Season 1, Episode 10: “eps1.9_zer0-day.avi”
AIR DATE: September 2, 2015
“So this is what a revolution looks like? People in expensive clothing running around. Not how I pictured it. I wonder what stage they are at. Denial. Muttering to themselves, ‘No, this can be fixed.’ Maybe bargaining. Forcing their techs to work overtime to try and decrypt our data. Or maybe they’ve come to the realization that Darlene encrypted everything with AES256, and it would take an incomprehensible amount of time to crack. That all of their data is gone for good.”
Elliot awakens inside of Tyrell Wellick’s beautiful SUV. Outside, the world is going mad. Angry, frustrated people are lining up at ATM’s to withdraw their money. Estonia has collapsed. Several European countries are starting to fall right behind them. The Obama Administration has called a meeting with the leaders of each Superpower to discuss what’s happening. FSociety is claiming victory for a hack that has all but destroyed Evil Corp and all that they stand for and common citizens don FSociety mask, ready to join in the fight for America’s financial soul. Elliot should be as ecstatic as we saw him in the first episode: arms in the air, in sheer deliriously happy disbelief — except that he’s been asleep for three days, Tyrell Wellick is missing and he can’t remember ever initiating the hack.
Even Mr. Robot, who swore he’d never leave Elliot again, is gone.
A visit to Evil Corp is met with corporate lackeys flailing, running around, yelling at one another, loudly answering phones, gathering paperwork, watching flat-screens starring world leaders putting on brave faces. It’s a dark Kubrickian circus of a scene with a Wendy Carlos-esque version of Shostakovich’s “Waltz #2” scoring the background to bring it all home. Unbeknownst to Elliot, this is no longer Wellick’s stomping grounds, something Wellick’s former assistant reveals but doesn’t think twice about — then we see it: a message from FSociety taking credit for the destruction of Evil Corp. Elliot has seen this movie before — he just wants to know who the man behind the FSociety Mask is.
Meanwhile, the home base at Coney Island shows us a very testy and sullied FSociety wiping hard drives and striking the set after the proverbial final curtain. They really have no choice. As anonymous and well-executed as the hack was, law enforcement (in the form of the FBI and NSA) is still in full force, mobilizing the manhunt of the century. The team, however, still airs their grievances: they had a different idea of how the hack would go down. They wanted elegance, pomp and circumstance. Darlene’s quick to shut them up and declares that all of that is unnecessary because the goal has been achieved: the hack worked and Evil Corp is slowly dying.
All that’s left to do is erase their equipment from existence — which they do with the help of a corrupt friend who mans the desk at a local pet shelter. As dogs whine in their cages, awaiting their inevitable demises at the hands of those who have numbed themselves to their plight, Darlene and her team destroy their equipment. Dubbed the “Dead Puppy Oven” by Mobley, he remarks that this tool of destruction was the last thing he ever thought he’d use to finish the job. There’s a beat — and FSociety springs into action, picking cage locks and freeing the shelter’s entire dog population in a moment that humanizes the movement and shows that under all creepy masked men, shaking their fist, shouting declarations over creepy music, they have a soft spot in their hearts.
Mobley, Trenton and Romero all seem happy with what they’ve done even though there’s an impending sense of ambiguity in terms of their futures. They sip from red Solo cups and bop their heads to throbbing music at the “End of the World Party” they’re throwing at Coney HQ. Darlene, however, couldn’t be more giddy. “Everyone’s awake!” She tells them. “Everyone here is free because of what we did in this room!” Even the party has a purpose other than to be an excuse for getting smashed: they need to invite as many people into the room as it legally allows so that dusting for fingerprints is impossible if they’re ever uncovered. “We’re finally alive…” Darlene quietly says to herself, while watching with joy as her “disciples” dance and shout, elated with the new status quo.
Allsafe isn’t so lucky. Already reeling from the FSociety DAT file scandal, Gideon’s CFO is tallying up the monetary damage, shrugging her way into the most logical conclusion: the company needs to be shut down for good. Gideon shifts in his seat, the actions of a cat trapped in a small cage. He’s unwilling to submit, to die an honorable death. He’s emotionally connected to a world that no longer matters and, perhaps, never really did to begin with. He wants to buy time. His CFO, however, says that it’s bleak.
“When is it not?” Gideon scoffs, his facade slowly crumbling. “When was the last time you and I have not had a depressing conversation?”
“Gideon, I handle the money,” she says. “It’s always gonna be a ‘depressing conversation’.”
