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Mr. Robot 1.08: Unreliable Narrators and the Art of Reveals

One of the first, most fundamental things we learned about Elliot Alderson was that he’s a hacker who uses his skills to explore the digital accounts of everyone in his life, mainly because he feels so anxious and isolated that it seems like the only way he can connect with others. The one hint that he’s working off of a flawed premise came earlier in the season, when Shayla, someone Elliot thought he understood completely, showed him something personal that he couldn’t have found out through her presence online. Elliot might know his friends and co-workers to a greater degree than any of them realize, but he rarely considers whether he actually gets the whole story. Outside of the Shayla moment, the show similarly avoided the idea that Elliot’s hacks are an incomplete and ineffective way of understanding people – right up until this episode completely changed the game.

Seriously, folks, WHAT ON EARTH: Mr. Robot and Tyrell Wellick are partners in all kinds of shady secret plots! Darlene and Angela are friends who chat about Elliot during ballet class like it’s no big deal! The show casually drops these relationships into the episode’s structure with a “haha, we just totally blew your mind, didn’t we?” kind of vibe. I would be indignant if it wasn’t so cool and smartly executed. (This is to say nothing of the true information bomb at the end of the episode, which we’ll get to in a moment.) That there are hidden layers to everyone’s lives escaping record on the Internet seems obvious, and yet I never expected this show to deal with that in such a surprising, delightful
manner.

And, while Robot and Tyrell’s interactions are clearly tied to the main plot and more outwardly suspenseful, I’m genuinely fascinated by Angela and Darlene’s scene from a thematic standpoint. Elliot not knowing about the former makes sense; Mr. Robot has always kept secrets from him, and Tyrell hasn’t been on his radar outside of specific chance encounters. Angela, however, is one of the people Elliot believed he really got. She’s his childhood friend, he hacks her life as well as her boyfriends’ out of a misplaced sense of overprotectiveness, she’s one of the people he’ll break his “no touching” rule for and actually hug: Elliot thought he knew everything there was to know about Angela and so did we. Her connection to Darlene is so interesting specifically because it’s not part of the dangerous cyber-thriller plot: it’s the kind of slice-of-life fact that Elliot believes he has constant access to and complete awareness of.

This shift in the status quo is played out to the logical extreme with the biggest reveal of all – that Darlene is Elllot’s sister and Mr. Robot is their father. Elliot’s always been a questionable POV character, but this brought both the character and the audience to a whole new level of self-doubt. Watching Elliot desperately search for himself online as he tried to make sense of his confused memories was an amazing moment that told us this episode isn’t only about
other people being more than what he expects: Elliot himself is unknowable. Nearly all of his relationships are based on the most artificial, removed idea of “connection,” and his understanding of his own life is equally incomplete. He can’t rely on his hacks or his own perception of reality.

We have two episodes left of season one, and by now I’m deeply relieved the show’s renewal was announced before the first episode aired. I mean, who can live like this? HONESTLY. I’m biting my nails as the rug gets yanked out from under Elliot to greater degrees every week. The fact that this story keeps topping itself with surprises that provide major narrative weight, rather than just being shock value, makes me intensely worried about what could possibly be planned next. You’d think “major characters turn out to be related” was the kind of twist most writers would save for a finale, but there are clearly even steeper cliffs waiting for Elliot – and us, the collective imaginary friend – up ahead.

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