Mr. Robot: Lucid Dreams, Alternate Realities, and David Lynch

Are you red or purple? A 1 or a 0? Dreaming or here with me? Mr. Robot doesn’t sleep, even if he’s not here. Maybe we can’t afford to either.

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Mr. Robot: “eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z”

Mr. Robot’s been gone too long. Elliot’s wondering why, and he needs our help to figure it out. “Mind awake, body asleep,” is the mantra we all chant to dream lucidly, putting Elliot in the backseat and allow Mr. Robot to drive his body. It’s the only way we’ll ever know what happens in Stage 2.

Dom’s given the bureaucratic frisking from doctors and the FBI after the shooting at Lupe’s. She’s in one piece. The same can’t be said for the people who died in the massacre. But that won’t stop her from pushing Santiago, not now when it’s clear to her that the situation with the Dark Army has moved beyond corporate sabotage and into the realm of war declarations. World War 3 could start soon, and the US may be blindsided by China, but Santiago sends her home to recuperate. No way will Director Comey listen to this after China bailed out Evil Corp with a $2 trillion interest-free loan, saving the global economy. For now, any investigation into the Dark Army have to be carried out with a lighter step. She’d be better off letting this go for now and heading home. But he promises she’ll be the one to “do the interview” when she comes back.

Angela’s abductors drive her hours away from New York to a suburban home where the faces of some cozy family are blocked from sight. She’s trapped in a room with a draining fish tank, timing the little girl administering a kind of Voight-Kampff test on a Commodore 1541, complete with 16-bit illustrations of psychological horror from Land of Ecodelia. Unrelated questions like “Have you ever cried during sex?” and “Have you ever fantasized about murdering your father?” quickly drain Angela. A call from a simulated voice, speaking in text-to-speech sing-song, pushes her to keep going, to “open the door” with a “key” she’s had all along.

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US Treasury Secretary Jack (Jacob Lew) finds himself trampled under Price’s foot when he learns of Evil Corp’s plan to offer up loans to everyone through Ecoin. Making money is supposed to be the sole responsibility of the federal government, but they don’t have the money to loan people and get the economy rolling again. But a conglomerate/bank can rebuild America’s financial infrastructure and keep the government in the loop with surveillance data. Everyone wins. All Price wants is the freedom to use his own cryptocurrency before someone else swoops in. It’s the future after all, even if it is unconstitutional, but it’s the only way to stay ahead of the Chinese. Jack quickly sees he’s been set up to accept this inevitability from the start. He’s out of moves now, even if he’s certain Price is up to more than he’s letting on.

Whiterose reveals that they’ve been behind this theatrical charade. Angela has been a creature of interest, always turning up in the Dark Army and Evil Corp’s path. Whiterose wants to know why.

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Washington Township, the site that claimed life of her mother and Edward Alderson, Whiterose claims, was the beginning of a path that brought them together, to this moment. Unknown to her, Angela has been tested by Whiterose again and again, and has risen to a prominent place in Price’s circle of influence as a result. Something that worries Whiterose. But rather than kill Angela, or simply release her and destroy the information she needs to expose Washington Township, Whiterose instead shares with Angela what’s been going on at the site, why her mother had to die, and how it is leading them all to a special place. All Whiterose asks in exchange is the chance to make her a true believer.

In what? Who knows? But Angela seems content with this arrangement when she arrives at Antara’s house. But the fear is apparent when she tells her lawyer to never contact her again.

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Reciting the mantra works. Elliot’s not in control of his body, but Mr. Robot doesn’t know we’re watching. He sifts through the mail for a takeout menu from Red Wheelbarrow BBQ, defaced with seemingly random numbers. Mr. Robot gets to work decrypting the numbers lifted from an analog cipher, giving him a phone number. Calling it gives him the instructions to reach a taxi on 25th and 8th. Elliot tries to follow him there, but Mr. Robot gives him the slip. Gone again, Elliot’s back in control of his body when he finds the taxi waiting. The driver barely speaks enough English to communicate with him. The shouting match that comes from the confusion is put to rest when Tyrell climbs in beside Elliot and instructs the driver where to go.

