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.