Mr. Robot Recap: I Have to Know What Happened

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Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson. Photo: Christopher Saunders/USA Network
Mr. Robot
Show
Mr. Robot
Episode Title
zer0-day.avi
Season
1
Episode
10
Editor’s Rating
4/5

Elliot’s final scene in the season-one finale of Mr. Robot is the most logical conclusion to an episode largely focused on setting the stage for season two.

We’ll have to wait months until the person knocking on Elliot’s door is revealed, but to better understand the underlying context of the finale, one has to consider that Sam Esmail, the show’s creator, first envisioned Mr. Robot as a film. This season was merely his act one, and the finale, while filled with scenes featuring some of the most visually compelling shots and crispest dialogue yet, was, at its core, transitional.

Thanks to the plan co-signed by Elliot, Whiterose, and, apparently, Tyrell Wellick, Evil Corp is in ruins. The conglomerate’s stock is at an all-time low ($18 per share), billions of dollars have been lost, and the financial system seems further on the verge of a collapse than the nonfictional economy's near-breakdown that occurred just seven years ago.

When Elliot kissed Darlene two episodes ago, only to learn she was his sister, he had resolved the honeypot and had just under two days before the Dark Army would destroy Evil Corp’s China-based data center. Accounting for his road trip with Mr. Robot, a.k.a. his father, a.k.a. his daemon, a.k.a. Elliot, that means that when he goes to Coney Island with Tyrell, there still should have been 24 or so hours to go until the hack went public.

When Elliot wakes up in Tyrell’s SUV and realizes that at least three days have passed, a time period from which he remembers next to nothing (same goes for Tyrell’s whereabouts), Esmail is again playing with the idea of reality. We don’t know how many times Elliot has met or spoken with Tyrell, or whether there are other actions he’s taken that he, in his present state, is completely unaware of (remember, Elliot launched FSociety, but when he first “encounters” the group, he is clueless). Esmail hinted in a recent interview that there will be more revelations next season regarding Elliot’s whereabouts when his daemon is in control.

So, what happened during those three days? This will likely be a huge subplot going forward, and it will be interesting to see how Esmail continues to play with Elliot’s hallucinations in real time. He couldn’t have just slept in a car for 72 hours.

When Elliot reunites with Darlene and the rest of FSociety, he has already started to grapple with a form of self-awareness: Elliot knows both Mr. Robot and the audience aren’t real, but he has to find a way to bridge what he knows to be real and what information he gleans from his daemon and hallucinations. Romero admonishes Elliot, saying, “Not cool … I thought we were going to execute together.” Elliot is shocked, and reaches out to the audience in an attempt to confirm what happened: “Jesus, what did I do? Were you there? Did you see it? What did I do?”

Darlene asks quietly whether Elliot is still “seeing him,” and Elliot doesn’t answer her. Either she is naïvely ignoring the signs, or she knows her brother needs help but has other grander plans. As she yells during the End of the World party (which FSociety stages to contaminate their hangout with a vast assortment of fingerprints), echoing the group’s video, “We are finally free! We are finally awake!”

Esmail has mentioned that season two will focus on Elliot’s family life, including Darlene. We really don’t know why Darlene came back to NYC, or why she teamed up with her brother (other than the obvious fact of avenging their father). And even later in the episode, when Elliot is confronted by his various hallucinations in Times Square, Darlene (who made an appearance as a child during his detox fever-dreams) wasn’t among them.

Elliot can’t be bothered to help FSociety burn the evidence of the group’s existence — he needs to find Tyrell. Specifically, he feels, perhaps, that Tyrell is another vision, and he needs to know if he’s real. He goes to Evil Corp and, in a brilliant touch, the background music while Elliot tours the floors, jammed with people running around frantically without accomplishing a thing, is a circus theme-song.

The worm Darlene infected Allsafe with was too simple, Elliot believes, but perhaps its simplicity was, in fact, perfect. “A simple program. A worm that can make data unreadable. That took Darlene maybe two hours to code. Is that all it takes to take down the world?” he wonders. As he searches for Tyrell, he continues:

So this is what a revolution looks like? People in expensive clothing running around. Not how I pictured it. I wonder what stage they are at. Denial. Muttering to themselves. “No, this can be fixed.” Maybe bargaining. Forcing their techs to work overtime to try and decrypt our data. Or maybe they’ve come to the realization that Darlene encrypted everything with AES256, and it would take an incomprehensible amount of time to crack. That all of their data is gone for good.

