[A minor spoiler for last night’s episode of Mr. Robot follows.]
Part of the wicked fun of Mr. Robot is the way it continually bleeds into real life, whether through plot points unintentionally (and sometimes unfortunately) mimicking current events, or by its cleverly incorporating actual recent history into its twisty narrative. The show’s wily intelligence has a habit of anticipating developments in pop-tech news, even as the timeline of the series falls increasingly behind the real-world calendar it originally mirrored. And by employing computer experts to keep an eye on its science, it maintains a strict plausibility when it comes to its hacking. That same fealty to logic could be applied to its many conspiracy subplots orchestrated by powerful men in high places. Until last night.
In a flashback set roughly a few days after the first season one finale, B.D. Wong’s mysterious Whiterose did something that threw all that out the window, even as pertains to a character who is both China’s Minister of Defense and simultaneously the leader of an underground criminal hacker organization. During a meeting with one of her underlings—a TV commentator who rants with the intensity of Alex Jones—Whiterose tells him there’s an American presidential candidate she wants him to endorse. She then gestures to the TV, where Donald Trump is bloviating. The commentator, like any sane person, laughs. “Look, the country’s desperate right now, but you can’t be serious,” he says. “I mean, the guy’s a buffoon. He’s completely divorced from reality. How would you even control him?” Whiterose coolly replies, “If you pull the right strings, a puppet will dance any way you desire.” Cut to Trump, doing his “Make America Great Again” shtick. End scene.
Sure, we’d all like to believe that this political alternate universe we live in was all the machinations of some shadowy conspiracy, that Trump is just a puppet for some shadowy foreign power. But Whiterose is a savvy operator who concocts massive, brilliant financial schemes on a global scale. Why would she entrust the presidency, even as her puppet, to a manic dolt? Good puppets do exactly what you want; Hillary Clinton would’ve made a great one. Trump is more like a wind-up doll that catches fire then explodes. Whiterose would know better.
Maybe Whiterose actually means the more plausible “patsy,” setting Trump up to take the fall for whatever big thing she’s planning. Maybe in Mr. Robot’s slightly alternate timeline—blessedly divorced from our own—she’s counting on Trump to get blamed for that scheme, then impeached. Or maybe she meant “distraction.” And sure, by putting a sentient slow-motion car crash in office, she can keep the world’s attention away from her own, sinister machinations. But she said “puppet,” and words are chosen carefully on this series. So now it’s on Mr. Robot to give us a reason to believe why someone as brilliant as Whiterose would settle for such a low-wattage one. Please, Mr. Robot. Give us the pee tape.