From the moment Elliot first exposed a massive child-pornography ring enabled by a coffee shop’s lightning-quick Wi-Fi, we have expected Mr. Robot’s main character to be constantly meticulous. Elliot simply does not ever mess up. He burns his motherboard, outwits men in black, and code-names and collects each of his hacks in a giant CD booklet.
But a decision to save Shayla by tipping off the police to Fernando Vera, her dealer (who, thanks to Elliot’s information, was subsequently charged with murder), meant that Elliot no longer has a way to balance his now-spiraling morphine addiction. Elliot starts to go through withdrawal, allowing sloppiness to creep not only into his work but also into FSociety’s. That makes episode four, which doesn’t so much advance the plot as expand the dimensions of the four other FSociety members, the most interesting hour of Mr. Robot to date.
“There’s a casualty in every revolution,” Romero, an FSociety member, says, and the episode wavers between whether Elliot’s addiction and demons will turn him into that casualty.
“I know I broke my own rule,” he says. “It needs me just as much as I need it. The moment was destined, every choice bringing me closer to this one line, this last line. I promise.”
Romero is the only member of FSociety to spot Elliot’s transformation — “You might be able to hide it from these nerds, but I know a junkie when I see one” — but that doesn’t stop the group from hijacking the original plan of blowing up Steel Mountain. He’s the group’s ringleader — notice how the camera frames FSociety huddling about Elliot’s computer as he presents option B: install a raspberry pi, or a small, single-board computer, behind Steel Mountain’s thermostat, hack into the storage facility’s intranet, and manipulate the climate-control system so Evil Corp’s backup files will become unreadable.
The plan doesn’t have much panache — the group is clearly confused, visibly deflating as Elliot tries to explain the intricacies — and it’s obvious that this new path was strung together by someone who’s a snort away from losing touch with reality. At the episode’s start, the camera focuses on a seemingly never-ending line of crushed morphine pills, and after leaving the group to to figure out how to install the raspberry pi, Elliot’s drug-induced paranoia cranks into high gear. He freaks out at random strangers on the street and mistakes Darlene’s knocks for the ominous pounding of law enforcement.
Elliot’s makeshift plan quickly devolves once Romero points out that within a few days Evil Corp plans to back up its Steel Mountain files in five other cities. Cue a road trip to Steel Mountain, located deep in New York’s Adirondacks. While Darlene and Trenton stay behind and run point from Coney Island, Romero and Mobley take care of transportation needs, hacking into the electronic “brain” of a soccer mom’s van.
Before heading north, though, Romero confesses he doesn’t trust Elliot. “Oh well,” says Mobley. “He’s gotten us this far.” Did Elliot suffer some sort of mental breakdown that hasn’t been revealed? He’s been depicted as essentially the head of FSociety, and he likely organized the breach and data dump that kicked off the group’s crusade against Evil Corp. Mobley’s statement is further indication that Elliot’s involvement could very well extend beyond stopping Darlene’s root kit in the pilot episode.
As Elliot’s withdrawal climaxes during the road trip, one of the episode’s main themes is introduced. He launches into a monologue about daemons (pronounced day-mon), which are programs within an operating system that perform tasks that don’t require direct interaction or commands from users (i.e., monitoring, logging, notifications, etc.). “Like a program running in the background silently, while we are busy doing other shit … they are always there, always active,” he says.
Before the technological revolution of the 20th century, though, daemons were known as benevolent spirits that existed as a conduit between mortals and gods, and writer Sam Esmail’s script vacillates interestingly between the concept of daemons and demons. “Intentions are irrelevant. They don’t drive us — daemons do, and me, I’ve got more than most,” Elliot says, the camera panning quickly to Mr. Robot before Elliot’s nausea gets too intense and he throws up in the backseat.
Elliot is right: He does have several daemons, including his addiction and Mr. Robot. His addiction is easily identifiable. When the road trip checks into a motel room for Elliot to detox, Romero lists the various maladies that will befall Elliot while he gets clean, and Elliot cuts him off, adding “hypersensitivity to light” to the checklist. “Don’t be mad at me that I slipped, but I am about to change the world,” he says.
For all his opiate checks and balances, Elliot has spiraled before. His addiction doesn’t fuel his existence but it is constantly there, pinging from time to time until a glitch brings it to the forefront.
Much of the episode is spent trying to convince us that Mr. Robot isn’t Tyler Durden and that he actually exists. Romero seems to speak with Mr. Robot, who later pays the sentry at the drug den; various characters, like Darlene, seem to look in Mr. Robot’s direction. However, the evidence has become overwhelming that Mr. Robot simply isn’t real. I’d be stunned if he turned out not to be a figment of Elliot’s mind as the season progresses. Yes, Elliot imagines Mr. Robot, but he isn’t speaking to himself — Mr. Robot is another daemon. “Maybe this was all intentional,” Elliot says. “My subconscious running in the background, making me doubt what I got everyone else to believe.”
