The critically-acclaimed, award-winning cable series Mr. Robot is notable for a number of reasons, with a big twist: in the final two episodes, you realize you’ve been watching a ten hour unlicensed Fight Club reboot. One could say that the twist is “Elliot was Mr. Robot all along!” just like the twist in Fight Club is “Edward Norton was Brad Pitt all along!” but to me the twist was simply that Mr. Robot was Fight Club all along.
Some people saw the “twist” coming, but I didn’t know I was watching a Fight Club reboot until the final few episodes, when a character is revealed to be imagined, the protagonist fights himself, and a piano cover of “Where is My Mind” plays in the background. (Probably worth noting it was the same song used in The Leftovers, which I saw first and still think used it better.)
Some people loved it. Most, it seems. I’m still on the fence. The supposed “twist” felt less like “paying homage” and more like “I’ve seen this before.” I legitimately started wondering if the constantly-narrating narrator was at least going to look at the camera and say guys, isn’t is crazy how much this is like Fight Club?
But I’ll admit, I loved almost everything else about it. Including the other references, such as:
- Tyrell Wellick is an obvious homage to Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, but it worked for me. The hysteria, the headphones, the clothes and the hair and the murder.
- The Wellicks are the Macbeths, down to the scene where Mrs. Wellick is attempting to remove a spot from a dress. The Macbeth comparisons heightened the intensity of watching their scenes, and upped the tension through various reversals of expectations. This worked for me more than any other reference, allusion, or homage in the series.
- If Wellick is Macbeth, Elliot is Hamlet. He spends the whole series talking to his father’s ghost, who was murdered by the bad guys. Best Hamlet reference since Simba saw Mufasa’s ghost in the cloud.
- The protagonist tries to kiss a woman he doesn’t know is his sister, in what could be a nod to Luke Skywalker.
- Patrick Bateman wasn’t the only Bret Easton Ellis reference. A central theme in both the novel and film The Rules of Attraction is an “End of the World Party,” which the characters throw in Mr. Robot’s first season finale.
- The scene where everyone in Times Square is doing the V for Vendetta thing would be too much for me, if it weren’t a reflection of the Anonymous of reality, which itself is inspired, aesthetically at least, by V for Vendetta. Art imitates life imitates art and so on.
- Let’s return to Tyrell Wellick. That name, Tyrell. Perhaps an allusion to the robot-making Tyrell Corporation of Blade Runner? Hard to brush that one off as coincidence.
But with the second season fast approaching, I have to wonder: what references and allusions are in store for us now? I hope that the second season’s references are softer, the quiet nods that populate Tyrell’s storyline rather than the “here’s the camera footage of you beating yourself up” scenes in Elliot’s storyline.
And thus, here are my predictions for what we will see in the second season, both the heavy-handed and the subtle:
Angela channels her own Shakespeare character
We already have two of the great Shakespearean tragedies represented, with Elliot as Hamlet and the Wellicks as Macbeths. The question is, what does the plot have left, in terms of major characters channeling ol’ Bill?
It’s hard to know where they will go with it, but with Angela joining the ranks of Evil Corp and apparently climbing fast over a pile of bodies, they have some options. Perhaps she will reach the top and get Julius Caesared. Perhaps she will become an Iago and start whispering lies into the ear of new CTO Scott Knowles.
Perhaps she will find herself a star-crossed lover. Perhaps she and Elliot already are star-crossed lovers, fated to die in one another’s arms.
There are lots of ways they can go with this one, but, rest-assured, season two will bring us more Shakespeare.
The Gang Recreates Office Space
Mr. Robot loves its homages to late ’90s movies, and what better way than to have Elliot and his pals celebrate one of their hacking jobs than by smashing all their computers in a field somewhere?
Elliot is a replicant
He’s really good with computers. He seems to “turn off” for days at a time. Parts of his memory have been erased. A man named Tyrell has a certain control over him.
Is the next twist going to be that Elliot isn’t a dissociative individual but a hacked robot? And the way we find out is when he starts having dreams about unicorns and someone leaves an origami unicorn in his apartment?
This one is an obvious stretch, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Phillip K. Dick in season two.
Mr. Robot is a prequel to Blade Runner
Perhaps it’s not that Elliot is a replicant, but that this entire thing is an elaborate prequel to Blade Runner. Tyrell Wellick and Elliot Alderson are going to go start their own robot company at the end of season two, and the show will gradually become about the drama and politics of running Tyrell Corporation.
Mr Robot = Darth Slater
The current dynamic between Elliot and his father already has some Star Wars vibes:
- Elliot thought he was an only child and an orphan, only to accidentally kiss his sister.
- Darth Vader’s nickname could easily be Mr. Robot.
- He thought his dad was dead. Then it turned out he wasn’t. Then he was dead.
But perhaps it’s time to up the ante and reveal that yes, Elliot’s father is alive… but that he’s an actual robot-man and one of the chief enforcers for the bad guys. Darth Slater is working for Evil Corp and is about to kick some ass… until Elliot woos him back to the good team, moments before Evil Corp’s headquarters explode.
“That belongs in a museum!”
So far we’ve got Star Wars and Blade Runner. Why not round this out with a third Harrison Ford homage and get some Indiana Jones in this storyline?!
The question is: how?
My suggestion would be that Elliot casually starts dressing like Indian Jones, bullwhip and hat. It wouldn’t need to be much. Another way would be to give him a small, Asian sidekick, or to change his mission so that he starts seeking a holy McGuffin of some sort.
Elliot can’t stop drinking Diet Pepsi.
We know Elliot loves Back to the Future. All kids who loved Back to the Future admired Marty McFly and his cool swagger, fun clothes, and ability to get out of tough spots. But what did Marty McFly love, other than his girlfriend and scientist friend? He loved his Pepsi.
Elliot might believe that he is enlightened, that he is above corporate culture in his black hoodie and empty apartment. But what if he suddenly notices that his affinity for childhood movies has manifested itself in a brand loyalty to an evil corporation?
Elliot realizes he’s a fictional character
It’s happened before. Roland in The Dark Tower, Kilgore Trout in Breakfast of Champions, Deadpool in Deadpool, Kermit in The Muppet Movie.
And it’s not like it would be a complete surprise: Elliot breaks the fourth wall all the time. Would it really be that hard for him to suddenly realize that not only is he a character on a cable television show, but that, of all things, the show is on USA? It would explain the missing time in his memory and the unexplained occurrences: he’s in a television show. Of course. How didn’t he realize this sooner?
How much more Fight Club can we take?
The Hamlet connection had not occurred to me before I sat down to write this. As for the rest of it, I enjoyed the vast majority of Mr. Robot, aside from some of the Palahniuk-lifted moments in the final two episodes.
As far as the Fight Club thing goes: I think that there is an unfortunate tendency to compare the two but to argue that Fight Club is a shallow film about masculinity, whereas Mr. Robot is deeper and richer. But there is no need to retcon Fight Club into something minor and half-baked. Mr. Robot and Fight Club, like all their predecessors and successors, are haunting narratives about power and corruption, isolation and loneliness, fear and desperation.
There is no need to retcon Fight Club into something it wasn’t. Both Fight Club and Mr. Robot are thought-provoking because they reflect our world right back at us, yet come in a strange, almost-insincere package. In Fight Club, Tyler Durden laments a society that raises us to “believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars.” These words are bizarre coming out of Brad Pitt’s mouth, just as Elliot Alderson’s corporate anarchism comes packaged as a cable show made by USA, streaming on Amazon Prime.
Mr. Robot and Fight Club both raise one lingering question: do we want a revolution, or do we want to watch one on TV?