Are you read to cry some hurt out?
Here we go.
We open in a flashback to ‘95, with Little Elliot (Alex Bento) and Mr. Alderson out at Washington Township Cinema — the sign for the cinema ticks a weird box in my head, reminding me of the 50s nuclear aesthetic you see in games or films where people live in prefabricated underground bunkers. I’m sure it’s just me. Elliot is reluctantly mixing M&Ms and popcorn while Mr. Alderson is visibly ill, coughing, but trying to have a good time. Elliot has his broken arm, which means this is just after his dad threw him out a damned window. Elliot wants to go home, while Mr. Alderson apologises and looks horribly sad. Elliot calls him out, and Mr. Alderson asks again for forgiveness, owning up to his poor fathering. Elliot coldly refuses to forgive him. Ever.
And then Mr. Alderson coughs again and collapses. Elliot, still cold, takes the Mr. Robot jacket his father carried and goes to see his film — Shallow Grave. Wearing the coat he sits alone in the theatre, then tells the empty seat beside him to be quiet.
Oh … oh my.
Was he talking to us?
We get the entire 80s still being used in the 90s ‘Welcome to the show’ reel that we don’t get anymore, the gloriously vintage Robot credits.
In the now, a silent and pensive Elliot observes his shattered mirror, a box of meds, and then reads the news about Trenton and Mobley. Poor, poor Trenton and Mobley. It’s all there, a perfect tapestry. Elliot navigates to his onscreen folders on the pair, and talks about how deleting something is destroying it. He does his thing, burns the information to a random disc, and then deletes every trace of them from his machine.
Then he does something different. He goes into Mobley’s file and finds a brother. He still burns the disks and deletes the documents, still hard burns and destroys his hard drives with drills, power tools and microwaves. Darlene turns up, angry he’s been AWOL again for what we learn is three weeks, and demanding his help with Angela, who is having a breakdown. Elliot thinks Angela should, and Darlene reminds him of when Angela helped him.
I mean … this is slightly different, Darlene. You know this. Darlene tells Elliot the attacks were not him but Elliot, being Elliot, has found the unhealthiest possible way to come to accept Robot is part of him, by stating all Robot’s actions are Elliot. Darlene raises the valid point they don’t even know if Robot did this, but Elliot can’t hear it and rants that Robot got what he wanted anyway, Except, you know Evil Corp will be fine. Didn’t see that coming; innocent people died so Elliot and Darlene could get off the hook for every damned thing. Oh, Elliot.
Darlene says Elliot can still be rid of Robot, and Elliot lists all he’s done — meds, therapy, even jail! Robot won’t leave though … because Elliot wanted this. Elliot takes a breath and emotionally whispers ‘I liked it’. Darlene tells him he’s scaring her — though she doesn’t leave. Elliot simmers down a whole bunch, and sits beside his little sister and asks for time to cope. Darlene sobs and doesn’t believe him, and sounds like a little kid. She thinks he’s giving up and wants to at least stay with him, then she’ll feel better. Elliot just wants to be alone, and Darlene weeps. He softens again, some more, and promises she can come around tomorrow for weed and their funny horror film. The hug, and I cry about these poor broken little children.
Then Elliot scares me, because the soundtrack is still very sad and Elliot takes Flipper to leave with his (lovely, grandfatherly) landlord for the day. He talks to us about deletion, about how getting rid of Robot, from himself and the world forever … including us. Elliot goes and dumps the destroyed computer parts to be burned, and along with it, Mr. Robot’s jacket.
Uh … wait.
Later, he meets a dealer, Hard Andy, in a motel room and tries to buy a whole gigantic bag of morphine. The dealer gets suspicious and makes Elliot remind him they have a ‘mutual friend’, which is how they met. Andy demands Elliot strip to check him for wires, and lists the three reasons someone would buy that much all at once; he’s a snitch, he’s trying to muscle in on the territory or … he asks Elliot if life is that unbearable? He ponders whether he could give Elliot any … happiness. The look Elliot gives him is the most curious thing. Andy finally hands over the bag.
Elliot goes out to a suburb to find Mobley’s brother. The poor man is understandably hostile — the scattered trash on his lawn gives an indication how HIS month has been going. Elliot claims he’s a friend there to pay his respects, but the brother doesn’t want to hear it. Elliot warns him not to listen to the news, and in a brilliant display of our Media Fed culture, the brother can’t even entertain the idea it could be faked, finding it far easier to think it’s true and not doubting Mobley could get pulled into something ‘like that’. Which is what makes the lie so twisted and brilliant — he did. Not what people think, but … he did.
Elliot, maintainig eye contact this whole time, wants to know where he can pay respect to Mobley’s body, but the brother slams the door in his face. Elliot takes a second to reel.
