This review contains spoilers.
It’s time we talked about that title. The one that makes this smart, stylish show sound more like a Nick Toons joint than the layered, adult thriller it really is.
Mr Robot is the name attached to Christian Slater’s character on IMDb, and what’s printed on the jacket patch he wears. So it stands to reason that he’s Mr Robot, a suitably cyber-sounding moniker for a shady techie hacker-slash-dissociative personality hallucination (depending on which way you’re leaning this week. Me? The shared Appletinis and unspoken assumption in the hospital that a suicidal Elliot had jumped from the pier railings pushed me towards the latter.)
Elliot does seem more deserving of the pseudonym. Not only does it sound like the kind of cruel nickname schoolkids might assign to an outsider like him, someone who struggles to fit in socially and emotionally, but he certainly sees himself more as a piece of tech than a human. He carefully measures out and counteracts his various doses, and this week explores an episode-long metaphor about the bug in his perfect maze of source code. Elliot has with computers what socially-at-ease people have in groups: an instinctive affinity. He’s Mr Robot in more ways than one.
And then comes Tyrell Wellick, to whose peculiar behaviour much of episode three was devoted. What could be more robotic than obsessively drilling that promotion speech, aiming for perfection in everything from his straightened tie to the cadence of his delivery? It was no accident in a show with this title when Tyrell chastised himself for sounding like “a cold robot”. His ambition is what cuts Tyrell off from human emotions, making him seem psychopathic and yes, robotic.
Or how about Elliot’s Borg Queen mother, as seen in that flashback after his father’s death. Shock or grief or some kind of pathological condition seemed to have divorced her from all feeling. She showed no instinct to comfort her child, denying his feelings as useless and impractical. If we need to look back and see the source of Elliot’s social issues, there’s one starting point.
Which leaves us with all the other Mr Robots. The ones that smile, go to dinner parties, join gyms, watch stupid Marvel movies, drink Starbucks and listen to Len’s Steal My Sunshine despite it being 2015. Much as he’s curious about its comforts, Elliot clearly sees ‘normality’ as robotic, the actions of an automaton race, controlled by the invisible hand of capitalism.
Finally, not to get too ponderous about it all, capitalism is as robotic and emotionless as it comes. This week’s revelation that the Evil Corp exec that Elliot framed in episode one knew that the firm’s actions would cause cancer in its employees yet did nothing was chief proof of that. Human lives are routinely sacrificed in a capitalist quest to be competitive and turn a profit. What’s not robotic and inhuman about that?
Episode three certainly held the line after Mr Robot’s first two strong outings. This one was all about Tyrell (played by Martin Wallstrom), the kind of character who only exists in darkly satirical thrillers, a Swedish Patrick Bateman prepared to connive, seduce and maim his way to the top. Provocative as his sex-and-violence scenes were no doubt intended to be (‘we’re on cable!’ might as well have been water-stamped over them), they were also revealing in terms of power. Tyrell was positioned as the dominant partner in all three, but though his pregnant wife—a woman who obviously shares his goals in life—may have been the submissive, she was evidently calling the shots. That was a reversal from the closet scene in which, Tyrell’s violent side having been established under that bridge, he appeared to be her aggressor. None of his characterisation was subtle, but that’s hardly the goal here. What it certainly wasn’t was boring.
Unlike Angela and her cheating boyfriend’s relationship difficulties, which are the weakest link so far in the show. As a means to an end (finding out more about the other hackers and why they’re targeting Allsafe) it’s a tolerable thread, but with any luck, we won’t spend any longer on that sofa than is strictly necessary.
Things were left with Gideon knowing something’s up with his favourite employee, adding another layer of tension to proceedings. Angela was primed to infect Allsafe with the I Spy virus. And Elliot was back at the heart of the F Society after his sojourn in normality, presumably filled with righteous vengeance about the E Corp industrial deaths.
His dad’s death is Elliot’s bug, the error hidden in his source code that makes him an aberration and stops him from hiding out in vanilla latte land. We all have bugs, says Mr Robot, prompting the question, what’s yours?
Read Frances’ review of the previous episode, Ones And Zeroes, here.
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