Spoilers ahead, please if you haven’t seen Mr. Robot, do yourself the favor and go watch it on USA.com. If you have seen it feel free to proceed and please follow with us weekly on our podcast. If you want our specific discussion of episode 8 go here. This article also contains spoilers for season 3 of Lost, which if you haven’t watched by now you aren’t going to so just proceed.
In 2004 the landmark TV show Lost premiered. Lost, while rife with mysteries and crazy story-lines, had a set structure from the start. Every episode focused on two distinct story-lines: what was happening on the island (current time) and what had happened in the past (flashbacks). For 60+ episodes we were given reason to doubt many things, but no reason to doubt there were two distinct timelines were occurring.
Then the season 3 finale “Through the Looking Glass” happened. The same episode structure. The same scenes off the island. The same transitions. But somehow something felt off. The main story-line was business as usual, yet the flashback didn’t quite conform with everything we knew about the characters and their backstories. However we, as the viewer, were so conditioned to accept that what we were seeing was a flashback that we ignored the confusing uneasy feeling and just assumed we were getting a part of the story we hadn’t previously experienced. We justified it as a flashback expecting a mundane explanation.
Until the final scene. That’s when Lost decided to treat us like the wife of an NFL player and knock us out (too soon). During what had been Jack’s flashback, another character Kate showed up to meet him. The same Kate we knew Jack had never met before the island. Here’s a video of every person watching the show as that moment happened:
Our minds struggled to justify what we were seeing. Okay, this didn’t make sense, but maybe they had known one another? Maybe we, the viewer, missed something? As our minds scrambled to comprehend the images on screen, Lost delivered what may be one of the most iconic moments of television history with the line “We have to go back.” It had been the first flash-forward.
Nothing had prepared us for that moment. It wast the single most shocking moment of TV I’ve seen. And the reason it was so impactful was Lost had been specifically conditioning the viewer not to expect that moment for 3 seasons. It was a brilliant long con (a story-line the show loved). It took 60+ episodes to lull the viewer into submission, allowing that reveal to be as shocking as it needed to be. It was probably the most impressive “twist” in TV history.
Then, last week, Mr. Robot came close to matching that moment in 8 episodes.
More importantly Mr. Robot did so in a completely different and arguably much more difficult way. See Lost never gave any indication to question the flashbacks. The current events on the island never made sense (smoke monsters, polar bears, and just deciding there was no way to write around a child’s growth spurt) but the flashbacks were almost always grounded and accepted as gospel. So we never even doubted whether show was lying to us when we got a flashback. We accepted it as truth, and always incorporated it into part of the character’s backstory.
Mr. Robot on the other hand couldn’t have been more upfront that Elliot (the main character) is an unreliable narrator and to question everything we see. The show couldn’t have been more honest about its apparent deception. Mr. Robot could have literally started every episode with a disclaimer that read “the show you are about to see is lying to you about multiple things” and I wouldn’t have watched it any more critically than I had been.
So we knew twists were coming, which makes the episode 8 twist all that more impressive. We we’re all convinced that Sam Esmail’s (creator of Mr. Robot) wrote a Fight Club sub-plot to the show and we were all so proud of ourselves for figuring it out by episode 2. We were so convinced multiple people on the internet exclaimed the show was boring cause it was “just Fight Club.”
So we had all decided the mystery of Mr. Robot was whether the Mr. Robot character, played by Christian Slater, was real or not. I’d say, judging by the internet; half the people think Mr. Robot is real and half think he is a figment of Elliot’s imagination. Some viewers, like myself, flip back and forth between the two conclusions every episode.
But whatever the answer to that mystery is, we were all convinced we at least knew what the the mystery was. We just didn’t yet know the answer. Its why places like reddit.com/r/MrRobot analyzed every scene, screencaps, quotes, interviews, and put everything (including scarves) under a microscope to determine who or what Mr. Robot is.
Then, much like Lost’s “Through the Looking Glass,” Mr. Robot opened with a weird scene that didn’t make much sense (two characters who we didn’t know previously were friends hanging out at a ballet class together). It was (just like that Lost season 3 finale) unsettling and weird but something our minds ultimately accepted because it didn’t fit our preconceived notion of what the mystery actually was. Some questioned the scene, some assumed they just missed something, but almost all quickly moved past it so we could uncover the “real answers” we were looking for.
And 55 minutes later, Darlene said the “We have to go back” equivalent with “Did you forget who I am?” Our jaws dropped. We spent 8 hours analyzing the wrong mystery. Sam Esmail came along and said “Oh you think you know the answer, well I just changed the question.”
