“To imitate the style of another is to wear a mask, and however beautiful this may be its lifelessness soon makes it seem insipid and unendurable, so that the ugliest living face is preferable.” - Schopenhauer, “On Books And Writing”
When we take time to clear our heads, to make sure we’re making a decision in our right minds, is it truly that we’re deliberating on a matter and then consciously choosing the wisest course of action? Or is it more that the time simply allows our inner drives—our ”daemons,” if you will—to make a choice for us? Is staking out a path a matter of evaluation and intelligence, or rationalization and acceptance? There’s a study that took place at SUNY in which rats with electrodes implanted in their brains could be steered up and down ladders and along hallways. What will really be interesting is the first time these are implanted in humans: After being instructed to walk left or right, the person will look up, and report whether they felt their body move against their will, or whether they simply “decided” that was the direction in which they wanted to go.
Elliot followed the imperative of his bug at the end of last episode, returning to FSociety with a plan to eliminate the data stored in Steel Mountain. What he didn’t anticipate was the detox he’d be going through 24 hours later, and the internal struggle his body wages against the dictates of his daemons. It’s not like there weren’t clues as to what this would entail: during that last line on the mirror in the first act, the camera cuts to a POV shot from the perspective of the drugs, staring back at Elliot as he looks down upon the final high. And in case you weren’t sure if it was going to affect him that much, one minute later we’re watching him walk Flipper and scream at passers-by, “What do you want?!?!”
Which brings us to the make or break element of this episode: Either you’re fascinated by Elliot’s detox hallucinations, or you find them tiresome and stalling the plot. I came down firmly on the side of being intrigued, simply because they were so elegantly shot and cunningly suggestive, teasing the broader philosophical questions of the story without hammering them home. Even before you realize Mr. Robot never even took Elliot to the house to score drugs, and he’s been imagining everything since the start of the fourth act, each phase of the dream provides a new window into the mysteries of both Elliot and the larger narrative.
The moment when Elliot enters the frame of the FSociety viral video, and Mr. Robot removes the outer mask and hands it to him (while still wearing yet another iteration of the same), is the strongest indication yet there’s no Mr. Robot, that Elliot manifested him out of some inner need. The mask, as he’s told, is “made for you, now.” It’s a theme addressed later on in his reverie, by Angela, when she adjusts her wedding dress and gives both him and us the most telling bit of knowledge yet:
“You’re not gonna do it, are you? Change the world. Figures—you were only born a month ago. You’re afraid of your monster…You’re not Elliot. You’re the-”
…At which point she’s cut off by the sound of children laughing, and Elliot alone, facing the mask, dangling from an idle video camera. It’s the moment when he worries that he really has no one. That he’s been left all alone. Only, when he wakes up in the motel bed, dripping sweat, crying, he’s not alone. Mr. Robot is there. And he’s not going anywhere. He’s the one Elliot can depend on, regardless of whether he’s real or not. Is he Elliot’s daemon? The thing driving him forward, performing actions without user interaction? It depends on whether you believe in daemons.
In the other storylines this week, daemons aren’t the concealed culprits, so much as they’re overt impetuses that drive behavior. The women of Mr. Robot get a spotlight this week, with Angela and Shayla taking Ecstasy and making out in a club bathroom, and Darlene and Trenton seeking out Darlene’s connected ex, whom she needs to keep advancing the plan. (It’s unsettling to learn the person blackmailing Ollie and Angela is Darlene’s former/current love, but as a few of you observed last week, it helps square the circle of these disparate threads.) Angela is growing quickly as a character: Her willingness to have Shayla relieve her of her normal modus operandi (with a playful kiss, no less) is a freeing moment. But ultimately, it runs smack into Angela’s fears. The final reveal of her capitulating, and uploading the disc to an AllSafe computer, makes for an interesting and nuanced shading to this character. As I said last week, someone too scared to make the right or smart decisions is much more interesting than a girl who—to quote Ollie—is “too good for this world.”
Similarly, Darlene becomes much less annoying when paired with Trenton. Even though Trenton is still little more than a placeholder to watch over Darlene and challenge her “fuck the world” attitude, it keeps Mr. Robot’s most odious hacker from tipping over into the irritating steamroller she tends to be with Elliot. And seeing some actual moments of gravity and need on her part went a long way toward making her more than the sum of her overly confident proclamations.
Ultimately, the hallucinations seemed to push Elliot somewhere beyond what we’ve seen of the character thus far. He’s learning that what he thinks of as the key to transcending his current life isn’t necessarily going to fit his dreams. He keeps being handed a key, or picking it up, but he’s just as quickly informed that it doesn’t work. The fish, telling him not to be shy, is soon eaten by Angela—and even she mistakes the key for a proposal at first, something to accept. But soon, she’s telling him it’s wrong, that he can’t go through with it. This may be his conscience, warning him against his behavior, or it might be his fears, scared that committing to such a serious course of action will destroy him. But at the end of this agonizing, he’s not faced with another “ERROR 404” sign, stapled to a telephone pole. (Note that pole—it’s a symbol of communication with others.) No, he’s faced with Mr. Robot. And Mr. Robot isn’t going anywhere.
So Elliot drinks Romero’s concoction, and off they go, toward the fateful Steel Mountain. (Is it the 31st? How long was Elliot tossing and turning in bed?) And the need for change drives him. After all, life can’t ultimately be as Elliot proclaims it, an endless wheel full of “false highs and true lows.” No, we have to gamble that it’s something more, as Elliot does. We have to play the odds, and hope there are a few familiar faces when we get to the other side. Because no one can settle for that “ERROR 404” sign; the people around us, and the hope they offer, is all we have to hold on to.
- It pleased me to no end to see Romero and Mobley watching and dissing Hackers. Romero is right—we all deserve better.
- For those of you who, like me, had to disagree when Darlene said, “We all know what a raspberry Pi is,” here’s your answer: it’s a “low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse.” Common in Europe and Asia, they can do most everything a standard desktop computer can do; but, you know, Apple doesn’t want us buying those, so we remain in the dark, here in the U.S.
- Shayla and Angela’s night on the town really acted as a counterweight to Elliot’s detox narrative. Had I only seen their story, I would’ve been convinced that this show is firmly pro-drug usage. I still think it might be, actually.
- Dumb Darlene line of the week: “I’m a menace to society!”
- “But first, a word from our corporate overlords.” I’m going to have a lot to say about this next week, I think, but I want to note the fascinating overlap between how this show breaks the fourth wall when Elliot addresses us directly, and when moments like this pop up. (Not to mention the Evil Corp commercial that bleeds into Elliot’s dream.) More than once this week, our protagonist reminds us that we’re just an identity he “made up.” It points to an interesting theme Mr. Robot is addressing regarding stories and the narratives we tell ourselves—without us, could Elliot carry out his plan? Would there even be a plan? To be continued.