“In Unix-based computer operating systems, init (short for initialisation) is the first process started during booting of the computer system. Init is started by the kernel using a hard-coded filename; a kernel panic will occur if the kernel is unable to start it. Init is typically assigned process identifier 1.”
This is a little grandiose, especially for the opening sentence, but I think ‘Mr Robot’ is fundamentally concerned with the battle for the human soul. The show is plainly critical of the capitalistic machine, probably as much as television ever has been, but this episode really digs into the why. In essence, to pursue success within that system requires abandoning your principles and emotions in order to prevail- and only a tiny few will survive it with their sense of self intact.
Take Joanna Wellick. Prior to now, she’s been the show’s femme fatale, a woman with aspirations that outreached Tyrell, who appeared to have the steely disposition to do anything to get what she wanted. In a short space of time that’s all changed. With Tyrell still on the most wanted list, his severance package hasn’t been released, and Joanna needs it enough to show up at Scott’s house to ask for his help. Her conversation with Handsome Bartender is even more emotional. While she comes off as insulting, it feels totally genuine, which is the first time you can say that about any of her scenes.
While Joanna finds some comfort in human connection, Angela further commits to the reverse. She got to watch as the ECorp execs are frogmarched out of the building, and it feels totally joyless. If Angela had somehow gotten the information herself, perhaps the victory would feel more, well, victorious- but as an oddly magnanimous gift the overall effect is hollow. Maybe that’s the point. This week’s ‘previously on’ repeats Price’s line about removing emotion in order to get what you want, and that sums up her experience here. Angela’s assessment of the gas leak documents is no doubt impressive, and Price will soon reward her efforts, but what’s actually in it for Angela at this point isn’t entirely clear.
Price’s conversation with Whiterose was opaque, as all things with her tend to be, but the implications were deeply troubling. Allowing for speculation (which will surely be wrong by the next episode), what Price wants to do is bypass market regulation entirely and install a privately owned monetary system, which is what the E-Coin is likely in reference to. At some point in the past, Whiterose instigated this process by setting Elliot and FSociety on the path to destroying public confidence in said system. Price’s mention that she ‘started all this’ implies an earlier encounter than the one we saw last season. Whatever the next stage of their plan, Price is convinced Angela perhaps is a pawn to get FSociety’s attention.
Mr Robot strives for some measure of realism in depicting the actual process of hacking, and their invisibility makes them an effective antagonistic force. From what we know of real world Chinese censorship, ambiguity is a key strategy. By making it known that censorship exists, but having the parameters of said censorship remain fuzzy, the government creates a culture of fear, instilling the idea that people may be punished at any time, but can never be certain precisely that they will be punished. The Dark Army as a concept functions in a similar way, by never disclosing the full extent of their power it is, in theory, all-encompassing.
That fear is enough to spook Darlene, who’s now convinced that either the FBI, the Dark Army, or both, is closing in on FSociety. With Gideon and now Romero dead, Darlene is under pressure to both lead FSociety in their next attack, and stop anyone else getting killed- or arrested under Operation Berenstain. The stress is getting to her, and in her own roundabout way she asks Elliot for help. By episode’s end he does assist, although not in the way she expected, but her outreach highlights this week’s theme of the struggle for human connection.
Elliot’s chess games this week were all about him finally realising the pointlessness of fighting Mr Robot, as he does his best job so far of appealing to Elliot’s better nature. Mr Robot, again, is right- fighting him is pointless, and it takes a literal stalemate, three of them, for Elliot to realise that. After last week’s Adderall adventure, Elliot seems more trusting in us (‘us’ being a sort of audience insert) and we get to watch his therapy again. His reluctance to ‘legitimise’ Mr Robot , combined with the opening flashback scene, gives a good working model of how Mr Robot came to be. Rather than being a consequence of Elliot’s mental health issues, the creation of Mr Robot was an intentional act. Elliot knew that attacking ECorp would require connecting with people on a level he wasn’t emotionally capable of, so in a ‘my brain is a computer’ sort of way he made a hard drive partition, labelled it “Mr Robot” and wound up hooked on morphine to manage the transition.
His Leon-inspired dream sequence, set to the most gentle Green Day cover ever, shows him apologising for past wrongs, then joining his friends in watching the ECorp building collapse. And what’s more, Mr Robot doesn’t have a seat at the table. As Elliot prepares to hack the FBI in order to save Darlene, perhaps we’re seeing a more integrated Elliot/Mr Robot, and that dream is a future that may well come.
As a closing note, the show has been putting out regular web content to expand on the show’s world. While I’ve chosen not to cover it in detail as it doesn’t appear in the broadcast, this week an eight minute clip of Elliot and Darlene’s favourite horror film, ‘Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie’ , was released online. While the official video link is sadly region-locked, enterprising fans may find other methods to track it down.