It’s nearly impossible to come up with an analogy to describe what happened next, especially to someone who hasn’t watched the show. The best I can come up with is let’s say you go to see a stage play production of Fight Club. You’re sitting there, front row center, watching as one actor plays the character of Edward Norton, the Narrator, another plays the character of Brad Pitt, Tyler Durden. And they’re doing a phenomenal job, it’s just as good as the movie! Every once in awhile they throw in a line here our there that isn’t in the movie, a scene out of order, a location in the play you don’t remember on the screen. But every time you feel like something is wrong the play convinces you it’s really just Fight Club.
And then the final big musical number hits (♫ We’re really just the same, it couldn’t have been more plain, so let’s buy one drink at the pub, and not talk about the club ♫) and as the curtain drops the Edward Norton character turns to the audience and says “Thanks for watching our stage play of Momento.” You laugh at first cause it’s so preposterous. But all of a sudden it dawns on you that holy fuck he’s right. You had just watched Momento. You start reanalyzing every line of dialogue thinking there’s no way they could have pulled it off. But the more you go back the more you discover every word choice, scene, and detail was intentional and perfect and it all makes 100% perfect sense, even though it shouldn’t. Oh, and by the way, the play still also makes sense as Fight Club, cause you know, the playwright is a wizard.
You don’t believe me? Google “Mr. Robot Fight Club” and look through the 1.5 million results. Now Google “Mr. Robot Momento” and learn Spanish because the only results you are going to find (before this week) are using the Spanish word for moment.
It was the proverbial mic drop on probably the best first 8 episodes of television in my lifetime. Mr. Robot’s first season has been so good that the final two hours would have to just be replays of True Detective Season 2 to not be considered, in my opinion, the greatest first season of television ever.
If you haven’t seen this show don’t let this article fool you; there’s so much more to the story than just the Fight Club and, now, Momento elements. The show itself, possibly like the main character, is schizophrenic. Switching between Fight Club, Momento, American Psycho, David Fincher films, Breaking Bad, Dexter, and numerous other influences interchangeably. It’s probably not entirely accurate but the best analogy I can come up with is it’s the drama version of Community (a show that was almost completely different from week to week).
The crazier thing is that we still don’t even know the answer to the first question, the mystery we thought the show was about, which is who is Mr. Robot? We now know that Christian Slater’s character looks like Elliot’s dad, but we still don’t know if it really his is dad, who was supposed to be dead. Or if it’s a version of Elliot. Or if it’s some third brilliant option that Sam Esmail has conceived of that us mere mortals can’t even comprehend.
Can Sam Esmail keep this going? It has been said he envisioned Mr. Robot as a movie but kept writing until he had enough material for 4 to 5 seasons. It was said that season 1 doesn’t even touch on the main plot of the show, merely putting the chess pieces into position. It’s said Sam Esmail doesn’t actually sleep, that he merely closes his eyes for a minute, and when he opens them he looks down to see he’s written the next great American novel. We are unsure of the limits of his power.
But even if he can’t match season 1 going forward it’s pretty clear that Sam Esmail has crafted a unique, engrossing, and truly amazing first season of television that will always be at the top of any “best first season of TV shows” list. It has already crushed the first seasons of Dexter, Breaking Bad, and Heroes, three shows in the “Season 1 Hall of Fame.” Perhaps the first season of The Wire or 24 still have some claim to the greatest of all time, but with 2 episodes left, they’re in serious danger of becoming a Game of Thrones characters to Sam Esmail’s Twyin.
Because with two episodes left the first season, Sam Esmail has created so many questions that could lead to even more shocking moments than the one we just got. And unlike Lost, it appears the creator of Mr. Robot actually has the answers to the questions he has created. In what is definitely not an exhaustive list we still have to find out:
- Who is Mr. Robot?
- What does The Dark Army want?
- Will Tyrell continue to lose his mind?
- What is Tyrell’s role with Fsociety?
- Will Tyrell’s wife eventually need to turn into the Gus Fring we believe her to be and take him out?
- What happened with the therapist?
- Does the therapist like anal in real life or just in her porn?
- What will happen with the Evil Corp hack?
- What happened to the drug dealer?
- Why does the rooms/buildings Elliot is in change shape, like his ever-changing hallway?
- Holy fuck was that BD Wong?
- What else has Elliot remembered wrong?
And the perhaps biggest question, the one that we’ve been asking ourselves since week 1, how did the best new show of 2014-2015, and maybe the best show on TV, get released during the summer on Wednesday nights on the USA network?