Since paranoia wasn’t listed on Elliot’s medical chart in episode three as one of his conditions, Mr. Robot continues to exist because he is ingrained in Elliot. Notice how he passes the baton during the Steel Mountain planning: “I told you before, you’re the key to the whole thing. You’re the only force of nature at play here.” Or when Elliot wakes from his detox hallucinations: “I’m not going anywhere, kiddo. I’m in this to the end.” As long as Elliot exists, so does Mr. Robot, who never “stop[s] working [and is] always active,” running in the background.
Elliot’s demons are similar to the bugs mentioned last episode, or the monster he must find during the extended hallucination scenes – so real and disturbing that it seemed plausible that Elliot had, in fact, taken heroin. “Have I sunk this low? What must you think of me?” he says. “I can’t control my thoughts, I need this.” His demons, like his bugs and monster, all seem to relate to one central event: the death of his father, and how he continues to process the loss. While he is laying on the ground, shot in the chest, FSociety’s announcement promises to “exorcise demons,” and throughout his hallucination, Elliot seeks to deal with the fallout of the loss of his father (the 404 error message in the lot of his childhood home; his mother forcing him to eat Qwerty, a fish he tells Angela was his only friend; how he needs to “find [his] monster and carry the key,” which he locates in the piece of “Pop’s famous’ raspberry pie”).
With each passing episode, Elliot seems closer to reaching his emotional and psychological core.
Meanwhile, does Angela have ulterior motives? There is a deviousness to Angela that has been steadily revealed, such as her appearance during Elliot’s hallucination. When Elliot finds the key to his monster in that raspberry pie, Angela, as if he was proposing marriage to her, says, “I do,” and during their “wedding ceremony” says, “Those people in there, I just told them what they wanted to hear. You’re not going to do it, are you? Change the world? Figures. You’re only born a month ago. You’re afraid, afraid of your monster.”
Her comment — “You’re only born a month ago” — could indicate she has been devoted to the cause of ending Evil Corp for much longer than Elliot, and perhaps his best friend, with whom he bonded after both lost a parent, is operating in the show’s shadows. Back in New York City, she surreptitiously take the malware-infected CD from Ollie, and then, after a night filled with ecstasy and a day/night out with Shayla (quickly becoming a favorite character for her ability to keep everyone, from Elliot to Angela to even Fernando, from spinning out of control), goes to Allsafe at dawn to insert the CD and launch the Dark Army’s hack.
“I always get worried before starting a new job,” she tells Shayla, and hopefully there will be a deeper explanation about Angela’s involvement with the Dark Army plot in future episodes.
• I’ve mentioned how certain films have influenced Esmail, and as I watched this episode’s intense and invasive drug, detox, and hallucination scenes, I couldn’t help but think of Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film Requiem for a Dream, which is still one of most realistic portrayals of the highs and lows of drug use. The close-up of the long line of pulverized morphine, how the camera follows Elliot’s face as he gets closer to snorting that line, the sexualized sensation when the heroin hits his bloodstream (and his involuntary gasp), Keith David, a.k.a. Little John, a.k.a. “I know it’s pretty, baby,” voicing Qwerty, Elliot’s beta fish — it all felt indebted to Aronofsky’s work.
• I am interested in Darlene’s connection to the Dark Army. As much as Elliot represents FSociety’s macro vision, Darlene is increasingly being portrayed as the operation’s motor. She wrangles Elliot in the midst of his morphine paranoia — “We’re here about some clarity in your little plan that’s going to need your undivided” — and Cisco, who proposed marriage before being dumped, is her Dark Army connection. Cisco warns Darlene that the world’s most dangerous hacking group isn’t “motivated by that kumbaya shit,” and I hope the show delves more into Darlene’s backstory. Does she share the connection to Evil Corp that binds Angela and Elliot?
• This episode had some of the show’s best lines. Romero stole the episode with two quotes:
In your condition, you’re not going to do Jack or Jill except puke your brains out or give hand jobs out for another high.
I bet you right now some writer is working hard on a TV show that’ll mess up this generation’s idea of hacker culture.
• I loved that Romero and Mobley watched Hackers as they waited for Elliot to detox. This show and its portrayal of feasible technology and hacking is the anti-Hackers, but the shade-throwing was perfect: “Hollywood hacker bullshit. I’ve been in the game 27 years, and not once have I ever come across an animated singing virus.”
• Dark Army, the world’s most dangerous hacking group, meets at a ping-pong hall.