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Reality itself is up for debate on the strangest Mr. Robot yet

(Photo: Michael Parmelee/USA)
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“When knowledgeable journalists tell us that ‘events, not men, shape the big decisions,’ they are echoing the theory of history as Fortune, Chance, Fate, or the work of The Unseen Hand…leading us to believe that history goes on behind men’s backs…[but] the course of events in our time depends more on a series of human decisions than on any inevitable fate. The sociological meaning of ‘fate’ is simply this: That, when the decisions are innumerable and each one is of small consequence, all of them add up in a way no man intended—to history as fate. But not all epochs are equally fateful.”

-C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite

“Where am I going?” This is the question that has driven Elliot Alderson since the very first episode of Mr. Robot, an issue both practical and existential, and rooted in the divided nature of his identity. He may have asked it tonight in a very simple way—he realizes that following Mr. Robot is an exercise in foolishness, as they are one and the same—but it resonates beyond the confines of any individual action or day. Elliot feels he’s in the grip of forces beyond his control, powerful men and groups pushing him around like a chess piece. But in rare moments, he realizes that it’s not just ineffable forces guiding his life’s choices. He has the power to act. Whether it’s hacking a child pornographer, or shutting down a black market website, or even just sharing an unexpected kiss with a young woman he loves, he can choose to make interventions and alter the course of events that seem unalterable. There’s a famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein about how life is like riding a bicycle, and you have to keep moving forward, or else you’ll fall off. But that’s never struck me as quite right: After all, if you want to stop a moving bicycle, you simply put your foot down.


“Pyth0n-pt1.p7z” begins the process of pushing Mr. Robot into bold new territory, and that transition might be too much to accept for those who thought the show took place in our world, or at least a practical extension of ours. Much like the confusing whirlwind of events surrounding Angela Moss, the show is lurching out of the accepted reality that has anchored it to a universe recognizably our own. It’s threatening to blow open the gates of logic and rationality, and introduce a mysterious sci-fi conceit that would place it firmly in an otherworldly domain. All season, the show has teased the idea of alternate realities, or different understandings of time than our own linear one, and most of these strange proposals have come from Whiterose. When talking with Dom, it was the idea of a universe where the 5/9 hack never happened. And tonight, she explicitly calls for Angela to reject the practical need for justice, or revenge (or both, really, wrapped together), and instead look to something greater. But Whiterose doesn’t ask for understanding, or thought, or even a rational decision based on whatever secrets this most oblique of characters is hiding. No, Whiterose wants something more: “I want your belief.”

This season has toyed with religion, and messianism, and a world beyond our own. Whether it was Elliot’s savage (and ultimately unsustainable) attack on faith during his Bible study group, or the constant allusions to saviors, prophets, and gods, the series has been driving toward something like this, in ways both subtle and not. And now, that destination is here, as Whiterose offers the promise of a better world, one in which you can make things happen simply by believing they would. And it might not be bound by considerations of time or space—if there’s anything Whiterose values, it’s time. Imagine the possibility of finally having a little more of it. Angela doesn’t realize how privileged she is to have been given a full 28 minutes’ worth of Whiterose’s. Unlike Dom, Angela’s conversation didn’t start at 10 minutes to midnight. But the continuous beeping signaled time’s implacable march. As did the fish tank.

And it’s not just the narrative indicating we’ve entered a new frame of reality on the show. Angela’s entire arc this week took place in a world meant to feel out of place. It began with her abduction: Every episode of the season has featured two characters in the credits, listed only as “Inconspicuous man” and “Inconspicuous woman.” Tonight, they revealed themselves as employees (servants?) of Whiterose, and her unknown project. Kidnapping Angela, they drove her out of the city, out of any symbols or signifiers of comfort or familiarity. And they placed her in a room straight out of a David Lynch movie. From the pitch-black shadows saturating the room (after passing by a row of family photos in which the faces have been blotted out with red and yellow squares), to the simple table with old-school equipment, it conjured up images of Mulholland Drive’s red room, or something from Twin Peaks, or Lost Highway. All of which showcase fractured identities, and playing with time. The little girl asking the creepy and odd questions wasn’t the important clue—at least, not for us. (She did provide a way to evaluate Angela’s “empathy…or gullibility,” as Whiterose puts it.) The important clue was the key—the one that Angela puts in her fist. Or rather, doesn’t. Yet.


But all of this happens prior to Elliot’s meditative chant paying dividends. After the opening fade-out into the credits, we return to Elliot after Whiterose’s interactions with Angela. And for once, he’s the silent observer, seeing Mr. Robot’s actions from a hidden reserve, rather than the other way around. It’s a tactic that not only shows what Robot what so eager to get back to—a Chinese delivery menu, containing the ROT-13 algorithm leading to a meetup with Tyrell Wellick—but it triggers a new action on Elliot’s part, as he stops following Mr. Robot, and simply reclaims his own body. Getting into the taxi, it takes him a moment to realize he’s back in control, and in a situation he doesn’t understand. Mr. Robot lied to him about Tyrell’s death, which we suspected, but which Elliot couldn’t quite wrap his mind around. At least, not until Tyrell reveals that Stage 2 is ready to go, and Elliot should be proud.