It’s in this room where Gideon watches each torpedo hit his beloved ship of dreams: all of Allsafe’s employees will be wiped out and there won’t be any compensation. All their 401K’s were tied up in the markets which will see the company’s stock crash through the floor. Even when his CFO attempts to unshackle his chains by revealing that he and everyone else will be “debt-free” because of FSociety’s attack, Gideon exhibits all the traits of a prisoner going through the stages of Post-Incarceration Syndrome. This should be a time for joy, for celebration. To Gideon, it’s truly the end of the world, the destruction of the only thing he knows and holds dear.
With a sword stuck firmly in its chest, Evil Corp seemingly begins its twisted dance of death and Angela, of all people, is in the middle of the shit-storm. Exec VP of Technology, Jason Plouffe, shoots himself on live TV after admitting that Evil Corp is doomed because the hack can’t be fixed. Before that disturbing occurrence, Angela had been the subject of his wrath. After the bullet ends Plouffe’s life, his blood splatters across the room, decorating her heels. If she was unsure of her place in the world, in her position with Evil Corp, it’s too late to turn back now. Angela’s truly been baptized in the very blood of the company that murdered her mother.
This pseudo-seduction isn’t subtle. Upon meeting Evil Corp’s soulless CEO, Phillip Price, Angela is invited to attend a conference that would train her and further mold her. She resists at first and flat-out tells him “No.”. She’s already stunned by Plouffe’s suicide and still wears his blood on her shoes. She wants to go home and scrub the images from her brain. Any other CEO might take this as an insult — but Angela has some street credit thanks to Terry Colby — and he’s understanding, albeit steadfast about appearances. He simply handles Angela’s clothing as he handles everything else in this world: he tosses money at it.
“You need some new shoes,” Price says, in effect, buying her. “Those won’t do anymore.”
But even buying new shoes proves to be an exercise in humiliation and regret. At first, the salesman helping her doesn’t know what to make of the dried blood — until he remembers that Angela told him that she worked for Evil Corp. “Is this from the guy? The one they’re talking about on the news?” He asks. When Angela confirms his suspicions, the man can’t believe it. “You mean to tell me…you witnessed the whole thing…and you’re here to buy new shoes?!” All Angela can do is nod. The man can’t keep to himself and begins to berate Angela for her warped priorities. At first, Angela is predictably meek, making apologies for Plouffe, for Evil Corp, for herself. “You sound just like them,” the man says, almost gritting his teeth. He continues to lecture her and harass her and mentally destroy her…until, finally, Angela’s had enough. She rises to her feet as if propelled by an unseen force. Her voice changes and she coldly says, “I don’t know who you think you’re talking to…but I’ll try the Prada’s NEXT!” The man goes silent, looking up at Angela subserviently.
The moment where Angela snaps and orders those Prada shoes is as brilliant as it is frightening. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Feeling sufficiently jilted by Elliot, unemployed after the Colby debacle and with her father’s back against the wall, it makes sense that Angela would join the dark side. The question, at this point, is “to what end?” Angela’s been so sweet, so caring. She’s been the opposite of everything she now represents — and now she’s part of it. Has she lost all control of herself and her sense of logic? Or does Angela have a plan? Is all of this is just a carefully-crafted facade? If so, can she survive and escape with her soul and her humanity intact?
Meanwhile, Elliot’s search for Tyrell Wellick is proving fruitless. He goes to Wellick’s house — only to run into his wife, Joanna, who acts less than normal. She’s coldly evasive, yet confident. She even invites Elliot in to “wait for Tyrell” who “just called” and is “stuck in traffic on the way home”. But something’s not right and Elliot can sense it. “Can she hear us right now?” Elliot ponders. “There’s something about her…” Indeed there is. Whether she actually can hear what Elliot is thinking is up for debate, but Joanna’s as clueless as Elliot is — but she’s also unpredictable. Her long list of issues have been well-documented in these reviews. We have no idea what she might do to get the truth out of Elliot. Neither does Elliot — which is why he calls himself “Ollie” and refuses her offer to come inside the house.
When all looks lost, Elliot searches the Wellick Family SUV for any clues that might lead his way. After finding a USB drive containing a video file of Elliot falling off the big wall (in the second episode), Elliot finally manages to trick Mr. Robot into reappearing. By now, we all know that Mr. Robot is a manifestation of Elliot’s fragile mind and that he’s been talking to nobody buy himself this whole time — except that usually happens when Elliot’s alone. Here’s Elliot’s in the middle of an Internet cafe with a dozen people in it, yelling at Mr. Robot, demanding to know where Tyrell is. And there’s Elliot, grabbing Robot by the throat and pinning him up against the wall. If you saw Fight Club, you know how this is possible and where it’s going. Elliot’s “Mr. Robot” personality swings into action, harassing a cafe lurker. A quick move, a flash of violence and Elliot’s down for the count with Mr. Robot hovering over him, smug as ever:
“I’m only supposed to be your prophet,” he says. “You’re supposed to be my god.”
