8:00am PT by Josh Wigler
5 Ways 'Mr. Robot' Broke the Fourth Wall in 2016
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for season two of USA Network's Mr. Robot.]
There are countless ways to describe Elliot Alderson, Rami Malek's embattled hacker at the heart of Mr. Robot. He's complicated at best, dangerously delusional at worst. He's certainly not easily accessible. But even if the average viewer can't quite grapple with the elaborate demons haunting Elliot's mind (and, as a result, the world at large), they can certainly envy one of the Mr. Robot protagonist's most powerful gifts: the ability to view reality as an illusion.
The second season of the Emmy-winning USA Network drama spent a significant amount of time dwelling on Elliot living an illusory existence, converting his day-to-day life behind bars into a fantasy world, purely as a coping mechanism. Beyond being an imaginative way for creator Sam Esmail and the show's writers to visually represent the lead character's unfortunate circumstances and vivid imagination, it also shined a light on the very human tendency to willfully ignore harsh realities, for a multitude of reasons, often as basic as survival.
It's an interesting premise to reflect on, given the harsh realities Mr. Robot contended with over the course of its second season. A topical show from its very inception, Mr. Robot intersected with the zeitgeist more than ever this year. Some examples:
1. The Hack Job
Season two takes place in the aftermath of season one's "Five-Nine Hack," an extraordinary act of cyber-terrorism that severely damaged global conglomerate E Corp and subsequently impacted the world at large. From the very beginning, computer hackers have been at the core of this show, but the nature and ramifications of the work became increasingly topical over the past year, including (but certainly not limited to) accusations of Russian hacking meant to influence the presidential election.
2. The Trump Card
The second season of Mr. Robot takes place during the summer of 2015. In a scene toward the end of the season, E Corp head honcho Phillip Price (Michael Cristofer) and his smug subordinate Terry Colby (Bruce Altman) share an incredulous laugh mocking Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Colby even posits that he could become Trump's running mate, given their shared history. What played then as an unlikely outcome certainly plays differently today, given the results of the election.
3. Dark Waters
Relationships across the globe feel more than a little bit fraught these days, to put it lightly. Mr. Robot seized on that notion over the course of its second season, with a specific focus on the relationship between the United States and China, a relationship that's filled with uncertainty today. The show's version of the conflict is embodied by American greed machine Phillip Price and his bitter rival Whiterose (BD Wong), with their international chess match playing out with micro and macro-aggressions alike, from behind-the-scenes meetings of power-players to outright violence.
4. The Toothpaste and the Tube
It's an easy way of identifying the notion that certain actions cannot be reversed, another concept that's very much of the moment. It's very much on the mind of Mr. Robot, as well. From most accounts, it's hard to imagine reversing the damage done by the Five-Nine Hack. But season two ends with two characters debating that very possibility, as exiled hackers Mobley (Azhar Khan) and Trenton (Sunita Mani) contemplate whether there's a way to fix the global catastrophe they helped to cause. The content might be different, but it's nonetheless the same kind of conversation that many people are batting about in reality today.
5. Even an Android Can ROFL
When reality becomes a bit too real, the best remedy is a time-tested one: laughter. Mr. Robot provided plenty of that as it became an easy source of parody all year long, with sketches appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. There's no greater example of how Robot could be both extremely topical and an extremely unlikely source of nervous laughter than this Saturday Night Live sketch, which sees Leslie Jones recruiting Elliot and the fsociety gang to deal with her own real-life hacking scandal:
The list of examples goes on, but ultimately, the way Mr. Robot interacted with modern culture this year can best be summarized by series lead Rami Malek, who spoke with The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the season two premiere about this very topic. If the show's post-Five-Nine universe felt apocalyptic, "then maybe a post-apocalyptic world is closer than we think it is," he posited.
"Usually when we think about an apocalypse, it's something in the form of some major bomb, or something hitting us from space or something nuclear occurring," he added. "This is just one guy at a keyboard who could create an apocalypse. If that's where we're at, it's a very scary place for humanity."
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