In this way, Elliot and Angela were once more the two mirror images of Mr. Robot, people out of their element and unwilling to play along. Angela continually rejects the process she’s been forced into, demanding to leave, to stop the questions, even to refuse Whiterose’s offer of explanation and just go home. Similarly, Elliot gets Tyrell and himself kicked out of a cab because he doesn’t want to accept the reality of the situation. But it’s looking ever more likely that, much like Angela, Tyrell has returned to show Elliot how that can be achieved—how he may not have to accept reality as it is.


Not only that, but the show has carefully made sure to stress Elliot and Angela are both entering a place where time itself is about to be questioned, through it’s use of music. Remember the one thing Angela and Elliot never got to do? It was just sit on his couch, smoke pot, and watch Back To The Future II. Angela’s journey in the back of a van began with her captors turning up the volume on Jimmy Forrest’s “Night Train,” the song first playing in that movie back in 1955, at the “Enchantment Under The Sea” dance. And Elliot, at episode’s end, walks off into the urban horizon arm-in-arm with Tyrell, to the strains of “Earth Angel”—the tune that ushered Marty McFly back to existence from the precipice of disappearing into nothing. Angela and Elliot don’t have to watch the movie, because they’re living their own unique version of it.


It’s too bad Dominique Dipierro didn’t get her own movie moment, set to Huey Lewis’ “The Power Of Love,” because she sure could use it right about now. The agent who only two episodes ago was telling Angela about the soothing effect that comes from not struggling against the current is in an even darker place than we’d known. Having a conversation with her little robotic Alexa, she slowly unravels, moving from simple questions about colors and eyes to quietly heartbreaking confessions. “Alexa, are you happy?” is the first one, that long look into nothing speaking volumes, so that Dom doesn’t have to. “Alexa…are you alone,” she trails off, faintly, rolling onto her side. Dom’s biggest fear isn’t that she’s made the wrong choices. It’s that she’s somehow lost the ability to transcend the mechanics of daily life. She abandoned her last partner, and we don’t know what happened prior to her resurfacing as an FBI agent. But it’s clear why she has to be so passionate about her case: She’s not sure it’s possible to be passionate about anything else.


We’ve all had moments like Dom’s. It’s often easier to feel the weight of the world than it is to feel the lightness of it. Mr. Robot lives in the weight, asking us to follow it in an effort to come back to the light. There are too many times when we’re trapped like Joanna Wellick, just waiting for something—anything—to signal all is not lost, that we’ll reestablish a connection with somebody we could love. It’s why the simple confirmation of a location, even one whose import remains unclear to us, is the greatest gift she could receive. It’s a sign that her waiting was not in vain. The future holds promise.

“Pyth0n-pt1.p7z” is somewhat maddeningly incomplete; it marks itself clearly as only one half of a full episode, and that “wait for it…” spirit again can turn solemn moments into potentially soapy dramatics, as every tease leaves you wanting. We’re like Elliot, feeling as though events are always unfolding just beyond eyesight, and the real truth of everything is somewhere outside our reach. It’s not a stretch to say there’s a part of everyone that wishes for a moment like Angela’s. A time when the curtain drops, and someone tells you that your instincts were right: You are very important, you’ve found your way through this world via luck and wits, and against all odds, you’ll now have a greater truth revealed to you. It’s the reliable fantasy of modernity, reflected in everything from Philip K. Dick to The Truman Show. We hope for something more. But there are men beyond our reach, men like Phillip Price, who pull levers and manipulate people, and get their way, even at the cost of the world itself. “This was always the future,” Price tells his hapless government associate. But Whiterose—and now, Angela—have a different story to tell. And it has a very simple, and utterly unbelievable, beginning: What if Price’s inevitable future wasn’t?


Stray Observations:

  • First things first: There’s no way Darlene and Cisco died, right? This episode dances around it (like always—c’mon, Mr. Robot, not everything needs to feel like you’re trolling the audience as long as possible, it’s a cheap tactic), but Dom’s use of anonymous individuals in her explanation of what happened makes me feel pretty safe in saying those two people weren’t Darlene and Cisco.
  • Second: Can someone post a translation of what the cab driver was saying? I’d love to see a transcript.
  • It’s always an interesting guessing game, seeing the elliptical nature of any name or reference. Red Wheelbarrow BBQ: Did Elliot dredge that name for his notebook from his subconscious, or did it exist prior?
  • Whiterose tells Angela she’s the motivation for Price ending his relationship with her people. To what extent is this the result of Price seeing something in Angela, and how much of it is simply Angela’s existence as her parents’ child—and Elliot’s best friend?
  • Similarly, Angela’s told she should’ve been dead 90 days ago. Is that the day of the 5/9 hack? Time is always a little odd on this show, which, shocker, I know. (According to Dom, it’s already been a month since the shootout in China.)
  • “We can’t beat them, but we don’t have to lose to them, either.”
  • Don’t even get me started on the whole Commodore game, Land Of Ecodelia. The term “ecodelia” seems to imply a relationship with the cosmos, possibly fostered through plants or nature—the term comes up in ponderous tomes about psychotropic drugs. Anyone?
  • Needless to say, that entire table seemed to exist simply for Esmail’s pure delight in dangling allusions and references in front of us, from the floppy disk itself to that copy of Lolita.
  • Honestly, the most sensible storyline—Price’s pushing through the Ecoin gambit, and China’s $2 trillion bailout of Evil Corp—could’ve used a little more meat.
  • Next week is going to be a doozy, folks. I’m sticking to my prediction: This will either be the biggest shark jump imaginable, or it’ll pivot the series in a brilliant new direction, but it won’t be bland.

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