Cut to him walking through the city as armed vehicles patrol and remind citizens of the curfew. Memorials to the attack are everywhere. In Trenton’s neighbourhood, her family hurriedly packs and observes his approach in such quiet terror that my heart shatters. Elliot tells them he went to school with Trenton (did he?), and says she was a good person. He tells the father she was innocent, and the father at once wants to know what Elliot’s knows, while Trenton’s brother Mohammed (Elisha Henig) watches from the door. Elliot can’t answer, says he knew Trenton. The father believes, ‘This country now blames Muslims for everything …there’s no room for us here anymore.’
Excuse me, while I cry. Oh, Trenton’s father just thanked Elliot for being nice about Trenton. Excuse me while I sob and sob.
Elliot goes back to the beach and sits on the shore, staring out at the crashing waves. Just like Trenton and Mobley last year before Leon arrived at their table, the shots around Elliot seem to suggest he is alone, isolated. He decides it’s time and takes out his pills, but before he can take one, Mohammed, Trenton’s brother … just kind of appears. He asks if Elliot is sick, while Elliot looks around like he’s trying to figure out if the kid is real or not. They bicker a little, and Elliot tells him to go home but the boy doesn’t know how.
It’s an incredibly sad line if he’s real, laden with so much meaning. He sits beside Elliot, to Elliot’s frustration, and asks why Elliot thinks Trenton did nothing wrong. Elliot decides to take him home. They walk through a supposed shortcut and the adorable kid chatters at his new friend about his mosque and how Trenton would fall over taking her shoes off for prayer, while Mohammed learned to stay balanced. They walk past armed guards and more memorials with Mohammed chattering away, and it’s magical how wonderfully oblivious he is, pestering Elliot with questions about his desire to get back to Coney Island. Finally, back at his house, the place … seems empty. Mohammed claims his parents are out and leaving him alone is normal. He has no phone and claims not to know his parents’ number. He asks Elliot to take him to the movies, as he’s never been, and says his parents are in Connecticut, so he has time.
Um. I love this kid.
….. They go to the cinema and their choices are all three Back To The Future films, because it’s Back To The Future Day, when the films’ ‘future’ dates line up with the current present day. The cinema is full of cosplaying fans, mostly Docs and Martys, and a few Lorraines too. Esmail, what are you trying to tell us, damn you?!
Elliot actually … does … is he having a tiny bit of fun ? He realises he’s going to get to introduce this kid to his favourite movie, but more importantly, they get to watch Back To The Future on Back To The Future Day. Which is a dream of Elliot’s since he was Mohammed’s age. Elliot realises how weird it is, but doesn’t explain why to his new bro. In the cinema he repeats the M&M/Popcorn trick, to Mohammed’s approval, and they line up for the film. Elliot tries to explain the plot, not so well, and a small wonderful nerd debate erupts between fans until 1950s Lorraine Cosplayer clarifies ‘It’s about how one mistake can change the world’. Nice.
In the theatre a ‘Doc Brown’ cosplayer hands Elliot his Flux Capacitor prop so he can clean his glasses. As Onscreen Brown and Marty debate how much you should share with time travellers, Elliot starts to notice something weird … then notices Mohammed is missing. Elliot heads after him, but Mohammed has disappeared into the darkened city night. Behind him, Future/Present Lorraine Cosplayer emerges, upset about her uncomfortable heels. Elliot is noticing weird details like this. He flags down a Hasidic Jewish man (Richard Masur) driving an ice cream truck — the fantastically named Oyslandish OyceCceam — and who plays the Orson Welles radio play of War of The Worlds through his trick speakers. Elliot asks about mosques and the chap knows of two, so Elliot hops in to go for a ride. Elliot asks about the radio play, and the driver explains how people in the story go little crazy, but they become good.
Elliot finds Mohammed at a beautifully decorated mosque, where the child is utterly alone. Elliot’s bubble is burst and he wants to go back to Coney Island. He and Mohammed bicker childishly until Mohammed wishes he was dead, and Elliot snaps back ‘So do I!’ Mohammed quietly admits he blames himself for Shama (Trenton), leaving. Elliot goes to him and assures him that’s not true, but Mohammed won’t hear it and refuses to leave. Elliot explains it was all his fault, Elliot’s, not Mohammed’s or Trenton’s — just him. Mohammed says Elliot talks about himself a lot. And take off your shoes on the prayer mats, Elliot. Sheesh. Elliot takes off his shoes and sits beside the boy. Mohammed, who was the only one in his family born in the U.S., talks about how cool it is he could be president. It is cool, kid. He talks about how if he was president, he’d be able to stay in his home, bring back Trenton, put the bad guys in jail, make everyone eat Pop-Tarts for dinner, and make everyone be nice to him.
Elliot gently explains dictators (“Like, a really bad president”) and is asked if he could be president, says probably not (not because he wasn’t born here), and they bond over being Jersey kids. Mohammed was born in Trenton.
Feel free to assume I’m just crying throughout all of this.
Much later, Mohammed’s parents still aren’t home but MY FAVOURITE NEW HUMAN OF THE DECADE had his own keys all along. Absolutely perfect.