But Elliot can’t come to grips with the fact that he’s the leader of a revolution with so many people looking up to him for guidance. He begs us, the audience, for help — only to have Robot tell him “quit talking to them because they can’t help us.” Elliot’s family appears, which angers Elliot further. He screams at Robot, telling him that he needs to be left alone because, just like him, his family isn’t real. “Neither are the people you’re talking to,” Robot retorts. He grabs Elliot’s face and gives one of the grandest monologues heard on modern television:
“Is any of it real? Look at it. A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of food. Mind-washing seminars in the form of media. Control isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century. They turned it off, took off the batteries, snacked on a bag of GMOs while we tossed the remnants in the ever-expanding Dumpster of the human condition. Living in branded houses, trademarked by corporations. Built on bipolar numbers, jumping up and down on digital displays. Hypnotizes us into the biggest slumber mankind has ever seen. You have to dig pretty deep, kiddo, before you can find anything real. As far as you are concerned, Elliot, I am very real.”
All of this is shot as if Mr. Robot is giving a sermon to his disciples. Elliot tries to concentrate. He closes his eyes. Everyone’s gone. There are no followers, no disciples, no revelers — and no more Mr. Robot. Elliot believes he’s finally won. Except he hasn’t. Robot, his wife, and little Elliot appear on one of the big boards in Times Square. Robot tells Elliot to accept everything the way it is. The only things that matter now are the movement and his family. “And you’re going to start listening to us,” Mr. Robot confirms. He tells Elliot to go home and watch the revolution from afar — which he does. Only, there’s a knock on his door…
And the show ends before we get to see who’s there.
Or…at least it seemed like it was going to end: there’s a post-credit scene, done in one, single take:
A limo drives up to a beautiful mansion and a man gets out. The man enters the mansion, illuminated by nothing but candlelight. It’s a grandiose party for rich people and foreign dignitaries. They mingle and drink champagne and seem to be having fun — yet it seems so starkly apocalyptic in contrast with FSociety’s makeshift rave. Earlier on, you might recall me saying that Gideon referred to Allsafe as “The Titanic”. Here, we have a woman on harp, playing “Nearer My God To Thee” which, if stories are to be believed, was the song Titanic’s on-deck band played as the ship sank. The man is here to meet Phillip Price about some off-site mining interests. Phillip doesn’t want to discuss business. The man apologizes, saying that he responded “succinctly” to the question of the motive behind his visit. Price apologizes in return and says that he simply wants to relax and “take in the music”.
The man wants to know if the rumors are true about Price and Evil Corp knowing who is behind the FSociety hack. Price confirms the rumor is true, but confidently says that the person behind it will be “dealt with the way they always are.” His confidence now matches his earlier mood when Angela had visited Price at Plouffe’s memorial, telling her that FSociety were “just people like you and me…except I have the weight of the world’s biggest conglomerate behind me…and matters like this tend to crack under that weight.” Here at the party, Price takes a glass of champagne and tells the man that he looks a bit preoccupied himself. The man says that he “doesn’t believe in preoccupation.” A tinge of disgust permeates his tone. In actuality, he says, he was actually just observing something:
“The infamous Emperor Nero played in instrument very similar to the one she’s playing: the lyre. Legend has it that he played it merrily as he watched–.”
The man’s digital watch beeps and he quickly moves his wrist to check the time. The camera rests on the individual…and we see that it’s The White Rose, sans war paint.
Price is intrigued and asks White Rose what Nero was watching while playing the Lyre.
Rose solemnly finishes his sentence:
“…as he watched Rome burn.”
The brilliance of this episode, of the entire first season of Mr. Robot, cannot be overstated. It’s been an absolute honor and privilege watching this show, writing about what I’ve seen and sharing it with my readers. I don’t think I’ve been so excited for a show to come back on the air since LOST. I know that’s probably not the best analogy to make seeing as though that show started on a high note and ended up being disappointing to many but I have much different expectations here.
“eps1.9_zer0-day.avi” didn’t have to be the perfect close to the first season. I think there are those who see this show as I do and they believe that. It’s a good thing, then, that Mr. Robot is all too willing to grant their wishes. The episode has so many great moments to it. After the doom-and-gloom of Shayla’s death and the fear of the unknown surrounding the aftermath of the hack, “zer0-day.avi” shows us a messy, chaotic world — but holds your hand the whole way, almost to reassure you and tell you “The worst is over and everything’s going to be all right now.”
The high-quality, cinema-level production of each and every episode is something I haven’t seen in a long, long time, topping modern “greats” such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. As it stands, Mr. Robot is the best thing on television next to AMC’s Better Call Saul and I very much look forward to analyzing it and discussing it in the future.