There are three kinds of Mr. Robot episodes: the table-setting ones, in which stiff people explain things in tensely framed shots; the ones where a whole bunch of shit goes down, like last week’s trigger-happy nail-biter; and the ones that play out like an extended dream.
This week’s was the third kind, and maybe the most visionary to date. “Mind awake, body asleep,” Elliot invites his imaginary friend (the viewer) to chant with him over and over as he tries to will himself into a lucid dream. Thereafter, our hero and Angela both find themselves in surreal situations through which they float hazily, with little agency of their own.
Which brings us to our crackpot theory for the week: This entire episode is a shared dream that two characters are having after they dozed off while watching Back to the Future. No no no, don’t slowly back away with that look on your face. Bear with us here.
So last week, Angela lamented that their furtive subway meeting was “a long way from getting high and watching Back to the Future II.” And then there are the three seemingly random songs that play throughout this week’s, all piped in as though being transmitted from far, far away: “Night Train” by Jimmy Forrest; “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”; and “Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine)” by Marvin Berry and the Starlighters — all tracks featured in the first Back to the Future movie. It’s all in their heads! Wake up, sheeple!
Mr. Robot is built to stoke these kinds of elaborate theories, the same way a DeLorean is built to disperse flux. But “eps2.9_pyth0n_pt1.p7z” was particularly freighted with the kind of visual and auditory Easter eggs that make Redditors (and TV recappers) lunge for the pause button.
Even if the BTTF teasing is a red herring, there are plenty of other objects and passing references to puzzle over: a copy of Lolita on the table in Whiterose‘s interrogation room, the Teddy Roosevelt portrait hanging over Price’s head as he puts the screws to the Treasury Secretary, the clanging Casablanca homage that rounds out the episode.
And don’t even get us started on the “Red Wheelbarrow Barbecue” menu that contains the cipher Mr. Robot decodes to meet up with Tyrell. It’s the third time that William Carlos Williams’s enigmatic poem has been invoked this season; we have no idea where it leads but back to itself, like a python devouring its own tail.
And oh yeah, speaking of: Hiya, Mr. Wellick! Elliot’s lucid dreaming technique allows him to spy on his imaginary friend, who unwittingly leads him (or he leads himself, because he is him? Listen, this show is confusing) to a seemingly alive and well E Corp V.P., who has been colluding with the Dark Army on whatever the hell “stage two” is. Only now Elliot has his doubts as to whether or not Tyrell, too, is a figment of his imagination.
Stage two is likely connected to the fact that Price finally got his wish: China bailed out E Corp to the tune of $2 trillion, and the megalomaniacal CEO convinces the U.S. government to back E Coins, the company’s new made-up virtual currency, as legal tender. Apparently Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” isn’t so invisible after all; it just does its business behind closed doors.
Meanwhile, Whiterose is working on her own project: Angela. She’s tossed in the back of a van by two strangers who ferry her to an escape room-esque ordeal involving a fish tank, a Commodore 64 game and a creepy little girl. At last, the Dark Army major domo shows up, and the two share a cryptic exchange about culpability, belief and the nature of reality. But even if this scene had been dialogue-free with a camera on B.D. Wong and Portia Doubleday’s emoting faces — underscored by what sounds like a piano’s echo after all the keys have been played at once — we would’ve been just as riveted.
As Angela is led into the heart of Whiterose’s Lynchian symbolism house and Elliot trips after his own alter through the streets of Manhattan, they both keep asking: What’s happening? Where am I going? Like dreamers, they have heightened vision and almost no control. So did any of this really happen? As one character murmurs through a haze of cigarette smoke, “I guess it all depends on what your definition of real is.”
– We’re relieved that Sam Esmail has finally opened the lid on the Schrödinger’s Tyrell, but now he’s left us fretting over the fates of Darlene and Cisco after last week’s shootout. If there’s one thing Mr. Robot could stand to learn, it’s that simply withholding information is a really lazy way to build suspense.
– Alone and bereft in her Smart Home, Dom asks Alexa a series of increasingly tragic questions, culminating in: “Alexa, do you love me?” “That’s not the kind of thing I’m capable of,” the bot replies. Grace Gummer’s stricken expression as she pulls off her glasses speaks volumes.
– Whiterose tells Angela that she should have been dead 90 days ago. Considering that Elliot told us he was released from jail 86 days after his arrest, we’re guessing that means the night of the Five/Nine hack. How exactly did Angela dodge whatever fate the Dark Army had in mind for her?
– That aquarium in the interrogation room slowly emptying itself of water until all the fish are dead? Just another type of clock. Whiterose doesn’t mess around.
Previously: For Discerning Listeners