Mohammed asks Elliot’s name and apologises for making him late, hoping he can still do his important thing. H asks if he can see Elliot again and my heart both breaks and sings because Elliot says “Yeah”, promising to take him to see The Martian. Mohammed is so happy, and Elliot looks sort of happy, and I’m crying. Mohammed runs off to get something for Elliot who, weeps alone. Mohammed comes back with a lollipop … because Elliot said he was sick.
Elliot walks away and eats the damned candy, and goes back again to Mobley’s brother’s place. Cold and cool, like he was that first time we saw him way back in the pilot, he declares Mobley will get a real funeral. Brother isn’t ready to hear this so Elliot … Season One Elliot, explains what he learned from hacking everybody and of course, Mobley’s brother isn’t clean. So, Mobley will get a funeral and Elliot will get invited to hear the beautiful eulogy, and to make his point clear Elliot tosses his bag of morphine to the brother, explaining he got Hard Andy the dealer’s name … from this guys email. Oooooooooh Elliot, you sly dog. My favourite part of the scene is that Elliot spares the guy barely two glances the entire time.
Cool as ice, he leaves. Guys … Elliot is back.
He goes to Angela, and talks to her through the door while she listens, silent. He wishes he knew what to say, and when he doesn’t he nearly leaves. But, he comes back and sits against her door. He asks if she remembers their wishing game, where you could close your eyes and wish for whatever you wanted. They both wished they could get bigger bedrooms. Angela wanted more protractors, Elliot wanted better computers. They wanted to drive away, go on road trips, eat candy.
Angela listens, sobbing, softening.
It’s the end of every favourite romantic comedy ever. Elliot talks about believing the harder they closed their eyes, the stronger their wishes were. They did it even though the wishes never came true, because it wasn’t about the end. It was the wishing. He recalls what she would say before they would open their eyes. They would make it all better. And no matter what happens, it would all be okay, Angela finishes. We don’t see if he goes inside. Later he arrives back at his apartment, and a van screeches by. His things, his computer, Robot’s jacket, are dumped back on his doorstep. Elliot doesn’t even look mad. He hangs a new mirror in the apartment, sets up a new computer. He talks about deleting something and suddenly regretting it, finding new purpose. He logs into his email and guys, I about lost my mind. It was Elliot. Trenton trusted Elliot, it’s him she sent her ‘Save the day’ email to. He opens her email, which mentions Romero and a detailed way to undo the 7/7 hack and restore the data — which would likely sink Evil Corp and by proxy, surely, Whiterose’s plans?
Elliot talks to us of his new purpose. I barely hear it over the sound of my own cathartic sobbing.
There’s so much to dismantle here. Mohammed saved Elliot’s life, that much is a given. How he did it is so interesting, as to make me wonder what powers were at play. For Elliot to be in every place and time he was, to hear every reminder that one mistake can change the world, that life is hard but gets better, that it’s worth staying around … that if you feel bad and lost, even tiny little bright things can chip away at the dark, and help you find your way through, is almost beyond coincidence. I wondered before if Leon was some sort of spirit guide to Elliot, and while Mohammed seemed to be a very real human person, who Elliot truly connected with in a real way, I can’t help but wonder … just the how and why and when of it all. Mohammed appeared at the exact right second to stop him, and his presence and presumed existence led Elliot to all the moments he had. How much of that even happened? One thing I am certain of, Elliot went to Mobley and Trenton’s families. He went to the beach to die. But, after that? I’m not sure. Did Elliot go to the cinema alone? What happened to the curfew we heard mentioned earlier in the episode? It didn’t much seem to matter by the end.
Elliot’s conversations with Mobley and Trenton’s families were cutting and eye-opening. The ease of Mobley’s brother to accept it speaks to that ugly prejudice and the … willingness of so many to be complicit, to blame bad things on something obvious, the ‘monster’ we already have. Compared to Trenton’s father, how readily he accepts his daughter was framed, but how just as readily he accepts he can’t change that, so must instead flee, it’s a gut wrenching picture of what we are too quickly becoming.
Aesthetically and narratively, I feel like we took a trip through the most abstract part of Esmail’s mind and I’m glad of it. We got hints of so many things, a road movie feeling, faint hints of the Wizard of Oz with perhaps a dash of Its a Wonderful Life thrown in, weaved through with a strong but subtle noir vibe and what has to be some heartfelt nods to the Coen Brothers style of storytelling. You see why I’m not so sure what did or did not happen? Esmail is a master of this, and this episode was a perfect example of how devilishly clever the man is. So we’re sure, I tend to think Mohammed was … probably real. But how he came to find Elliot, and their strange journey together … I’m not sure. All I know is this might be the best episode of the season, if not the show.
And, kudos to the young actor who portrayed Mohammed — Elisha Henig — for a genuinely fantastic performance. It’s no easy task striking a balance like he did, the sadness and grief tinged with his little kid energy and eagerness to be friends, and that something else that makes me wonder what forces placed he and Elliot together. Outstanding work.
Mr. Robot returns Wednesdays on USA Network and Hulu.