This week, we delve into daemons, which Elliot tells us are background programs that run whether or not we are aware of them.
Mr. RobotAirtime: Wednesdays, 10 PM
Cast: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallstrom
Subtitle: Season 1 - Episode 4 "da3m0ns.mp4"
Air date: 2015-07-15
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.
In one of these stories, we see the two opposites in Elliot’s personal life come together: the beatific and mild-mannered Angela and the rough-edged Shayla. The two embark on a drug-fueled adventure that never really becomes more than filler, but does serve to show how Angela may be heading down a path similar to Elliot’s, if not for extremely different reasons. Shayla shows her that doing what is “wrong”, and more importantly doing it for yourself, can be rewarding and freeing, an idea highlighted by an out-of-nowhere romantic scene between the two. This is an interesting theme, but it is not handled with the subtly that has come to make this series so interesting. Lines like, “we don’t plan our path, we just sort of wing it and see where the moment takes us,” come off just as trite as you can imagine.
While Anglela’s Portia Doubleday and Shayla’s Frankie Shaw don’t show the most natural of chemistry with one another, they do bring up perhaps the episode’s most essential idea, one which shapes much of what we see in the latter part of the episode. When they first meet up outside of Elliot’s apartment, Shayla admits that, although she is watching Elliot’s dog Flipper, she doesn’t have any idea where he is. She then brings up a point that Angela herself knows all too well: Elliot only tells you what he wants you to know.
This is essential to fully understanding what happens to Elliot in “da3mons.mp4”. Up to this point, we have learned more about Elliot than any other character, and aren't even close to understanding him. We know more about the depths of his loneliness, his drug addiction, and his screwed-up childhood than do any of the other characters. The thing is, we know all of this information only because Elliot has shared it with us. We have taken the word of an obviously unreliable and sometimes manipulative personality and accepted this as the whole truth. “da3mons.mp4” hints that maybe this wasn’t wise.
The overall plot of Mr. Robot sputters a bit in episode four. As I sat back through the second viewing, I realized that essentially nothing of consequence really happens. What “da3mons.mp4” does concern itself with is Elliot and his drug problem, which comes to a head as we open the episode with him staring down his last of line of morphine.
Up to this point Elliot has prided himself on his ability to control his drug use. He is not a junkie, or so he has assured us up to this point. But as episode four continues, both the viewer and the other members of F Society soon realize this is not the case. As they plan their attack on Steel Mountain, Elliot slips further into withdrawal, eventually fully breaking down on the way to the all-important heist, much to the chagrin of his partners in crime.
The initial withdrawal scenes offer nothing visually new, featuring the kind of convulsions we have seen in drug movies like The Basketball Diaries or Requiem for a Dream. It is only when we go into Elliot’s psyche as he recovers that the episode truly becomes interesting. Elliot describes the titular daemons as programs that run in the background, largely out of the user's control but constantly working to affect the user in some way. In this, he is largely describing the subconscious mind, and the subconscious mind is exactly where we are taken during this trip down Elliot’s personal rabbit hole.
Among other things, this trip shows Elliot trying heroin only to be shot in the chest, talking to his fish, and finally donning the F Society mask and accidentally proposing to Angela. This underscores the idea that we have only really been told what Elliot wants us to know, but now, through the use of his withdrawal-fueled trip, we are shown the inner workings of his complicated mind, unaltered and raw.
While it is unclear what much of this trip really means, one particular theme seems very important to Elliot as a character. On two occasions, characters within the dream ask him about his “monster”. It that clear that Elliot has issues, but the monster spoken of seems to have more significance that either his drug addiction or his family issues. Indeed, the monster may be the root of all these problems, and as he wakes up alone in the hotel room where he has waited out the withdrawal, we get a hint as what this monster might be: loneliness.
It has been clear since the beginning that Elliot has trouble connecting with other humans. He has attributed this to many things, but whatever the reason, it has made for a debilitating and lonely existence, one that may be the driving force for many of his actions. How he copes with this loneliness, whether through healthy or unhealthy means, will likely shape the remainder of his story.
As Mr. Robot moves into the middle part of its first season, the show is working to evolve from a single-character study into a more all-encompassing world; in that, it struggles. Elliot is as interesting as any character in recent television drama, which is impressive, but not one of the other characters in the series has yet come close to playing a quality second-fiddle. Most of their screen time, whether it be Shayla, Angela or Tyrell, serves to propel Elliot’s plot forward and little else. This type of focused character study may work for a season, maybe two, but for the show to have lasting power, Mr. Robot must find someone else to lean on, or the program may be doomed.