What follows is a spoilerific rant. If you have not yet watched the episode and want to save any goodwill you still harbor for Mr. Robot, please turn back now. You have been warned.
I kind of feel like I want to punt Mr. Robot off Evil Corp Tower. I like the show. I like the characters. I like where the spy plot is headed and am genuinely excited about the adventures of Dom the Super FBI Agent.
But no. The show done lied to me too many times, y’all. We are on a precipice and if the show doesn’t shape up next week I will... continue to watch, but be VERY DISAPPOINTED.
The unreliable narrator is one of the coolest tools in a storyteller’s toolkit. There’s a story twist built right into the narrative because of the unreliable narrator. They hold back some truths, emotionally or storywise, and when the bombshell drops and the veil is drawn back and the depths of their unreliable news are revealed it’s really entertaining drama.
Alternatively, the unreliable narrator is just Forrest Gump—futzing up the truth in stupidly on-the-nose ways.
Elliot of Mr. Robot is a very, very good unreliable narrator, and is one of the many reasons the first season is such a good piece of entertainment. As telegraphed as his “twist” was, there was still a sparkling kind of excitement to the reveal. “Holy shit, they’re actually doing this,” you know?
It took confidence, and required deftness, and Sam Esmail and company pulled it off as neatly as F Society pulled off their hack of Evil Corp.
But you can’t hack the same company twice and expect to get away with it. As Angela may find out now that Dom has her firmly in her sights. And you can’t do a “Elliot is crazy and the truth is totally not what we showed you” twice.
Mr. Robot being a part of Elliot’s brain and Darlene being Elliot’s sister was a fabulous reveal. Elliot being in prison this entire season is abject fuckery.
“Forgive me,” Elliot tells the audience as the camera pulls away from his prison cell. He was just “protecting” himself from the awful truth of his situation. But his plea feels less like a sincere one from Elliot to his mind friend and more like a haphazard one from showrunner Sam Esmail to the audience.
“Honest,” Esmail seems to be telling us, “this is the last time we straight-up lie to you.”
Pardon me for not believing you, sir.
I get it. The show sewed seeds of the truth all season. The rigidity of Elliot’s schedule. The formal framing of every camera shot set in Elliot’s new routine. His new Seinfeld friend. The fact that his mother was essentially a warden. That chick just casually burning shit. The clues were there!
But Mr. Robot lied to us last season and then asked for our trust, only to lie to us again. That works in a two-hour movie like Fight Club or American Psycho. Or in a book like... Fight Club or American Psycho. Those stories have definitive end points. The truth is ultimately revealed or we are allowed to come to our own conclusions, safely apart from the story.
That does not work in serial television. You have to willingly invest in the lives of these characters for years of your own time. You invite them into your home each week and began to empathize with them on a level far apart from any you might experience with the characters of a novel or film. Ultimately you have to trust in a serial tv character in a way you never would any other kind.
And Mr. Robot has now broken that trust repeatedly. Which means Tyrell might not be dead (can’t trust Mr. Robot). Shayla might not be dead (can’t trust Elliot). The entire fascinating cyber spy plot might not exist (can’t trust the show). Everything we’ve enjoyed over the last season and a half might just be Elliot’s fevered scribbles in a journal destined to be burned in a prison courtyard.
And that is infuriating. I want to invest in these characters. Not learn that an autistic boy conjured them out of a snow globe or a Bob Newhart or Pam Ewing dreamt them up after a late night fondue gorging.
Elliot claims to be on the up and up by the end of the episode. Now the show has to prove it.
- When we’re having another Elliot Madness Power Hour there was some sweet world-building: People are having communal dumpster fires, taxis are now charging people via Ecoin.
- Oh, and Ecoin, Evil Corp’s web-only currency, now exists. That can’t ever backfire.
- Angela is either the best damn spy the world’s ever seen, or a very lucky, blustering idiot. I would prefer the former, but daaaaaaamn girl is acting like the latter.
- Elliot is crazy.