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Everyone's looking for a reason to believe on Mr. Robot's long night

Photo: Scott McDermott (USA Network)
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“Wheels have been set in motion, and they have their own pace, to which we are...condemned. Each move is dictated by the previous one—that is the meaning of order. If we start being arbitrary it’ll just be a shambles: at least, let us hope so. Because if we happened, just happened to discover, or even suspect, that our spontaneity was part of their order, we’d know that we were lost.”

—Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead

There’s no simple way to find yourself. If there were, every college sophomore in America wouldn’t be hoping to find themselves under the table of a cafe in Paris or wherever their dreams suggest it may be. Not only that, but there’s no singular self to begin with; we’re all made of multiple selves, as this show has explored from its first season on, and those selves may not even get along. But if you persist in trying to dig down ever deeper into who you are, it’s all too likely that you’ll end up realizing what the characters in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive discover, all too late: There’s no “true” authentic self beneath the multiple surface behaviors and personalities we wear throughout the day. Those are all we have. They make up who we are. If you keep rejecting or casting those aside, eventually you come to...nothing.

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That realization of the hollowness at the heart of identity comes to Tyrell Wellick in a rush toward the end of “Not Found,” as his frustrations and fears are peeled back to confront him with the fact that he’s lost whatever gave his life meaning. Family, friends, higher purpose—they’re all stripped away as he faces the fact that the insecurities which propelled him no longer matter, and in that moment, the reasons to keep going also fall away. “Wherever we’re walking toward, it ends with death,” he tells Elliot (and Mr. Robot), a prediction that turns out to be right—for him, anyway. Elliot is forced to weigh his options as well, and comes to the conclusion that he might, indeed, deserve to die, but if he can still save Darlene from the same fate, that’s worth pushing ahead.

This installment of Mr. Robot echoes nothing so much as the classic Sopranos episode, “Pine Barrens,” and not just because it features a couple of guys lost in the woods, stumbling blindly towards something, anything, that might help them escape. Like that famous HBO series’ highlight, it keeps cutting back to its other characters, and using the sense of foreboding and anxiety generated by its most striking story to inform the seemingly precarious situations in which Darlene and Dom both find themselves. Everyone here is going through a dark night of the soul—a theme and structure that has recurred with increasing frequency as this series nears its finale—and again, it finds a kind of grace in the acceptance of emptiness at the heart of our innermost selves. It’s a grace that comes with accepting there’s no part of us that can fill that fundamental void. It can only be filled by others.

Photo: Scott McDermott (USA Network)
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Darlene’s is the most ironic depiction of this journey, as she begins the night seemingly taking advantage of a drunk guy in a Santa Claus costume, only to become concerned the man might be planning to kill himself, until it’s revealed that he’s actually doing just fine, and she’s the one who desperately needs someone to talk to. Her neediness has become so bound up in exasperation and anger toward her relationship—and mistreatment—by Elliot, it’s only when her efforts to control another’s problems are abruptly stripped away that Darlene is capable of accessing the hurt and honesty beneath her bravado. She began the season avoiding her issues through drugs and drink, and then dove into the mission with a zeal that overrode Elliot’s cruelty and her ongoing guilt. But those fears and traumas swell, like the climax of a symphony, on the front steps of Tobias’ house, until she can only admit that the loss of everything else means the one lifeline she stills clings to—her brother—is the fucked-up connection that nonetheless keeps her going.

It’s the flip side of the same realization Elliot has on a random street in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and snow and a sense of impending mortality. Wellick pushes him away at first, with pitiable speeches and accusatory gestures of childish jealousy (By the time they’re yelling “I don’t care!” and Elliot’s stomping off, the two resemble a middle-school couple in the middle of a breakup more than a squabbling pair of radicals), and it looks as though they’re on the same page: Nothing matters, and neither cares. But as with Darlene, it’s a false front; Elliot needs to warn his sister, and his need extends like a tendril into Wellick’s soul. They both know their own journey is ending, but they have a chance to give someone else a better route. It’s not much, especially for Wellick, but it’s enough. His idolization of Elliot, and the sting of Elliot’s rebuke, are tempered with the FSociety creator’s admission: “You’re the only person I know that actually likes me.” That slender line between the two is just enough to get him moving, until they stumble upon the van, and Elliot can get to his sister. The connection is complete; Wellick just wants to take a walk. R.I.P., Tyrell Wellick. (Not necessarily, of course.)

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Their path is a physical one, but Dom’s is almost wholly in the mind. The FBI agent is lying in bed on Christmas Eve, logging on to her old chat room to masturbate with the same person as before. (Only after she gives up on touching herself to footage of Darlene in holding, though, which gives a painfully clear indicator of how lost and confused Dom feels these days.) Her dream scenario imagines a world where the standard-issue online source of her desires turns out to be another woman as lonely as she is; but just as it holds out the promise of relief, it turns into a nightmare, as the woman storms into her bathroom wearing a Dark Army mask and commands her to abandon any attempts to hold on to her old life, her old self: “Give up control...realize you’ll never be free.” When she awakes, Dom walks to the mirror, splashes water on her face, and gives a clear-eyed look at herself. She’s found a reason to pull herself out of this spiral. But whether it’s the grim acceptance of an end, a la Wellick, or the hope of saving something besides herself, a la Elliot and Darlene, remains to be seen.

“What if that’s what they wanted all along? To not be found?” Mr. Robot’s question echoes Mr. Robot’s steady progression away from the alienated self with which Elliot began this series—away from detached monologues that hold emotion at arm’s length, that treated crying jags as a structural problem to be dealt with via mathematical application of drugs, not emotional problems requiring the messy anti-math of human connection. Everyone wants to be found, to be seen as someone, and that recognition provides the ground on which all else lies. Mr. Robot isn’t just speaking for Elliot because Elliot won’t speak for himself. He’s articulating hidden motives that have driven the show as much as its cerebral hero. To answer Robot’s question about how long you should look if you search and don’t find—you look one more time. Always, just one more time.

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Stray observations

  • Still no development on the mystery “third persona” front this week, or Whiterose’s overarching plan. All we know is that our remaining protagonists will have to hack Virtual Realty, the business holding the real access to Deus’ Cyprus Bank holdings, if they want to complete the mission.
  • But if you want mystery, Wellick’s final moments provide a good one. The fade to white is usually a visual representation of death overtaking the subject in frame, but this show rarely does the usual thing—especially not when there’s a glowing blue light in front of Tyrell, which may also be the source of the animal-like howling that followed them all night.
  • Jon Glaser delivers a notably different performance from the usual Glaser-esque blowhard the actor excels at playing, giving a sweetly slurred turn as drunken, good-hearted Tobias. Especially the twist involving his auto: “Hey, that’s my car.”
  • She eventually realizes it’s Wellick, but the gas station attendant’s interminable guessing at the tall man’s identity provided a nice source of comic relief. “Were you on Big Brother?” “Yeah.”
  • Another Dark Army operative, another eventual suicide.
  • That comparison to The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens” is more than just a critical comparison, incidentally: If you do a Google search for “Pike’s Hollow” (the name of the town the woodsy path was supposed to lead Elliot and Wellick to), the first result you’ll get is the Wikipedia page for...“Pine Barrens.”
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About the author

Alex McLevy

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.