Imaginary friends - Mr. Robot s02e03 Review


Hello again. The third episode of Mr. Robot's second season gave me mixed feelings, mixed thoughts and mixed messages. I've mixed them up, sorted through them and laid them out for you here, hopefully with better than mixed results. 

I’m hesitant to politicize deaths on Mr. Robot. I feel that it’s earned a lot of goodwill with its representation, subject matter and writing. I’ve also pegged it as an “anyone can die” type of show, even though few important characters have actually died so far. That being said, it does rub me the wrong way that out of all the characters that could have died they choose Gideon and Jerome, one being gay and the other one black. 

Just a week ago I was thinking about the diversity of both the show and fsociety. Now the group hanging around Darlene consists mainly of white people, most of them men, and one of the two original POC members are dead. Gideon is gone, and Trenton and Darlene have yet to be confirmed queer (as I’ve willed myself to believe will happen). Though I want to pretend I judge TV shows mainly on the quality of story, style and acting, I do enjoy them much less if they are overwhelmingly straight and white. Don’t you? It’s so unrealistic, and in a way that makes things less exciting than reality instead of the other way around. I just want to be excited!

Angela’s low self-esteem remains. She definitely doesn’t act like she has a lot of love for herself - if she had, she would not get all dressed up and talk to herself in the mirror for Phillip freaking Price. It hurts to see her this way, and it hurts to see Price’s smug face as he drags her deeper and deeper down into his world of bullshit. I know, Mr. Robot is supposed to be depressing. I just wish Angela got to be kick-ass while doing depressing things. Like Elliott when he’s laughing maniacally at Mr. Robot, or even when he’s eating Adderall pills from the puddle of his own vomit: Is it disgusting? Yes. Does it make him look weak? I don’t think so. 

It’s interesting to see characters behave in ways that most of us perceive as weak, to be susceptible to others’ manipulations (or pretend to be in order to be liked). What bothers me is that Angela has been chosen for this, that her “weakness” takes the form of self-effacing, and that her personality is all but erased in the process. Elliott has a whole other person inside his mind, and spends most of his time putting on masks to hide this, but he still retains distinct traits. Why can’t Angela? 

On to the next female character whose progression in season two disappoints me. I wonder what made Darlene such an asshole. Sorry, that’s a rude way to put it. Why is Darlene being condescending towards everyone around her, while also trying her hardest to make them feel guilty? Being direct has always been part of the character and we wouldn’t want Darlene to become either pleasant or polite, but right now she risks alienating everyone who could help her do something important (and who have done that already). 

By everyone, I mostly mean Trenton. Even without a romantic Trenton/Darlene relationship, I very much want more of her on the show. The glimpse of her we see here isn’t very exciting, but she does have a perfect response to Darlene’s accusation of giving up on the cause: “What, cause I don’t care about stupid hijinks, like burning money in the middle of a park?”. Ouch. I almost buy Darlene’s comeback, except I don’t actually think this is an effective way to crush public confidence in E-Corp. And this is why fsociety, as well as the viewer, needs Trenton. She provides a necessary counterweight to Darlene, not by always being more tempered (anyone can fill the role of constant party-pooper), but by having a different approach to the work. 

The show is setting things up like fsociety is losing direction without Elliott, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be him who corrects their course. No movement is dependent on one single person, except for as a symbol or a way to access media, politicians, or whatever you may need for your activism. What it does need is clear ideas on what it wants to achieve, and methods for realizing them. That’s my take anyway; if you’re interested in learning about the subject from more reliable sources, I suggest you take to Google and check out what’s been published in research on social movements, resistance and revolutions. If you want to be pointed in a more specific direction,  here’s a list of some books and articles by authors I’ve read and appreciated (Full disclosure: it’s based on the reading list for two university courses I took in 2013/2014). 

By now you may be wondering if I have completely forgotten about the main character, our bridge into this whole world after all, I’ve only mentioned him to point out how unimportant he is. I promise you, I remember. Elliott has an interesting episode arc, going from panic to panic, to euphoria, to kernel panic. For a brief moment, Elliott gets exactly what he wants: the panic stops. But the peace of mind is oh so artificial, and doomed to be temporary. At this point, maybe it’s just as well. Mr. Robot isn’t wrong when he says Elliott has a reason to be paranoid. As for needing him… No, I think Elliott has the right idea here. Elliott may be lost without Mr. Robot, but he’s sure as hell lost with him. And any friend who makes you throw a person like Gideon under the bus is not a good friend. 

The theme of control continues, this time making Elliot choose between control and things like well-being, awareness and authenticity. Even if it’s clear who makes the best decisions out of Mr. Robot and the rest of Elliot, the consequences of keeping Mr. Robot at bay don’t seem to be worth it - and it’s an impossible task to begin with. Elliot will have to find some way to live with this part of himself without losing control completely (or get professional help, which would be the best option). Hopefully he does better than the racist guy at the Christian group meeting, who felt enough remorse right after his act of violence to need God’s forgiveness, but not enough to stop himself from beating a man up, just for being Indian, in the first place.

In the same scene we hear that story, control is explicitly mentioned as Elliot goes on a rant about organized religion. He rightly points out that religion has historically been used to control people-- though he “forgets” to mention other purposes, like trying to explain the universe and human life--and makes comparisons to substance abuse and addiction, which is a perfect example of loss of control and autonomy. As he describes it, religious people essentially give up some of their autonomy for the sake of comfort. That is, they’ve made their choice between control and wellbeing, but also lost authenticity in the deal. 

It’s both fascinating and depressing that Elliot has, or thinks he has, seen through all of these mechanisms for controlling people, and yet he can’t even control his own actions. “I don’t even listen to my imaginary friend, why the hell should I listen to yours?” he exclaims, but we all know his imaginary friend does more than tell him what to do. While someone who believes in god retains their free will, Elliot doesn’t have that luxury. He can tell Mr. Robot to fuck off how many times he wants to, the man will remain, essentially a nightmare version of the tyrant god who does whatever he wants to. 

Other points of interest: 

I enjoy the way Gummer plays FBI agent Dominique “Dom” DiPerro, but I’m not sure I understand the character. Is she lonely and sad, or just apathetic? Straight forward or unfeeling? Manipulative or resourceful? It's suspenseful to watch her get closer to the truth about fsociety, but I want to know more about the character as well. 

Ray is just the type of character I was never meant to understand (are you noticing a theme here?). My first impression was that he’s adorable and sad; basically like what his dog looks like, though I don’t think the external is reflective of the internal there. The second and third impressions are still sad, but less endearing. Ray could be a villain, friend, good guy or complete sociopath, and I’m sure there are excellent theories about him out there, but I myself have none. What’s clear is that he wants something from Elliot, and it isn’t just company or someone to talk to. 

Because I’ve been focused on analysis from a societal or philosophical perspective rather than commenting on the technical or artistic aspects of the show (which is what I’m most qualified for anyway), I haven’t mentioned how much I loved the sequence with Elliot high on Adderall yet. So here it is: I loooved it. Mr. Robot is such a serious show, but it can also be damn funny, and it’s nice to be reminded. Add some of the show’s creative use of sound effects, visuals and editing - plus Rami Malek’s glorious, strange face - and you’ve got some highly entertaining, clever TV.

Tova Crossler Ernström is a bisexual Swede, feminist, socialist, INFJ, Hufflepuff, HSP and Taurus. She is fond of personality tests, labels and lists.