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Mr. Robot 1.06: Character of the Week

WOW.

This week’s episode was jam-packed full of interesting stuff. Everything from Elliot’s internal conflict and his fight with Mr. Robot, to the small but surprising gestures of concern and loyalty from Darlene, to Tyrell’s tantrum and Joanna’s (hilariously) cool response, to the ultimate reveal of Shayla’s death – all of it was so tightly executed and compelling that focusing on a single facet feels unfair to the rest. However, there is one storyline that slipped through the more suspenseful drama, seeming deceptively relaxed in comparison to the rest of the episode. Naturally, I’m referring to Angela’s pursuit of a lawyer to help her fight E Corp and get justice for her mother’s death. This character has arguably always been the most down-to-earth part of Mr. Robot, with her struggles generally being the most commonplace in the middle of a tense thriller. This low-key portrayal has led me to believe that Angela, more than anything else, is the show’s secret weapon.

Despite being separate from Mr. Robot’s A-plot most of the time, Angela is a key part of the series’ themes. She’s the voice of genuine good within the series, consistently caring about doing the right thing and being kind to others. When she lashes out, it’s at people who have abused that kindness too many times. Angela’s the dogged everygirl who wishes her life was less complicated, but, failing that, she’ll do whatever she can to repair the damage.

The troubling thing about all of this is that she exists in a narrative where human goodness matters little and is often outright punished. We’ve seen this in small ways, like when she told a man he’d dropped his wallet only to find out he had stolen it from someone else, and this episode took the concept to its logical extreme with Elliot fighting and fighting to rescue Shayla, only to realize he’d failed almost as soon as that conflict began. The key parallel with Angela
and Elliot’s radically different situations is that their genuine intentions are not only easily ripped apart by external circumstances, but also indirectly contribute to that defeat. Angela unknowingly contributed to robbery; Elliot tried to rescue Shayla by getting Vera arrested and the consequences cost her dearly. I intend to blame either character for these events (Vera and the thief are the responsible ones here), but I do find it interesting from a storytelling standpoint that they are both put in the position of being victimized through their attempts to help.

At this point, I see a few different ways Angela can go in the season’s remaining four episodes while life undoubtedly continues to hurl curveballs of increasing weight at her. She can break under the pressure, as Elliot seems to be on the verge of doing, or she can refuse to lose her way. Since the show is already thoroughly covering what it means to be in the pits of despair, desperation, and shame, I think that Angela’s storyline will be an opportunity for the writing to go in a different direction with her role – I’m betting on her becoming a surprisingly adaptable and resilient player on this chess board. As Elliot and Tyrell’s failed calculations put an emotional and psychological strain on their characters, Angela will (hopefully) grow in another direction.

There are two main paths that kind of inner strength can take. The first is her evolution into Mr. Robot’s pillar of morality and decency, even in the face of deeply cynical odds and endless hard calls. It sounds trite, but in all honestly, I think there are few things more interesting than a well-executed character who refuses to sacrifice their idealistic principles no matter how many times life conveys that such determined hope is pointless. It also makes for an appealing foil to the way other central figures crumble and compromise. Obviously, Angela’s not a perfect person (she
did
choose to infect AllSafe’s network), and her flaws and insecurities make  her more fascinating, but almost everyone else on Mr. Robot has done  something with profound ethical squickiness at one point or another. It  would be great to have a lead who exists as a counterpoint to all of that: who  says it doesn’t have to be this way, and refuses to let go of her better  qualities in pursuit of her goals. When Angela asks Elliot for feedback on  her plan to fight E Corp, he decides to “tell her what she wants to hear” since he doesn’t have the time or brainspace to provide a thoughtful genuine opinion – but does the thing Angela wants to hear (namely, that she should have faith in herself and go full steam ahead with her plans) have to be a lie? Does it have to be something that will result in her downfall, and prove there’s no point in trying when you live in a brutal, selfish world? Or has Elliot unintentionally hit on the key to finding meaning on this grim and often-nihilistic show?

The other option is that Angela’s tenacity will lead her to become a careful, decisive manipulator in a series full of people trying to work the system to their advantage. We see Elliot and Tyrell encounter setbacks that hit them in their vulnerabilities, causing huge emotional fallout; we also see Mr. Robot and Joanna being coldly confident that they can turn any situation in their favor, so long as they maintain an intimate understanding of other people’s wants and weaknesses. Angela has the potential to become the most ruthless of them all in her efforts to take down E Corp. Mr.
Robot and fscoiety want to hurt the conglomerate in the name of their ideals; Elliot is the only other character with a personal stake in that rebellion, and right now he’s too overwhelmed to devote himself entirely to making E Corp pay. Angela, though, doesn’t have wary alliances or sudden traumas to distract her. After not knowing how to change her life for such a long time, she’s achieved the laser focus necessary to throw herself at one of the biggest corporations in the world. Angela tells bitterly her lawyer about her unsatisfying job, her cheating boyfriend, and her debt-ridden father. She clearly sees herself as having nothing left to lose, and that makes her dangerous.

At this point, it’s still uncertain which way Mr. Robot is leaning. As everyone’s lives spin out of control, the interplay of individual responses will determine how their threads come together, and how Angela will ultimately collide with fsociety and/or Tyrell. Portia Doubleday’s nuanced performance lends credence to the idea that her character could truly end up anywhere – she’s an unexpected wild card in the story’s long-term plans. Personally, I can’t wait to see where Angela goes next.

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