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by Anthony Merino

29 Jul 2015

I don’t want you to be the guy in the PG-13 movie everyone’s *really* hoping makes it happen. I want you to be like the guy in the rated R movie, you know, the guy you’re not sure whether or not you like yet. You’re not sure where he’s coming from. Okay? You’re a bad man. You’re a bad man, Mikey. You’re a bad man, bad man.
—Vince Vaughn as Trent, Swingers, 1996

It took until the sixth episode, but True Detective’s writer and creator, Nic Pizzolatto finally got around to giving his audience the single thing that engaged his viewers in season one; strong chemistry between two of the lead characters. The thing that drove season one was the complex relationship between Matthew McConaughey’s detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson’s detective Marty Hart. With the exception of Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro and Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon, this lack of chemistry is, in part, due to none of the characters knowing each other prior to the beginning of the series. Additionally, Pizzolatto concentration on the character’s backstories has limited the amount of time for them to bond. While there were a few moments that popped, the exchange between Velcoro and Rachel McAdam’s Detective Ani Bezzerides at the start of the episode finally indicated that these three had a little bit of chemistry, but there were just as many moments that did not ring true. In episode four, Velcoro gives an existential angst-filled pep-talk to Taylor Kitsch’s Officer Paul Woodrugh, in which he comes off sounding like a self-important stepdad trying to cheer up his stepson after a little league loss.

by Anthony Merino

24 Jul 2015

“It’s been 66 days since the alleged murderers of Vinci City Manager Ben Caspere engaged police in one of the deadliest shootouts in state history. The so called Vinci massacre was determined closed by Attorney General Geldof, who used the conference to announce his candidacy for governor.”

In audio from a local news story spoken over the opening of the fifth episode of HBO’s True Detective, new director John Crowley borrows a trick from Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, 1941. He uses the press report to provide some of the important details of the story. This helps because writer Nic Pizzolatto seems heavily influenced by director Roman Polanski and writer Robert Towne’s 1974 classic Chinatown. He has layered and cross pollinated corruption, blackmail, lust, incest and environmental terrorism.

by Sean Fennell

24 Jul 2015

“People make the best exploits,” says Elliot in his head, presumably to us, just as he and the F Society team approach the Steel Mountain facility they have been planning on infiltrating for weeks. This is it, the time has finally come for F Society to stop talking about their epic plan and start doing something about it.

It’s the Steel Mountain heist that concerns much of episode six, entitled “3xploits.wmv”, and just as the title promises, much of their plan rests on exploiting the faults in the human mind rather than in the facility’s security system. Finding human faults is not a new notion in Mr. Robot. Ever since episode one, Elliot has continuously flexed his hacking muscles, usually finding his way in by picking apart the person rather than the system.

by Sean Fennell

20 Jul 2015

As we enter the fourth installment of Mr. Robot’s first season we begin to recognize some patterns. One specific structural pattern is that each episode has a theme that shows up in the title and is also an allusion to an idea in computer programming.  These are introduced within the episode by Elliot’s inner monologue and serve as the backbone for the episode’s development. Last week, the theme was “Bugs,” and explored the problems within each character’s inner code.

This week, we delve into daemons, which Elliot tells us are background programs that run whether or not we are aware of them. Just like “d3bug.mkv”, “da3mons.mp4” uses this computer program as a metaphor for what goes on within our own psyche. Although the last episode tried to extend its metaphor to encompass many characters, “da3mons.mp4” puts the focus squarely on Elliot. This isn’t to say that Elliot eats up a hundred percent of the screen time in episode four; “da3mons.mp4” does make an attempt to remove itself from its main character a bit, with stories that, while somewhat necessary, are a bit clunky in execution.

by Sean Fennell

10 Jul 2015

Mr. Robot made its way onto the pop culture scene in a hurry. Moments after the premiere episode—and in some cases before it—Twitter and critics alike were a buzz about the summer’s surprise show. I heard the hype, and like many, I took it with a grain of salt.

I will now admit for the purpose of transparency that I have never watched a single original show on the USA Network. This likely lent to my skepticism about a show that was to be the network’s next big thing — compared to what exactly, Suits? But then there it was, the first episode, 62 minutes of some of the most intense, and more importantly, original television in recent memory. It genuinely surprised me, which considering all the hype that now surrounds every respective network’s forays into original programming, is worth some discussion.

