This review contains spoilers.
3.8 Don’t Delete Me
Don’t Delete Me is the kind of episode Mr Robot probably needed to have after its three-week long Stage 2 action movie bonanza. If we’re to buy these characters as human beings, they need to behave like human beings. That is to say, after Elliot’s misguided, youthful revolution indirectly gets thousands of innocent people killed, he’s going to have to take at least one episode’s worth of introspection.
It’s a tall task for any episode of television. Delving into the complex psyche of an emotionally stunted, heroin-abusing computer hacker isn’t the easiest task in the world. Particularly for a show as dependent on its visual style as Mr Robot. Still, Sam Esmail and Rami Malek are able to put together a believable, emotionally astute, if overly obligatory episode.
Except for that kid.
I’d like to imagine the conversation in the writers’ room went a little something like this.
“Sam, we just came off of our most exciting and successful three-episode run ever! What’s next?”
“Well we’ve got to show Elliot at his lowest. Blowing up at his sister, neglecting Angela, buying a whole bag of morphine to take to the beach and overdose. Real dirtbag shit.”
“Excellent! What snaps him out of his suicide jag? Is it the Back To The Future screening he goes to on the anniversary of Marty McFlay’s trip to the past?”
“Nah, I’m thinking more like… you know how every Shane Black movie has an annoyingly precocious kid for the gruff narrator to bounce off of in the most frustrating way possible?”
“What if Trenton had a little brother?”
Okay, so Mohammed (as played fairly capably by youngster Elisha Henig) isn’t that annoying. At least he doesn’t help Tony Stark get into the spirit of Christmas. And it’s clear that Esmail is trying to tie Elliot’s own wide-eyed innocence into a mechanism for Elliot to get over his own childhood trauma. Still, the mere inclusion of the ‘from the mouth of babes’ trope is so fundamentally cliched that I’m not anything can be done to rescue it.
That’s a shame because Mr Robot does try to rescue it. Elliot interacting with a child in the very same episode we discover just how traumatic his childhood is indeed interesting. We open in a theatre at the Washington Township mall. Elliot and his dad are about to see Shallow Grave but there are some issues. For one, Elliot is not over his dad throwing him out of a window and still wears a sling. Also Elliot’s dad can’t stop coughing. Also M&Ms and popcorn together are gross. Don’t @ me.
Then Elliot’s problems kick into high gear as his father keels over dead right there in the lobby. Elliot simply gathers up his father’s coat, walks into the theatre and tells the presumably chatty hallucination of his father “shhh the movie’s about to start.”
The fact that Elliot’s hallucinations and split personality issues started so immediately upon the death of his father is fascinating. And it makes the resolution of those issues this episode’s highest priority and focus – just as it seems like it will be the chief focus of the show going forward.
That is all undeniably cool, relatable, elemental storytelling. I’m sure young Mohammed could play an important role in it… just, come on, man. Not the whole episode.
Again, Mohammed is mostly fine and inoffensive. It’s just the role he occupies and the way he changes Elliot’s suicidal demeanour on a dime that’s ineffective. The frustrating part is that Don’t Delete Me was already gifted with the perfect concept to actually pull Elliot out of his tailspin: Back To The Future.
The inclusion of “Back to the Future Day” (October 21, 2015) puts a bow on this season’s fixation with time travel in an incredibly satisfying way. For a few episodes there, Whiterose had not just Angela but all of us* believing that time travel was a potential reality for this show. Then that reality came crashing down for Angela in brutal fashion and now it comes crashing down for Elliot.
*Cop to it. There were moments when you really thought Mr. Robot was going to go for it.
Elliot never literally believed in time travel of course. But so many of his actions have revealed that he wants it to be real. His brain broke and his soul split so early on in his childhood that the only happy memories he has left are watching Back To The Future with his sister and playing the wish game with Angela.
Now Back To The Future returns like a spectre from his past to help fix his future. Elliot can’t fix the past. When Elliot and Mohammed are in line to see the film surrounded by Doc Browns and Marty McFlys Mohammed asks what this movie is even about. The woman next to them says it’s about how “one mistake can change the world.”
Elliot knows all about that now. The revolution he started he started deliberately and he and Mr. Robot followed through on it because they wanted to. Because, not unlike a certain New Mexican chemist, they liked it. Still, mistakes were made along the way. And those mistakes changed the world.
I suppose the purpose of Trenton’s younger brother and to a certain extent Mobely’s older brother are to show Elliot learning that he can be in control again. Despite not wanting help and despite barely even wanting to be alive, Elliot feels a sense of responsibility for Mohammed. When the kid ducks out of the Back To The Future screening, Elliot takes off into the streets and asks a Hasidic Jewish man in an ice cream truck blaring Orson Welles’ War Of The Worlds* where the nearest mosque by a park is.
*This show rules.
The man is able to take Elliot there and when Elliot enters the mosque he has a genuinely affecting moment with Mohammed.
“I wish you were dead,” Mohammed whines to Elliot.
“So do I!” he shouts back.
By merely saying the words aloud, it’s like Elliot has come to own them and move past them. Now is not the time to die when there is still work to be done. So he takes Mohammed home, gets a green sucker for his troubles, and heads off to schedule Mobely a funeral and fix Angela’s brain.
Don’t Delete Me really does a solid job of not feeling obligatory. From the opening moments of Elliot blowing up at Darlene it’s clear that what we’re seeing is a necessary reset and regrouping… along with some emotional recalibration for our characters. Elements like the Back To The Future day and the ice cream truck man help disguise the thinness of the premise, making Don’t Delete Me an altogether enjoyable hour.
Elliot is back on track, ready to reconcile with his ghost dad, and undo the hack with ghost Trenton.
Now, please don’t do the kid thing ever again.