Rami Malek plays the scene with an almost childlike wonderment. On one hand, he is disturbed that he doesn’t remember activating the hack, and believes he deserves some culpability for what he has done, which he might feel was ultimately wrong. But there is a side of him — and this could be an aspect of his being that taps into the Mr. Robot reservoir — that is joyfully overwhelmed by what he, armed with “a simple program,” accomplished.

So, does Elliot actually know where Tyrell is hiding? Likely. Since the show first aired, one theory is that Tyrell is yet another one of Elliot’s personalities, but this episode clearly confirms that they are separate. When Elliot visits Evil Corp, Tyrell’s secretary doesn’t recognize him, and (as nonchalantly as one can be as her company flails helplessly) tells Elliot that Tyrell no longer works at Evil Corp. Mr. Robot probably does know Tyrell’s whereabouts, but Elliot isn’t privy to that information yet.

What follows is arguably the episode’s best scene: a confrontation on the steps between Elliot and Joanna. She realizes Elliot is the tech her husband mentioned, but it’s unclear why she wants to know Tyrell’s whereabouts. She has booted him from the family unless he fixes the mess he started, and there is a sinister force behind the smile she wears as she invites Elliot into the apartment to wait for Tyrell.

Elliot can sense her ulterior motives — “You’ve got to help me get out of this. There is something about her. I feel like she can hear us” — and as he stalls for time, also trying to mine Joanna for questions (and using Ollie as a pseudonym), the camera remains still. It frames the two bodies off-balance, further giving the sense of a stand-off, and after a few folks wearing FSociety masks crash into Elliot, the music swells, an ominous, synth-enhanced beat that pounds and amplifies the scene’s overall feeling of unease.

After saying she is concerned about Tyrell, Joanna asks Elliot if Tyrell was acting strange the last time he saw him. Elliot says no, and Joanna calls him out. Holding her baby, she says, “That’s funny … because he was acting very strange when I saw him, three days ago. Then he just vanished.” At this point, the tension — thanks to the music, camerawork, and acting, by both Malek and Stephanie Corneliussen — is palpable.

Joanna walks toward Elliot as she says that last line, the first time either of them has moved, and as she gets closer (the camera remains still), her face begins to light up. Was this intentional? It’s sunny outside, but the rest of the scene was framed gray. She says something to Elliot in Danish, the first time this year her conversation hasn’t been translated in the subtitles. It’ll be interesting to watch how Joanna’s role grows bigger next season — Esmail has mentioned that she’ll have more of an impact.

Elliot realizes the only way he’ll find Tyrell is if he tracks down Mr. Robot, who, since last week’s reveal, has also vanished. He returns to Tyrell’s SUV, and the camera films Elliot as if he is under surveillance — long angles from behind the dashboards make the SUV’s interior feel as if it were transposed into a convenience store — and it strengthens the show’s overall feeling of paranoia. Elliot finds a pair of sunglasses that doubles as a USB drive, and he goes to an internet café, which is where he decides to finally confront his daemon and attempts to call 911.

Mr. Robot appears, and for the first time, we see in real time the point of view of other characters when Elliot interacts with him. When he slams Mr. Robot into the wall, he is slamming himself into the wall. When Mr. Robot insults a man using one of the terminals and is punched, Elliot (who has been watching from afar) finds himself on the ground with a black eye. “You forget, kiddo. I am you,” Mr. Robot says, “I’m only supposed to be your prophet. You’re supposed to be my god.”

Mr. Robot is the one who woke Elliot to FSociety — remember Angela’s line during his fever dream that Elliot was only born a month ago? — and Mr. Robot’s arrival is a clarion call. After Elliot realizes his purpose, according to Mr. Robot, he is supposed to take the lead (“be my god”) and control the situation. But Elliot seems to be spiraling mentally.

Elliot and Mr. Robot stagger into Times Square, which is filled with FSociety protestors. Elliot continues to tug back and forth between his hallucinations and reality, and is uneasy about what to believe. In a voice-over, he says, “Please. You have to do something. You have to help me. Say something, make him tell me …” It feels like Elliot is negotiating with himself. He needs Mr. Robot’s cooperation, but to get that, he still has to work with his daemon. He can’t banish him forever. “Stop talking to them. They can’t help us. We have to do this together. Just us,” says Mr. Robot.

Elliot continues to wrestle with the awareness that the audience, Mr. Robot, and his hallucinations aren’t real. But, as Mr. Robot points out, what is real?

