Last night’s Mr. Robot was the best, most breathless and downright insane episode of the entire first season so far. Find out what happened, and why the best hackers are often the most paranoid humans on Earth. MASSIVE SPOILERS COMMENCE.
Well kids, it’s time to put away all the Fight Club theories that Mr. Robot is Elliot’s Tyler Durden, his guardian angel, or a figment of his morphine-addled imagination.
Because Mr. Robot is real. Not only is he real—it looks like he’s Elliot’s dad.
The same dad who supposedly died as a result of the Washington Township scandal of 1993, Evil Corp’s toxic waste dump that also killed Angela’s mother. In the episode’s final scene, Elliot finds a trove of father-son photos stretching back to his childhood. Sure, we could later find out that he’s actually Elliot’s uncle or something—but it’s heavily suggested that this is Elliot’s father.
Further apparent proof of Mr. Robot’s actual, real existence: We’ve seen him interact more one-on-one with other characters besides Elliot in the past few weeks. In fact, there was an odd, extremely surprising meeting in a car between he and sociopathic Evil Corp exec, now murderer, Tyrell Wellick. Wellick says he knows Mr. Robot’s “dirty secret,” but Mr. Robot says revealing that information would help neither of them. Is Wellick (he’s a former hacker, recall) working with FSociety, too?
I’ve heard at least a few fans speculating that Mr. Robot was Elliot’s father, so for me, the real bombshell was finding out Darlene is Elliot’s sister.
It’s toward the end of the episode: Elliot and Darlene are sitting together, alone at Coney Island at night, soaking in their successes. Gideon, Elliot and Angela’s boss at Allsafe, has long been onto Elliot and FSociety’s scheme to take down Allsafe client Evil Corp. So Gideon had implanted a honeypot to trap any hackers. It didn’t take much effort for Elliot to disable the honeypot by hacking Gideon’s email and sending a bogus request asking for its deactivation.
Afterwards, Darlene is totally elated, fawning over Elliot, saying that the Evil Corp takedown is all systems go in 48 hours, that Evil Corp’s data will be melting at Steel Mountain data center, and that he’s her hero. Glowing, beaming, she says, “You are seriously the best person I know. I love you so much!” And he leans in for the kiss. She leaps up in disgust: “Oh, my God, Elliot—what the fuck?” Elliot starts apologizing, at first thinking he’s overstepped a boundary. After all, he and Darlene already did earlier in the episode.
Before we go on, here’s a bit of backstory about the pair from earlier in the episode: Darlene was worried about Elliot’s safety for the then-upcoming meeting with Dark Army—the other hacker group that FSociety is in cahoots with. He was meeting with the enigmatic leader, White Rose (played by B.D. Wong). At first, Darlene tries to give him the gun she stole out of the safe of a rich businessman she slept with the night before. After he refuses the gun, she gives him her personal phone number—a no-no in FSociety, illustrating fundamental lack of trust this particular group of fictional hackers has for one another. Understandable, I suppose, if you’re a clan of vigilantes whose ethos is rooted in suspicion of authority, and whose forte is sussing out and exploiting the hidden weaknesses of corporations and individuals alike.
But Darlene gives him her number anyway, because she genuinely cares for him. This likely meant the world to Elliot, who we’ve established to be an ultra-neurotic loner who can’t connect with others, despite the fact he’s actually brilliant at intuiting their inner workings and has the full capacity of understanding and appreciating others’ feelings. But he is awkward—and he simultaneously despises his own loneliness and wants to help and connect with other people. This conflict manifests itself through hacking those around him, whether it’s longing for love by hacking a potential girlfriend’s Facebook account, or helping local cops bust kiddie porn purveyors. So getting Darlene’s number? It probably means a lot to him.
But back to the kiss. Here we are, mere hours from the world’s biggest corporate takedown in history. As soon as Elliot plants a kiss at the totally appropriate time on someone who is seemingly totally appropriate for him, she recoils in terror and revulsion. Does she not like him that way? Or is this against the FSociety code of conduct?
“Did you forget again? Did you forget who I am?” she asks, nearly sobbing. At first, I thought she was suggesting he thought she was Shayla, Elliot’s ex whose murder a few episodes back is clearly still taking a toll on him. Rami Malek, in his masterful portrayal of Elliot, says so much with so little. His facial expressions, as usual, pendulum across an emotional spectrum that packs paragraphs of speech into five seconds of darting eyes and awkward smiles. “Of course I didn’t forget—you’re Darlene.” Then genuine bewilderment melts into sickened disbelief: “You’re my sister.”
