In Mr. Robot’s New York, there’s a clear distinction between classes and the influence they hold in the disparate social circles they inhabit. Interlopers are quickly detected. Deviation of their norms are harshly punished. Tyrell Wellick understands this world and seeks to manipulate these constructs in order to satisfy his lust for power.
In “da3m0ns.mp4” we’re given a telling supercut of Tyrell Wellick during the quiet moments of his day. Like serial killer (and occasional rapist) Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, every moment of Tyrell’s day is merely preparation for the next. The workout at dawn is to form discipline. Talking to his reflection is to master his tongue and settle his mind. The clothes are to present an image of wealth and achievement. Everything is arranged with meticulous detail in hopes that it will lead him to his desired outcome. But when Tyrell is denied the opportunity to lobby for his role as Chief Technology Officer of Evil Corp, he reverts to an almost childlike state where his frustrations can only be exorcised by savagely beating a homeless man underneath a subway overpass.
While Patrick Bateman expresses his frustrations more violently, leading to gore-strewing murders that require the resources and time his profession as a Wall Street trader allow, the root cause of their behavior seems to stem from somewhere similar.
Like Bateman, Tyrell works in a profession that requires his allegiance in exchange for access to a wealth many may find obscene. In fact, that may have been the case, what with creator Sam Esmail alluding to debt owed to Evil Corp as the closest thing Mr. Robot has to a fixed villain for the first season. But is isn’t a salary that makes Tyrell act the way he does, rather it’s the promise of power he chases, which, when dealing with people, tends to translate to control.
In American Psycho, Bateman commits, alludes to, and recalls several instances of rape and sexual aggression against an array of women from his life. Through his own streams of consciousness we learn that he gets almost no sexual gratification from it, leading him to commit more extreme acts to arrive at some justification for what he does. Tyrell may stay several rungs below this level of criminality, but from his analysis of Evil Corp staff, his fellow coworkers, and pretty much everyone else, we see the makings of a dangerous man that finds no guilt in his actions. And why should he? These people beneath him are less than, not even also-rans. The only way they could even amount to anything is if they became part of his plan to become the youngest executive ever at Evil Corp. We see him attempt this coercion with Elliot, with Sharron Knowles, and his own wife. And we know the consequence that follows when they refuse.
Surely this isn’t representative of every well-to-do corporate-affiliated young man living in New York. But it would be dishonest to claim that it isn’t emblematic of a culture that is endemic in corporate America.
When American Psycho was released, those that didn’t immediately label it a needlessly sensational novel looking to secure its footing along other controversial works found that Ellis wrote a sharp satire of yuppies in the late ’80s who embraced greed and affluence as the world of business and finance connected like never before. It’s as though Bateman and his friends were creatures removed, and whether it was a homeless man, a gay man, a girlfriend, they didn’t really classify as people. They didn’t have reservations to Dorsia. They didn’t know the difference in models of walkmans. They didn’t workout at gyms and clubs exclusive to Harvard graduates. They were not members of the same tribe.
These attitudes are seen again and again in Mr. Robot, and always shown either in close proximity to Tyrell or someone employed by the company. We see this when Terrence Colby successfully humiliates Angela with a bold sexual advance to reduce her in his eyes and cease her questioning, then again as he flippantly recounts the night Evil Corp decided to bury documents on a chemical leak that killed both her mother and Elliott’s father. “wh1ter0se.m4v” gives us a real-time accounting of how this culture plays out within the confines of Tyrell’s office. During a meeting, one of the men working beneath him talks about a Google hiring executive who gave him oral sex during a company retreat in hopes that he’d consider a job offer, even going so far to say that she had a “Merissa Meyer thing going on.” And the overt nod to the Yahoo Executive, the secret of people sleeping their way to the top, some even being gay for promotion, and the general frat vibe that’s shared here is known to be the nucleus that keeps corporate bodies and finance firms bonded.
These enabling attitudes reinforce a membrane that separates, that keeps people in power comfortably removed from the general population, including those affected by their activity. And this disavowal of a shared humanity can allow an ambitious young man to reach beyond reasonable bounds, granting permission to remove anyone from his path regardless of the method.