Is any of it real? Look at it. A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of food. Mind-washing seminars in the form of media. Control isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century. They turned it off, took off the batteries, snacked on a bag of GMOs while we tossed the remnants in the ever-expanding Dumpster of the human condition. Living in branded houses, trademarked by corporations. Built on bipolar numbers, jumping up and down on digital displays. Hypnotizes us into the biggest slumber mankind has ever seen. You have to dig pretty deep, kiddo, before you can find anything real. As far as you are concerned, Elliot, I am very real.

During his speech, the camera remains below Mr. Robot, filming him at an upward angle and cutting to different vantage points. It gives the impression of a soapbox preacher surrounded by his FSociety constituents. The revolution is upon us, but all Elliot wants to do is find Tyrell and confirm he isn’t that crazy. His waffling doesn’t help anyone, and when Elliot wipes the crowds away — a scene reportedly filmed the morning before July 4th — and his hallucinations pop up on one of the large screens that encircle 42nd Street, Elliot finally caves.

Elliot is dealing with this recognition that he has no clue of what is real or fake, but ultimately, he decides to fall in line with his hallucinations. “I’ll tell you exactly what you are going to do,” says Mr. Robot, a victor who promised he would never leave Elliot again. “You’re going to start listening to us. The world is a better place. People are going to realize that one way or another.”

Elliot returns home, watching the events of FSociety’s hack unfold on his computer screens, and then someone knocks at the door. We’ll have to wait months to find out if it is Tyrell, Darlene, or the NYPD’s cybercrime division, which is reportedly investigating Elliot. (Another popular conspiracy theory involves Shayla, whose death was another hallucination. That plot twist would be a bit much, especially since Esmail has deftly used the device throughout the first season.)

After the end credits, a black car slowly rolls up a long driveway to an ornate mansion. A man gets of the car, walks into a party in progress, and sits down across from Phillip Price, Evil Corp’s CEO. They know each other, but the timing of this scene is unknown.

The man whom Price is speaking to is obsessed with promptness — “You asked. I answered. Succinctly.” — and “doesn’t believe in preoccupation.” As they talk, a woman is playing “Nearer My God to Thee” (a song that the band allegedly played as the Titanic sank), which catches the man’s attention: “The infamous emperor Nero played an instrument very similar to the one she is playing. The lyre. Legend has it he played it merrily as he watched …” and then his watch beeps.

It’s our first indication (if you didn’t recognize BD Wong) that the man is Whiterose. As Wong mentioned in an interview to me, in this scene, Whiterose is in disguise as a man, so is the Dark Army connected to Evil Corp, and the hack was initiated from the inside? Whiterose finally finishes his sentence: “… Rome burn.”

Additional Thoughts

  • The opening scene between Krista and Mike/Lenny is so good, as all the title scenes have been this season, and it’s fascinating that Esmail added the Ashley Madison mention and nearly took it out, even before the hack occurred. As he told HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall, he thought the Ashley Madison bit was too over the top.
  • I hope Michel Cristofer (Phillip Price) returns for season two. He hasn’t had much screen time, but when he does, he steals the scene. When he tells Angela to come watch his press conference and pick up some “invaluable lessons,” he reaches into his breast pocket to pull out a wad of bills. “You need some new shoes,” he tells her, pointing down hard on the cash he placed on the table. “Those won’t do anymore.”
  • It is completely understandable why the finale was moved from last week. The scene in which Evil Corp’s EVP of technology, Jason Plouffe, admits on live TV that the situation is catastrophic and … about the only thing we do know for certain is that this will be impossible to fix,” before pulling a gun from his briefcase and shooting himself in the head. It was a gruesome scene to watch — neither Esmail’s camera nor the news camera interviewing Plouffe pull away — and the scene is reminiscent of Budd Dwyer’s on-air suicide in the late 1980s. There was no way USA could have aired the episode last week in light of the Virginia shootings.
  • When Angela goes to buy new shoes — hers were covered in blood following Plouffe’s suicide — the shoe salesman verbally accosts her. He wonders aloud how she can work at Evil Corp. She has come a long way since the season began — first working for Allsafe, then trading her job for Terry Colby’s testimony, and now working for the company responsible for her mother’s death — and the salesman’s protestations feel akin to her conscience. He raises the same points she likely brought up herself, but in a much more forceful manner, and the scene feels very confessional.