Is Elliot crazy? We thought it before, then maybe didn’t think it anymore, now we definitely think it again.
The world outside our narrator’s POV is a different place, naturally, and we’re treated to more of those scenes in this episode. We see a lot of characters who’ve never interacted before suddenly interact. There’s Mr. Robot and Wellick, and in the beginning of the episode, Darlene and Angela: They attend a ballet class together, discussing Angela’s gross ex Ollie, as well as Elliot, chatting like longtime pals. And apparently, they are—they’ve been taking this 7 a.m. ballet class together since they were teenagers, which should’ve foreshadowed the larger reveal to come.
After the confrontation with Darlene, Elliot goes home, and panicked, immediately starts to hack someone new: himself. Turns out he’s a ghost. No photos, no social media profiles, nothing. Who is Elliot Alderson? Does Elliot Alderson know who Elliot Alderson is? A key theme of this show is paranoia: What’s real, and who has access to it? Isn’t that what hackers ask themselves all the time?
In Mr. Robot, Elliot serves as our literal narrator, addressing us and explaining what’s going on. But in this episode, he breaks the fourth wall more than ever, going so far as to call the viewer (we assume) his “imaginary friend.” He tells us so, right after the meeting with White Rose—which was strained and cryptic; the legendary hacker told Elliot she doubts FSociety’s capabilities and doesn’t explain why the Dark Army wants to help, giving him two days to disable Gideon’s honeypot. After the meeting, Elliot says to us: “I wish I could be an observer like you. Do you know more than me? That wouldn’t be fair—my imaginary friend knowing more than me.”
After speaking with Darlene, as he’s reeling from a seismic-scale shocker, Elliot’s inner dialogue continues to spiral out of control, letting us into unseen parts of his psyche. He’s flooded with memories of Darlene from childhood. “How could I forget? I’m crazy. I’m crazy.” Glaring directly into the camera, he then confronts us: “Are you freaking out? Tell me the truth. Were you in on this the whole time?”
At this point, we’re smack in the middle of the most brilliant sequence of the entire series thus far. Suddenly, the narrator/audience relationship immediately feels like the hackee/hacker relationship. We’re not quite omniscient, but we can view Elliot and his activities from afar, deducing our way to his vulnerabilities and ticks and secrets, just like hacker does with a victim. And when Elliot turns his paranoia toward us, it feels like it’s the culmination of everything this show is about.
Continuing his freakout, he arrives back at his apartment and begins combing the Internet for all signs of Elliot Alderson. Elliot tells himself: “I should’ve stayed on the meds. I should’ve never created you.” Did Elliot create Elliot? It would explain his status as an online ghost. Then he takes a blank CD out of his portfolio of hacking targets, stumbles upon the family photos with Mr. Robot, and no sooner does his newly-revealed family member himself show up at his front door. It’s Mr. Robot: “We should talk.”
Meanwhile, at Evil Corp
Elliot’s background, relationships, and identity (including any self-constructed or erased ones) will come into clearer focus for the final two episodes of this season. The other main event, of course, is Evil Corp’s scheduled ruin.
As far as the Evil Corp plot is concerned, the Steel Mountain infiltration was successful, as the raspberry pi Elliot installed during the break-in can indeed override the facility’s temperature control to melt Evil Corp’s data files, which are stored there. Meanwhile, the wife of Evil Corp’s incoming CTO was seemingly strangled to death by Wellick on his office’s midtown rooftop last week, and now detectives have come to his upscale apartment seeking answers in the investigation. Joanna, his pregnant and equally sadistic wife, who’s been helping him figure out a dastardly way of becoming Evil Corp’s CTO, induces her own water breaking so that the investigators get off their backs.
Wellick’s exact role in FSociety, as well as Mr. Robot and Darlene’s roles in Elliot’s life, have all been poised as crucial plot points for next week. All these hackers have been keeping secrets from each other. Or were they secrets to begin with at all? Is Elliot’s reality, and thus ours, completely different from everyone else’s?
Perhaps these hackers have withheld the truth from each other to maintain some semblance of a particular reality, at least: That they’re all in this corporate takedown together, that they’re all achieving this universal “good” for society. But truth and trust are both unraveling at once. And it goes way deeper than just, say, hackers worried about being hacked.
It’s all about what others know about you, what you know about them, what you think you know about them, and what you think they know about you. And as Elliot’s finding out, the answers to those questions are confusing—and very, very scary.
Images courtesy NBC Universal