Season 1, Episode 9: “eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt”
(***WARNING: IF YOU DON’T WANT ANY SPOILERS, STOP READING NOW.***)
We already know Mr. Robot doesn’t exist. We’ve known it for quite some time. That’s what this episode tells us. Mr. Robot is the mental manifestation of Elliot who has been mentally scarred for years following the death of his father. It’s what half of the internet has suspected since the show started. Last week, the “Robot is Elliot’s father” camp was vindicated. This week, the “Mr. Robot doesn’t exist” camp got their licks in. Both are true. So, congrats. Everyone can stop fighting now.
This episode is clearly about the past, living in it, with it and eventually confronting it and facing the emotional consequences that come with moving on in the form of guilt, regret, denial, acceptance, so on and so forth.
This is hammered home from the very start of the episode: A phone rings. A familiar voice answers it: “Mr. Robot!” We see Mr. Robot…but something’s different: he’s seemingly happy, cheerful and acquiescent. He talks computers with the caller, who wants to know what kind of computer would suit them. “Right now, it’s the Pentium 90,” Mr. Robot says, explaining that it’s very fast and has an “800 MB hard drive”. Imagine that!
It’s 1994. This is a Mom-and-Pop computer store, one of those places no longer exist because larger computer superstores are all the rage. (Even the episode’s trademark title system has a “.qt” extension, an obvious homage to Apple’s old QuickTime movie files.) A man in a suit walks in. He claims that Mr. Robot’s son stole money from him. Robot wants to calm things down and talk about it, but the man just wants to yell and demands his money back, loudly telling Robot that he “doesn’t give a shit” about Robot’s calm approach to the man’s accusations. After gaining emotional high ground, the man finally cools off and asks Robot to do “the right thing”.
“No,” says Robot, after a beat. “The answer is no.” He’s not falling for the man’s moral code. Robot’s seen his true colors. This pisses the guy off. He becomes childish and brags about how he “earns money” rather than “stealing it”. He declares that he’ll call the police. He accuses Robot of teaching his son how to be thief. He calls Robot a liar. None of this phases Robot. He sits and reads his newspaper. It isn’t until the man tells Robot that he’s a “bad father” that Robot reacts. He asks the man to leave — only the man isn’t done. He tells Robot that he’s a middle-aged man doing a job his “retarded nephew” can do. He even adds a little chuckle to that attack, just to make that little jab sharper. Then he finally relents, storming off while saying he’ll be a “Best Buy” customer from now on. That might sting since corporate retail would go on to outshine shops like his.
Once he leaves, Robot confronts a young Elliot, who coughs up the $20 dollar bill. Robot tells Elliot that they’re gonna use the money to go see a movie and asks his son to choose what he wants to see. After being given the choice between Stargate and Timecop, Elliot chooses Pulp Fiction, a film Robot’s never heard of, but ok. Elliot asks his Dad why he isn’t being punished. Robot simply says, “Even though what you did was wrong, you’re still a good kid. And that guy was a prick. Sometimes that matters more.” They leave for the movie and we realize that his name isn’t Mr. Robot — the shop is named as such.
Following their departure, we witness time’s inevitable effect on things: the shop goes out of business, being replaced by cafes and small retail shops until it becomes an Evil Corp banking building — and we’re suddenly in the present. The brilliance of this cannot be overstated. From what we already know, Evil Corp ended up killing Elliot’s father. Even their property is built on his “grave”, so to speak.
The majority of the episode is spent with Mr. Robot as he works to bring Elliot into the present, promising to show him something that will finally sober him up. On the way, we get a good look at Elliot and Robot’s early life together. He was a boy who loved his father and looked up to him. One day, Elliot discovers that his father has cancer and, against his father’s wishes, Elliot tells his mother about it. This angers Elliot’s father and, after a confrontation and altercation between the two, he pushes Elliot out the second-story window of their home — or at least, that’s what Elliot remembers. His memory’s Swiss cheese if current events are any indication. Any traces of what he is or was are now bits of data on a disk.
Elliot is woefully naive to all this:
“I am remembering more and more now as time goes on. That’s a plus. It’s all starting to come back. And once we get all the answers, I’ll be back to normal. Except for the fact my dead father isn’t really dead and is sitting across from me.”
Except that Elliot isn’t living in reality. That’s the fatal flaw in his logic. Ironic for somebody who believes himself to be apathetic to major changes to his environment. The next shot to his fragile brain? Robot’s not the reason for Elliot’s spill out the window — Elliot did that to himself out of guilt when he saw how hurt his Dad was. His Dad even tells him that he doesn’t have to be angry with himself anymore — Elliot can just let go. Out of anger, Elliot quite literally does so and Robot takes a nasty bump to his head and also hurts his leg. Or does he? As Robot’s just a manifestation of Elliot, it’s Elliot who ends up hurt.
We see it later when they make it to a cemetery where Elliot finally comes to terms with the fact that his father really is dead and that he has been living out the Mr. Robot identity this entire time. It isn’t a shocker. We, the audience, already suspected it. But the way it’s presented is beautifully handled and brilliant. Aside from the fact that the episode features a soft piano version of “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies (a playful little nod to Palahniuk and Fincher’s Fight Club) after the reveal, Elliot continues to break the fourth wall, grabbing us and demanding answers, much like he did to his own father:
“This is happening, isn’t it? You knew all along, didn’t you?”
His sister, Darlene, and Angela show up to console him. They do their level best to get Elliot to remember what happened but Elliot struggles to comprehend just how fucked up he’s been all this time, which gives us a gem of a Pulp Fiction reference:
DARLENE: “Are you OK?”
