Lost & Found Inside A (Lucid) Dream: Predicting Robot (Mr. Robot Season 3)

Predicting Robot

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This is the fourth entry in my series of predictions for Season 3.

My goal isn't to create spoilers or to solve Mr. Robot as much as it is to engage in discussions about my perspective of what has happened so far and how things could play out from that perspective. I have long believed that one of the coolest things about Mr. Robot is that it is an "open universe" where multiple theories can be correct at the same time.

I will be as surprised as anyone if I am occasionally right

As always, if you haven't watched all of Season One and Season Two of Mr. Robot already *Spoiler Alert*

Lucid Dreaming & Surrealism

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So, there are generally two schools of explaining Mr. Robot.

  1. Mr. Robot is a cover for what will be revealed to be an alternative universe. Nothing described in the proceedings accurately depicts the real  Elliot’s existence and the entire show is a puzzle covering something magical.

  2. Elliot’s existence is complicated but accurately depicted from his own perspective. When “twists” are revealed they add depth to our understanding of what we have seen to date and inform how we should watch the show going forward.

I could be called the ‘Last Honest’ adherent of School 2 (pun intended). And I have a theory that potentially explains most everything that has happened on Mr. Robot to date from the perspective necessitating no use of tinfoil or tinfoil hats.

The theory goes something like this:

Almost all of the strange surreal moments on Mr. Robot happen because they are being shown from the perspective of someone who is engaged in a lucid dream.

Lucid dreaming was probably best expressed in the popular consciousness in the Christopher Nolan movie Inception, it is a process through which you can become an active participant or even a director of your own dreams.

And, if I end up being right, everything started for Elliot when he was a young man. As he said during eps2.9_pyth0n-pt1.p7z:

“In middle school, I took a Visual Basic class. I remember my friend Sam telling me about a technique he used to induce lucid dreams so he could study in his sleep. You lie in bed and repeat this mantra in your head: Mind awake. Body asleep.”

Do I really have to point out that learning lucid dreaming from his “friend’ “Sam” should raise alarm bells?

As you may remember, Elliot uses his ability to lucidly dream to “hack” Mr. Robot’s memory of how contact was made between E Prime and Tyrell Wellick (or more accurately hack the memory of what his body did when Mr. Robot was in control).

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I am suggesting that lucid dreaming is probably also why Elliot is a better hacker than everyone else (he problem solves and plans during his sleep) and perhaps also why Sam Esmail seems to be able to write, direct, and extensively discuss every episode of Mr. Robot without losing his mind.

Yes, I get it, this sounds like I am putting on a tinfoil hat just a few paragraphs after I promised that I would not, but as crazy as it may sound, lucid dreaming is both a real and a verifiable technique that people use to problem-solve while they are asleep.

In fact, for the people who can make it happen, it can be revolutionary.

Susana Martinez-Conde, in her Scientific American article, likens a person learning to control lucid dreaming to the awakening (no pun intended) of the character Neo in the first Matrix movie.

My suggestion, to be clear, is that Elliot (Angela and Whiterose) use lucid dreaming to problem solve and expand their abilities to become more powerful in the real world much like Neo uses his ability to control, assemble, and disassemble the “code” to become more powerful inside the Matrix.

In Elliot’s case, he learned at an early age, to problem solve while he sleeps. When we see what is happening while Elliot is dreaming, it appears to be surreal (surrealism means dream-logic).

In these moments, Elliot is being a reliable narrator, we are seeing what he sees. When he was trying to find out how to find Tyrell, for example, he was re-experiencing what Mr. Robot had seen as it happened. It is confusing to us because we see Elliot’s face where Elliot sees Mr. Robot’s face (they have the same face in real life).

It seems surreal because dreams are surreal and also because Elliot is experiencing himself doing things that he didn’t know that he did (Elliot has Dissociative Identity Disorder). To get why this is particularly strange, Imagine watching a real-time movie of yourself doing things you have no memory of ever having done.

Elliot’s life in his world is very much like Neo’s life in the Matrix in that he is always in a process of becoming aware of his world in new ways (remember that Neo himself started out as a talented Hacker embedded in a world that he finds out that he only partially understood).

Anyway, this is the second time the Matrix has come up recently in my reflections and that movie seems a clear influence on Esmail’s Mr. Robot (along with the works of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Brian DePalma, and David Fincher).

One other piece of evidence as to why I believe in this “Lucid Dreaming theory,” in the early pages of the Mr. Robot companion book “Red Wheelbarrow” there is a picture of an ouroboros (a snake eating its own tail).

One of the most famous real world examples of the use of lucid dreaming was the cracking of the Benzene Rings problem by August Kekule. The way Kekule “solved” the problem was by imagining the solution as an ouroboros in a lucid dream.

Angela Moss, meet Whiterose

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So, one of the most confusing things about watching Mr. Robot through the lucid dreaming lens is that for the character we are watching, events appear to be in real time (in a sense, they are but they are seen through the eyes of a person who is dreaming in real time).