Similar to the way Elliot feels after inhaling what is a precisely predetermined amount of morphine, I was on a high. Also similar to Elliot, I am careful not to become a junkie, constantly ready with my withdraw pills (in this metaphor my skeptical critical thinking) to support me through any lapse in judgement. There have been many who have been able to create fresh pilot episodes only to see their story line and characters fall lockstep into the tired clichés which fill countless hours of television—usually on USA.

So my quest as a viewer, as Mr. Robot moves into its third episode, is to determine whether the excitement can last. Will Mr. Robot stay on the fringes, where so many of its interesting characters exist, or will it regress the mean? While “d3bug.mkv” shows flashes of the latter, it hedges this with enough of the former to keep me fully into it, for now.

Episode 3 is all about the bug. The bug is a computer, or more specifically a code, reference meaning a malfunction, something that is usually rooted out and exterminated in an effort to fix the problem. For Mr. Robot, the bug is a metaphor, a not so subtle or nuanced one at that. Elliot is quick to move from computer bugs to bugs within humans, their individual flaws, the “error of thinking that makes you who you are”.

So, is a bug a fatal crack in the circuitry that will bring the whole system to its knees, or simply a character flaw? The answer to that is important to understanding Elliot, but like many things with our main character, he falls on two sides of the same issue. He is quick to change his mind, sometimes when it best suits him and the ones he loves, and sometimes just because he appears to be quite full of it.

The main point of the bug metaphor is so the episode can introduce us to the various characters and their respective problems. We know Elliot has plenty of issues and we’ll touch more on that in a bit, but the focus of much of this week’s character study is of “Evil Corp” exec. Tyrell Wellick and power couple Ollie and Angela.

We open “d3bug.mkv” with Wellick as he prepares for a business proposition with his boss. Though this meeting never actually occurs, the scene shows us what we need to know. Tyrell is a focused, intense man who will accept nothing but the best that the world has to offer. This surely influences us when we see him cheat on his wife with his boss’s male secretary. Whatever you see this interaction as meaning, it’s hard to see it as an act of passion on Wellick’s part. Instead, it seems calculating and part of some grander scheme. Part of his clear, and undying ambition. An ambition that, while impressive, may also turn out to be his bug.

I want to stop now to address an aspect of episode three that plays into what I was discussing earlier about fresh verse lazy writing. Sex is present in most scripted television. Sometimes it’s for the right reasons, like to reveal the psyche of a character or to move along plot, but sometimes it ‘s just there, a smokescreen writer’s use when they have nothing real to say, but want to say it with naked people. The sex scene we see between Tyrell and the secretary is important, if not completely essential. The sex scene later in the episode that Tyrell has with his wife, full of bondage and gagging, is one I did not find essential. What did this really say about either of them that could have been explained through dialogue? Nothing.

On the other hand, they have kept sex absent from what we have seen from the Ollie and Angela relationship—not that they have benefited from the lack thereof. To be honest, the scenes that these two share are the ones that I must most fervently resist unlocking my phone and updating the ole Twittersphere—god, what would Elliot say about that. The two have such dry chemistry and such seemingly unimportant story lines that the end-of-episode reveal that they too might become involved with FSociety was less of a “oh wow” moment and more of an “oh no” moment.

That brings me to the ending of “d3bug.mkv”. The part where we learn Elliot’s most influencing bug, one that we have seen lurking under the surface from the opening episode. In short, he’s got daddy issues and, after the flashback with his mom, he probably has mommy issues as well. Mr. Robot knows he has daddy issues, and just as Elliot is ready to move on forever from the darknet world from which FSociety evolved, they put out the final bait to lure Elliot into the fold, and it works to perfection. Releasing information that definitively ties Evil Corp to his father’s death is all Elliot needs to forget the promise he made to himself hours earlier. He is accepting his “glitch” and entering the underworld.

Here is where Mr. Robot will either tank—or shine. Finally, Elliot is totally in with FSociety, ready to not only be a part of it, but to orchestrate, the plan laid out in extreme vagueness by Mr. Robot in episode one. The ultimate test will be what this plan really is, and whether it will be enough to hold the rest of season one together.

Will we be rooting for the FSociety gang? Will they become just as evil in retribution as Evil Corp is in practice? Is their cause altruistic or narcissistic? Do we care if they succeed? It seems we will begin to learn more about these questions next week and into the future. It’s important now more than ever that both the writing and FSociety are intricate and interesting enough to make for good television and not aimless preachy, anti-establishment mumbo jumbo.

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