Despite some Fight Club similarities, 'm1rror1ng.qt' proves that Mr. Robot stands on its own as a compelling, brilliant series.
Mr. RobotAirtime: Wednesdays, 8pm
Cast: Rami Malek, Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Martin Wallstrom
Air date: 2015-08-19
“You’re going to make me say it aren’t you? I am Mr. Robot”
-- Elliot Alderson
Last week I made readers wait until the end to discuss Mr. Robot’s biggest twist of the season; this week I will not be so withholding. As has actually been prophesied by many since the opening episode, Mr. Robot, is in fact a figment of Elliot’s (Rami Malek) wild and clearly fractured imagination.
So after all the mystery, and even after last week’s reveal that the man known as Mr. Robot is actually Elliot’s father, Mr. Robot ends up just being some inflated, hack-filled Fight Club rip off.
Wrong, dead wrong.
The two personalities split into two different forms is what makes Fight Club the shocking and beautiful job of storytelling it is, but it doesn’t mean that Mr. Robot can’t stand, or even soar, on its own.
Episode nine, entitled “m1rror1ng.qt” isn’t the final installment of what has been a superb first season, but it is largely the emotional finale. A lot will happen next week, to be sure, but there is little chance that it can match the earth-shattering realizations in this penultimate episode.
We open “m1rror1ng.qt” with a flashback that serves to further elaborate last week’s twist. Mr. Robot is indeed Elliot’s father, that much is certain, and the opener shows us the man before he seemingly became the head of a secret, terroristic gang. Alderson Sr. (Christian Slater) is working behind the counter of a small electronics store called “MR. ROBOT” — the store’s logo is even set in the same type as the show’s title screen.
This short vignette of life in the world of young Elliot shows us the roots of his, and his father’s, worldview. After a man comes in complaining that young Elliot stole $20 from him during his last visit, Alderson does not reprimand his son, but instead assures him that even though he did a bad thing he is a good boy, going as far to say, “That guy was a prick, sometimes that matters more.”
Then comes the stare down that lasts much of the episode, between Elliot and his now resurfaced, long-dead father. Mr. Robot promises answers, but just as he seemingly has all along, gives very little of what he promises. The two (really one) travel to the old Alderson home, even revisiting the window from which Alderson Sr. is supposed to have been the Jamie Lannister to Elliot’s Bran Stark (i.e., pushed him out of the window).
Only after coming to the conclusion that Elliot is really just imagining his father does this scene take a whole different turn. At one point, moments before Elliot returns the favor and thrusts his father from the window, Mr. Robot pleads with Elliot, arguing that he never threw the young boy from the window; that memory is only a product of Elliot's guilt. Armed with the information we have about the nature of Elliot’s psychosis, we can assume that Mr. Robot is right. Elliot has always felt guilty about giving up his dad’s secret about his sickness, and instead of dealing with that in a healthy manner, he turned to hallucinations, namely his father. It was this imagining, not the real Mr. Alderson, that forced Elliot out of the second story window so many years ago.
This does two things: it shows us just how far-reaching Elliot’s psychological problems are, and reveals that the injuries sustained during Elliot’s “fall” from the boardwalk earlier in the season were also self-inflicted, and somehow wrapped up in his never-ending feelings of hobbling guilt. Elliot has been battling his father’s ghost for decades. While heavy medication has likely kept him from Elliot’s imagination for short periods of time, it is clear that he is constantly there, ready to reenter Elliot’s life whenever Elliot sees fit.
The two eventually end up at the cemetery where Elliot’s father is buried, only moments before the arrival of Angela (Portia Doubleday) and Darlene (Carly Chaikin), who are frantically looking for Elliot. As they approach, Elliot’s father warns that they will try to separate them, but assures Elliot that he will always be with him. It is far from a heart-warming moment — only moments before Elliot threw him out of a window — but armed with the information of the subsequent revelation, this line plays more like a grave warning and threat than anything else. The visions of his father have been there for years, and just before he vanishes, he guarantees him that they are not going away any time soon.
As if all this wasn’t enough to fill any episode’s quota for character development, we also have Tyrell Wellick (Martin Wallstrom) dealing with, among other things, the birth of his son, an ongoing murder investigation, and losing his job at E Corp.
The latter is what ultimately brings him to Elliot’s apartment at the end of “m1rror1ng.qt”, and this development is a big deal for both characters' futures. Wellick is a man with more drive than anyone in the show, all of which is wrapped up in his job at E Corp. When he is unceremoniously fired, he seems beside himself; this usually reserved man is left literally begging for his job. Upon entering Elliot’s apartment, Wellick calmly describes, in lurid detail, killing Sharon Knowles. Whether this is a subtle threat, or simply a confession, is purposely vague, but one thing is for sure, Wellick wants in on whatever Elliot is up to.
And so, once and for all, Mr. Robot’s two fairly distinct universes finally collide. Imagining the two working hand in hand is enough to make this episode a worthy narrative advancement on its own, but with everything else going on, it makes “m1rror1ng.qt” possibly the best episode to date, despite what some may call an “obvious” twist.
No matter what is said, Mr. Robot is unique, and when the piano interpretation of The Pixies “Where Is My Mind” — here performed by Maxcene Cyrin — slowly crawls its way into the final scene it is not only a beautifully elegant turn in self-awareness (as well as an homage to the final scene of Fight Club), it is a bold statement: whatever you may recognize about Mr. Robot, there is plenty in the series you have not seen anywhere else on television.