episode were while they were alone.
Note, also, that before Mr. Robot pushed Elliot off the boardwalk, Elliot was feeling hopeless, like he has no control over anything. His shrink also noted that he’d slipped into old habits, old behaviors, suggesting he was repeating his behavior before he was on his medication. The “shove” very well could have been a suicide attempt.
In their next confrontation, Elliot throws Mr. Robot against the wall in his office. No one reacts unusually to his presence.
Afterwards, they go to a bar. The bartender only speaks with Elliot. For some reason, Mr. Robot was enjoying his drink before Elliot even ordered, even though they entered at the same time.
In the final scene of the episode, Elliot returns to the Coney Island bunker. Mr. Robot was standing off to the side. No one interacted with him.
Verdict: Either Mr. Robot is not real — and a Flight Club-like split personality — or the show really wants us to believe that Mr. Robot isn’t real. The great thing about the series, however, is that is doesn’t rely on the gimmick. It’s as brilliant a series whether we know that or not, and it’s not even clear that showrunner Sam Esmail is attempting to hide it from us.