In other words, the events depicted have usually already happened “in the world outside of the dream” but we are experiencing them through the eyes of a lucid dreamer revisiting the actual events while asleep.

Understanding this allows one to make much more sense of the meeting between, for instance, Angela Moss and Whiterose in which Whiterose suggests that:

“It's no coincidence that you <Angela> and Mr. Alderson became who you are after what happened with the Washington Township plant so many years ago.”

Yes, I am suggesting that Angela Moss also has the ability to Lucidly Dream and it is my further suggestion that the entire meeting we watch between Angela and Whiterose, in fact, happens while Angela is herself engaged in lucid dreaming.

How?

She either learned how to lucidly dream from Elliot, or both of them were part of a program at the Washington Township Facility, or it is an outgrowth of experiments that happened to their parents at the Washington Township Facility and has, as a result, become an inherent skill.

Or maybe they both learned it from their friend Sam (Esmail).

So, I believe that an actual meeting between Angela and Whiterose happened but that the version we are seeing is a reproduction during Angela’s lucid dream.

To add a bit more detail, I believe the room where we experience the meeting was Angela’s childhood room, the Commodore Computer was her childhood computer, and the items on the desk are items that she owned (Including the book Lolita). The little girl she meets prior to meeting Whiterose was her own younger self (who may or not really have experienced abuse). In fact, the puzzle she is trying to solve might relate to her own originating trauma (I suspect that we will learn more about this later on in the show).

It is probably no mistake that the end of the Whiterose versus Angela scene fades immediately into a scene where Elliot is repeating, “Body Asleep Mind Awake,” to himself over and over again.

This also possibly explains the surrealism during the meeting later between Angela Moss and Antara Nayar (the class-action attorney representing the victims of the accident at the WTF plant). Yes, this is also seen through the lens of Angela’s lucid dream (either the same one as earlier or a new one).

In fact, this theory is a plausible explanation of most of the surrealism that happens throughout Mr. Robot. Discussions between Elliot and Tyrell that seem hyperreal, Elliot experiencing interactions between himself and Mr. Robot that “glitch.”

It goes a long way towards making the series seem less mysterious, and maybe understanding does a kind of violence to the Mr. Robot experience. I certainly hope that is not the case.

Hacking Time

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The Wizard of Oz teaches Dorothy to ultimately choose the seemingly mundane territory represented by HOME (Kansas) over the fantastic (Oz).

His experiences in Back To The Future teach Marty McFly that messing with the basic building blocks of reality has real consequences on what HOME looks can become.

Mr. Robot is, I suspect, asking fundamental questions about reality (and about the reality of those movies as well).

Okay, so we also know that there have been a ton of references to both the Wizard of Oz (which is also an important referent in the films and television shows of David Lynch) and to Back to the Future in the first two seasons of Mr. Robot.

Both Marty and Dorothy start their journeys located in one “reality” only to find themselves magically transported to an alternative “reality” (which in many ways is a fantastic mirror of the original “reality”) and both try to fight their way back “home.”

I think it would be fair to suggest that Elliot, Dorothy, and Marty (and Neo) are all, in a way, experiencing a similar hero journey.

Perhaps the difference is that instead of escaping to a magical reality that makes him wistful for his “home,” Elliot is escaping from the more “magical” reality (in his head and in his dreams) in order to overcome the challenge of integrating successfully  into “home.”

Marty and Dorothy do not appropriately appreciate why "home" was valuable while Elliot just flat out doesn’t get how to make "home" happen for himself.

Or maybe the point is that all of the things we experience, Oz or Home are real (that reality is complex and multilayered and rarely linear).

Anyway, the point could be that all of the parts our dream lives and our awake lives are equally real and important to who and what we are. That maybe there are things we can only find answers to through dreams.

And, tinfoil hats aren’t necessary for Mr. Robot to make us think of a broader universe.

I guess what I am trying to suggest is that the Back to Future connection doesn’t have to be literal or force Elliot into time travel or disappearing into some alternative reality. Elliot, perhaps because of his condition, is constantly navigating multiple “realities” at once regardless of if some of them are fantastic.

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We certainly know that you could interpret everything that happens in The Wizard of Oz as Dorothy’s dream. But can all of Marty’s experiences be attributed to a dream? Can Neo's experiences? Can Elliot’s experiences? I suspect so.

I also suspect that Lucid Dreaming explains what Whiterose means when she says that she “hacks time.”

Lucid Dreaming allows people to expand the time available for problem-solving in a day. Where most people fall asleep and dream of sheep, lucid dreamers dream about solving the problems that they face during their waking hours.

Lucid Dreaming, in other words, allows people to literally hack time (to stretch out the number of things that can be done in a 24-hour day).

One disadvantage of theorizing about television is that you might demystify it and remove some of the pleasure from it.

Removing the pleasure from Mr. Robot is never my goal and I believe deeply that multiple correct interpretations can always be possible.

Okay, that is probably enough for today. Hope everyone has a great week. As a bonus, here is another cool picture someone posted from the Mr. Robot area at San Diego Comic Con earlier today

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Let me know what you think!