“Don’t apologize. You’re almost there; you did great.”
This is what Mr. Robot tells Elliot after he heaps abuse onto another character in order to advance fsociety’s plan during this week’s episode. The moment is profoundly uncomfortable – Elliot’s uncomfortable doing it and I was uncomfortable watching it. It is not a pleasant experience to see a relatively sympathetic protagonist to tell another person “You’re nothing. To anyone. To everyone. […] I need you to call someone who matters. Because you don’t.” Bill, the one-off character in question, does as he’s told with a general air of humiliation, and Elliot is pretty clearly pained, but Mr. Robot tells him he’s done everything right.
Let’s go through everything happening here, one more time:
- Elliot emotionally destroys a guy to get what he wants.
- He clearly feels bad about this.
- Robot tells him it’s okay and it will ultimately help the group achieve their endgame.
What’s interesting to me about this is how thematically important it is, and how key it is to Elliot’s character development. From day one Elliot’s always been all about saving people from harm – yeah, he’s socially isolated, pessimistic, and entitled when it comes to the private information of others (like, super astoundingly entitled), but his
priorities have always been centered around helping people he sees as victims of capitalism, greed, and the generally toxic members of humanity. I mean, this is the same guy who felt Krista’s cheating boyfriend was unworthy of his own dog and made him hand it over, despite the fact that Elliot has since been portrayed as being mostly inept at caring for any pet more advanced than a fish. For all his flaws, Elliot cares and empathizes and gets righteously angry on behalf of everyone in need.
Exploiting weaknesses by way of cutting remarks is not in his nature, especially when the episode explicitly points out that Bill is an easy target because he’s lonely and desperate for human contact – which is Elliot’s exact issue. It hasn’t been obvious for the past few episodes, since he’s interacting with so many different characters, but it honestly speaks volumes that Elliot draws inspiration for his rant against Bill in remembering his abusive mother. So: we have Elliot being the kind of person he normally despises (i.e., someone who hurts a vulnerable person for personal gain), focusing that on someone whose problems are unsettlingly close to his own, and hearing from Mr. Robot that all of this is fine and he’s aiding fsociety’s revolution to the best of his abilities. It is fascinatingly awful. In his quest for justice, Elliot is being carefully broken down and corrupted, little by little. He won’t fall for the obvious moral choices, like fsociety’s initial plan to bomb Steel Mountain, but he is (as ever) considerably more lost in the arena of social interaction and relationships.
It’s always been interesting to me that, despite Elliot being the protagonist of the show, it’s named for Mr. Robot. We still don’t know anything about him, other than some basic personality info: he’s undeniably manipulative and Elliot is enormously important to him, whether as a tool, a protégé, a figurative son, or a combination of all three. He is deeply committed to his ideals, or at least does a very good job of faking that commitment for some other unstated
end. He’s managed to wrangle a group of opposing personalities and act as the glue holding them together; even Darlene, the most outspoken and temperamental member of fsociety, can’t completely bring herself to rebel against his orders. Put simply, he is defined entirely by what kind of leader he is. We don’t have a backstory, or even a real name; only what he represents to others.
And, as Elliot falls in his sway more and more each week, I get the feeling that Mr. Robot isn’t just a mysterious nickname: it could easily be a title. My guesses for this show have been consistently wrong (it’s part of the fun), but right now my favorite prediction is that Elliot’s being molded and directed to eventually take the current Mr. Robot’s place. Whether this is a purposeful in-universe plan or something that will surprise the characters – say, via Elliot purposefully taking the role and becoming leader without his mentor’s permission – remains to be seen, but he’s definitely on a slippery slope that could lead him to give up his old morals for something much darker. Obviously this kind of conflict has to get worse before it gets better, but will Elliot ultimately pull away from Mr. Robot’s vision and redeem fsociety? Or will he provide an even darker and more cutthroat vision of what their revolution looks like?
I hope not. I can’t take many more calculated verbal beatdowns like Bill’s. Yikes.