How can Elliot trust what sees now, after Mr. Robot let him believe they killed Tyrell? After losing control of his body? He tries to incorporate the taxi driver in their conversation, to confirm that Tyrell is sitting next to him. Afraid, not wanting to be caught in public now that he’s wanted by police, Tyrell gets the driver to stop so they can continue on foot.

The Dark Army has helped Tyrell along and included him in Stage 2. Elliot still doesn’t understand what he’s agreed to or where this is all going, but Tyrell is sure he’ll be pleased now that he’d set into motion has finally worked. He’d bet their friendship on it.

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Trying to piece together my thoughts on this half of the finale, I wasn’t entirely sure how to articulate myself. There was something that was entirely different about what was presented in this episode that hadn’t been around before. At first I thought it was Dom’s heart-to-heart with her digital assistant that was throwing me off. Arguably one of the more cyberpunk moments in Mr. Robot involves someone trying to explain what they’re going through after a second brush with death to a limited-learning AI that can only perform the simplest of tasks. As gratifying as that was to see play out that wasn’t what was off, and I was spinning my wheels on the topic until I heard someone describe the episode as Lynchian.

Sure, what I’m dubbing the Voight-Kampff room definitely has a Twin Peaks-y setup, and the images in Land of Ecodelia put me in that frame of mind, but I think it has more to do with the drive out of New York to this appropriated house that presumably sits somewhere in New Jersey that’s to blame for the weirdness in this episode.

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Mr. Robot has spared no corner of the collective American experience when ridiculing the many institutions that define it, but it’s done so from the setting of the country’s largest urban center. Hell, as a New Yorker I’ll even testify to most of us thinking we’re the planet’s capital. That sits at odds with the rest of the country that looks nothing like it.

We’ve seen suburbs before in Mr. Robot, but only in a limited capacity, as a backdrop for some other, more interesting drama taking place in it. This was the first time a setting outside of New York was part of the story in a direct way. The weirdness of this suburban house, where the family’s smiling faces are blocked and color coded; where rooms are set up like stages prepping for theater, complete with antique props, makeup and costumes. It was a recognizable place filled with familiar things, given a twisted reality worthy of David Lynch.

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Whiterose has spoken about a bent reality before, to Dom and Angela. They claimed to be “moved” by the prospect of chance and probability making a world that is radically different from this one, one where they would live a different existence. To see the inference that such a complex view of possible worlds meld with their plan for Washington Township kind of changes my opinion on Mr. Robot as a whole.

What becomes of this anti-corporatist manifesto that this was in the face of esoteric musings on opportunities given and taken away by a random and uncaring universe? Ecoin still looks like the real McGuffin Elliot and the Dark Army are unknowingly chasing, or maybe it’s the coltan on those Congolese mines China wants so badly. But this view of warped reality, possible reality, lost realities is clearly winning out in terms of allure when it comes to the story’s framing. It might finally explain Esmail’s frequent references to Back 2 the Future II, and the changing futures in that movie

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Looks like we’ll have to wait for the second half of the finale to know for sure.

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Written by Daniel Rodriguez
Daniel Rodriguez is a freelance writer and author from New York City.
2 Comments
  1. Nice catch on the Voight-Kampf quality of Angela’s interrogation by her Shining-esque/Lolita-style twin. The questions here are about empathy (or gullibility–are they the same?), identity (hence the Back to the Future refs, along with Stephen King ones in other ones (Elliot hallucinating his alter-ego and meeting himself, like Marty in BTF II. Also Tyrell shooting Elliot at the end is a parallel of Biff trying to shoot Marty after being warned by someone in the past).

    How about the Lolita clues, “the key was in my hand, my hand was in my pocket”, directly from Nabokov’s book? The book and film are huge references.

    I had to laugh at Tyrell’s hideout; it reminded me of the many ones used by Michael Westen & friends in…”Burn Notice”! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Great analysis. Definitely bookmarked this blog!

    Reply

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