ELLIOT: “Nah…I’m pretty fucking FAR from ‘OK’.”
The aftermath of all of this leaves Elliot severely depressed, not knowing which way is up, down, left or right. Darlene wants him to go through with the plan that he conceived…but Elliot can’t even remember starting FSociety and, therefore, can’t even see the point in continuing to bankrupt Evil Corp. All Darlene can offer is that Elliot was “trying to do the right thing”. When Elliot’s self-doubt becomes too much, Darlene offers to re-fill his prescription medicine — something that his father, Edward (his real name), warned Elliot not to take because it was the very thing making him forget everything from his past.
There are two other interesting moments that play alongside this storyline.
The first is the fall of Tyrell Wellick. When we last left the Family Wellick, they were about to be questioned about the murder of Sharon, the Evil Corp CTO-To-Be’s wife. Joanna induced labor, breaking her own water using a fork (I can’t even make this up if I was high) as a stalling tactic. Here, we see that the Wellicks have had their baby (the key to the future, perhaps) — except that Joanna has now given Tyrell an ultimatum: either he fixes their standing in the world or he will be forever banished from Joanna and his own child’s life.
It gets worse when Tyrell is fired from Evil Corp because the police have pegged him as a major “person of interest” in Sharon’s murder. Phillip Price, Evil Corp’s CEO, is almost disgustingly delighted to do so. As Elliot melts down, so does Tyrell. Tears well up in his eyes as he begs for his job, telling Price that he was “on a track”, a reaction that Price says is both unexpected and disappointing and, much like Edward telling his son to let go, Price tells Tyrell to embrace reality, let go, learn from his mistakes and move on.
But what is “moving on” for Tyrell Wellick?
How about Tyrell visiting Elliot and threatening his life in a veiled manner? In response, Elliot (who, at this point, is looking for any silver lining he can find) volunteers to take Wellick to the Coney Island hideout. But why? It makes sense when you think about it. Everything that these two characters held dear, up and until this point, was stripped from them. Robot vanished and Wellick’s well-being is entirely in jeopardy. Opposites truly attract and, suddenly, Elliot and Wellick are allies. To what end is another question, one that will no doubt be answered in next week’s finale.
And how will this affect Darlene and Angela?
Angela seemed to be in good shape with the Colby plea deal — but the firm that’s helping her with the case no longer wants her help. This puts Angela in a hell of a spot. She has no income and nobody in the tech field is going to hire her due to her upcoming testimony that about losing chain of custody on the FSociety hack file. Enter Colby who visits her father’s house. At first, the atmosphere is that of a Mafia hit. Big men surround her father and everyone is silent and glaring — except Colby’s come here in peace. He knows that Angela’s been screwed over and he wants to offer Angela a position — with Evil Corp. Angela, of course, balks, saying that Evil Corp killed her mother. Except Colby’s got the high hand: it turns out that Evil Corp created an account specifically to deal with any monetary penalties enforced as the result of legal action over the toxic leak the company was responsible for. Colby will walk and Evil Corp will get a slap on the wrist and everything that Angela sacrificed will be for shit. Angela tries her best to stay strong, vowing to fight on. But Colby, smug and arrogant as ever, calmly says his piece and drops the mic:
“I have a suggestion: if you want to change things, perhaps you should try from…within. Because THIS…is what happens from the outside.”
He gestures around her father’s house, reminding Angela just how deep in debt her father really is and how she’ll soon be following in his footsteps. Have I mentioned just how great Bruce Altman is in his role as Colby? If I haven’t, I should. The man is so effortless. He’s charming and sophisticated, yet such a schmuck that you want to punch him. Even here, when he’s bullshitting Angela, you trust exactly what he’s saying. For as much as people like Elliot and Colby clash, they have so much in common. Both know how the real world works. They’ve just chosen sides and they’re seeing their interests fulfilled to the letter. And speaking of Angela’s father, he knows that Darlene’s back in town — but what’s peculiar is Angela’s reaction to this: shock and surprise. And what’s even more interesting is that we never get an answer to the question, “Where did you see her?” It’s kinda strange that nobody’s really explored Darlene, isn’t it? Last week, we saw that her and Angela are BFF’s. But are they? That one moment in this show that makes your brain pop for just a second is the bit with Angela’s father. Because if Elliot can have a manifestation in Mr. Robot…do you think…possibly…that Darlene is Angela’s…no. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.
I’m not quite sure how much longer I can grade one episode over another. I’m coming to the realization that each episode of this show is better than the last one. “eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt” gives us another delicious chapter, setting us up for a hell of a final course. Rami Malek is beyond brilliant in the role of Elliot. He’s cold and frank and his cynicism wears you out but he’s so human. Watching him in this episode was like watching somebody play the role of a small child who learns about death for the first time. That’s a feat that’s incredibly hard to pull off without venturing into hammy territory. He’s surrounded by such a gifted cast of actors who are so well drawn-out, you feel like you’ve known them for years. We have the innocent Angela, the evil and calculating Tyrell, the equally-evil yet world-wise Colby and the angel-with-broken-wings in Darlene. It’s episodes like these where critics like myself consider themselves lucky to have chosen a show to review.
The finale airs on Wednesday and I’m excited. For many a series that’s been approved for another season, a finale’s a bit of a test. It sets the tone for the next season and also leaves the audience hungry for more. I’m not even sure Mr. Robot needs to try for a “great” finale.
That would just be the cherry on top of an already-delicious cake.