Thursday, August 20, 2015

Now that I'm current on Mr. Robot ...

Following up on my earlier post, feels like a good time to assess where I'm at with Mr. Robot.

The meta-commentary stings.
My track record for anticipating resolution of TV show arcs is ... not good. Basically, I'm never right. That said, it's been clear from the start Mr. Robot is either re-making, or deeply in love with Fight Club. In addition to politely saying, "f-ck society," it's a not a stretch to see that hacker cell name as directly referencing the term "fight club." (When I talk about Fight Club, by the way, I'm only referring to the film. Haven't read the novel. Moreover, haven't watched the film since the DVD was new. A long time ago. If I were paid to do this, I'd take the time to watch it again before rattling off my thoughts. But I've got maybe fifteen minutes before I have to start dinner and it's now or never ...)

There was no surprise in the graveyard scene; that Elliot and Mr. Robot were a Jack/Tyler Durden pair was fairly obvious. There was, perhaps, room for the show to have it over on us and play with that expectation, but it's settled now -- or as settled as any story with Elliot as narrator can be -- so let's accept that as the show's reality and consider where the story might go next and what it all means based on what we've seen to date.

Apart from Elliot/Mr. Robot, it's not as easy, I think to determine the in-show reality of all the other characters. Angela's dad, for instance, doesn't appear to really be there. Angela is, I suspect, also Darlene. Angela/Darlene though does seem to exist outside of Elliot's mind. Gideon, too. Ollie? Tyrell and Joann seem to also exist outside Elliot's mind, although I've seen speculation that Tyrell may be another aspect of Elliot -- I don't recall a specific instance of anything we've seen onscreen that would violate the narrative logic if it turned out to be the case, but it feels unlikely. Terry Colby also seems to be a real character, though his offer to Angela at the end of "eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt" strikes an odd chord.

Everything about this scene, from its place in the plot, to how it's filmed, to the costuming, works to persuade me this Darlene and Angela are the same character, and we're in a version of Fight Club where Marla also has a Tyler Durden.
The whole reality though, has to be questioned. All the characters refer to Evil Corp. with that name, whether Elliot/Mr. Robot is there or not. Though, the scenes he's in could be nothing more than a story he's telling, unreliable as a description of actual events in the show's world. It's not unreasonable for Allsafe to be named as such, but our two main corporate presences to be named Evil and Allsafe seems as likely to be the work of a fevered mind imagining both as actual names. If they're not real though, then I guess this isn't Fight Club as much as it is The Singing Detective, or maybe St. Elswhere.

Proceeding with assumption that Elliot is not imagining everything, I think we're left with Elliot and Tyrell working together to advance the hack that's going to destroy the records of everyone's debt. So we're marching towards the Fight Club final scene. Which doesn't bode well for Elliot's future.

But it's going to be tricky, especially for me and my memory, to map these characters onto Fight Club. Darlene-to-Marla is complicated by Angela, among other things. Gideon doesn't map to Jack's boss, and there's no certainty, I think, about Elliot dying during the hack, though he may not survive the outcome. (Previews for the finale also show Elliot cowering the chaos he's unleashed. Maybe.)

Where this excels over Fight Club though, even if it is marching to the same resolution, for the same reasons, is in not being hung up on examining the dilemma of Elliot's identity through the lens of masculinity. One, for instance, could easily imagine a Season Two where Angela/Darlene is the main character, working for/against Evil Corp. in the aftermath of the hack. Mr. Robot could still be a presence in that hypothetical, he's Darla's dad, too, after all. Fight Club reeked of testosterone, a hyper-macho response to the emasculating effects of ... consumerism, I guess. Imagining FC being FC with Marla as the main character doesn't cohere. (Again, forgive me my dim recollections, if Marla was a fantastically complex character and I'm getting this all wrong, I'm happy, eager even, to be corrected.)

After the finale, will try to assess whether I was correct to be skeptical of the show's anti-capitalist label. There's a degree to which having your anti-capitalist protagonist suffer from some kind of dissociative disorder could be seen as implying strong anti-capitalist sentiment is a characteristic of mental illness, even while associating the cause of the mental illness with suffering under the consumerist mentality fostered by the capitalist system.

However, there's an intriguing line we can follow that allows our hero to be properly heroic despite being uncertain of his own identity, even motives. The human will to live free, even when all else is broken, constructing just enough agency from the tatters of multiple identities to overcome society's conditioning and engage in a revolutionary act with real results: that's something we can slot into the role of hero we'd normally only let a "healthy" personality occupy. The hero is then understood as an aspect of our nature, manifested in an individual acting from fractured desire, through a sense of self as shattered as Elliot's bathroom mirror, but in the reflection, never fully obscured. If I come out of the final episode with something like that understanding intact, I'll feel like I saw one of the best series of television since The Wire. (Which, for me, was just a couple months ago, so I'll be riding a hot streak into Doctor Who's tenth since the revival.)

Or, the finale will rub all my bad guesses, misunderstandings, and commentary BS in my face and I'll have to  re-evaluate the whole thing.

Either way ... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

[Update: fixed several incidences of referring to Darlene as Darla. Which, I probably could've left and played off as a sly reference to Marla. Except they were purely me being good confused.] 

Collected tweets about Mr. Robot, through the penultimate episode of S1.

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