Tales From A Red Wheelbarrow (eps1.91_redwheelbarr0w.txt) Part 20: FIN
The Final "Tales From a Red Wheelbarrow"
For several months now, I have been doing a deep dive into the book Red Wheelbarrow by Sam Esmail and Courtney Looney, which was released after Season 2 finished up. Today I am covering the entries for June 29th, 30th, and July 6th (the end of a long road).
The name of the books is a reference to the William Carlos Williams poem "The Red Wheelbarrow," and I suspect the book is an attempt to hack tv through literature.
If you have not seen Seasons 1 and 2 of Mr. Robot, and are not reading Red Wheelbarrow, it is possible that there will be spoilers * Spoiler Alert *
One heads up, I am looking for another show to recap (it can be retroactive like what I have been doing with Black Mirror - if there is something you folks would like to hear my take on, please let me know by leaving a comment here, on Twitter, on Linkedin, or on G+.
Signs of Growth?
So here we are, at the end of a very long journey through a relatively short book.
The main thing I have learned from Red Wheelbarrow is that both Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek) and his alter Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) are complex characters capable of great compassion and of great narcissism and even of great evil.
In other words, the two "parts" of Elliot have many similarities. So many similarities that one of my running theories (not saying I am right, just suggesting that it is possible) is that Mr. Robot is actually the dominant personality in the Elliot Prime superstructure. But even if this is not true (and I am not at all sure that it is) I am starting to think that the alter's are not central to the storyline at all beyond informing us about the internal battle that Elliot Prime is constantly fighting. In terms of how Elliot Prime relates to the outside world, for the most part, Mr. Robot is Elliot and Elliot is Mr. Robot.
But the internal dialog, which would play out less dramatically in someone who doesn't have DID, has resulted in some softenings. And remember, there are good reasons for Elliot's protective narcissism (abuse as a child) and his Robin Hood complex (he had to watch helplessly as his mother abused his sister). Elliot does want to be a better person, he is striving to find a happier and more connected future, and he is trying to see people less as X's and O's and more as complex beings.
There is an interesting juxtaposition between the first few minutes of the entire series when Elliot turns in the coffee shop owner after discovering his secret child porn operation and how he treats Ray at the end of Red Wheelbarrow after he finds that Ray is operating a site with "girls for sale" which Elliot clarifies as "and I mean girls."
The juxtaposition of these two events is interesting because of Elliot's response, in the pilot (eps1.0_hellofriend.mov) he turns the pornographer in immediately and in Red Wheelbarrow he offers warden Ray Hayworth (Craig Robinson) a choice - take down the site or get exposed. Ray is unable to take down the site, and as you probably remember he punishes Elliot (during the MasterSlave episode), but eventually he basically asks Elliot to take him down.
In other words, Elliot is still playing Robin Hood and Elliot is still a narcissist but he is seeing a broader picture and is more capable of seeing things in a less binary fashion. He believes that Ray was mostly overtaken by events and had no idea what was happening on his site. The site still needs to be destroyed immediately, but he sees the good and the bad in Ray.
On the other hand, Elliot found out about what was on Ray's TOR site by forcing RT (Luke Robertson) out of retirement and asking him so many questions that he got RT killed. RT was just another jail inmate with programming skills who was induced to work for Ray without knowing what the site was really about. Once RT found out what was going on he did what he could to take down the site by disrupting its payment service and, at great risk to himself, standing firm on pretending that he did not know how to fix the problem. RT was the collateral damage of Elliot's narcissistic need to play Robin Hood.
Another interesting example is the "owner" of Red Wheelbarrow Carla (Eve Lindley). During these last few days of the book, Elliot finds out that Carla has finally started receiving hormones in Jail (as a result of Elliot's intervention with Leon). Now sure, both Leon (Joey Bada$$) and Elliot get out of prison soon after this happens, but let's assume Leon set Carla up with someone who can keep getting her hormone shots before he left. At the end of this day, you have to credit Elliot's interventions making Carla's life in jail better but it is hard to forget all of the ways his interventions also made her a pariah (suggesting that she had AIDS to Santos without asking first) and put her at risk physically (ultimately, Santos revenge was taken out on her rat Reynaldo).
Does Mr. Robot (the Show on the USA Network) Have a Discernible Agenda
I think maybe we (and I am a prime violator) forget that dissociation is just a more dramatic form of having internal discussions. In a person who is dissociative, the parts of the personality more suited to handling certain problems take control of that person while in people who are not dissociative, those tasks are discussed with the internal voices in our heads. I have read that everyone is dissociative in that our brains constantly prioritize the most important functions and shut down the rest (this is actually how our brains function and allow us to carry out multiple functions like driving while singing out loud to the song on our car radios).
In a sense, we are all Elliot and Elliot R us too.
I have come to believe that Elliot is able to interact with the Greek Chorus because it will ultimately be our job to confront the issues Elliot is dealing with (issues like ongoing corporatism and growing government fascism). I believe the breaking of the fourth wall is an intentional device designed to make us a part of the proceedings on Mr. Robot. Way too often, consciousness raising on television and in the movies ends up sapping activism and participation because we often feel like we have participated simply by choosing shows that accord with our beliefs.
"I am for saving the whales, I watch Whale Wars."
"I am against Corporatism, I love Fight Club."
Mr. Robot reminds us, pretty regularly, that we are responsible actors facing the same enemies and moral quandaries Elliot faces. We know Elliot's world is a representation of our own world because he sees us and talks to us (and even sometimes invites us to search his apartment).
The message of that comic Melissa McCarthy Superbowl Kia Niro ad seemed to be that "activism is hard, so instead of rolling up your sleeves and getting involved, just buy a more eco-friendly car." The message of Mr. Robot is that activism is hard and it is on us. In this sense, we are Elliot (or at least his friend).
When Elliot glitches during Season 2, it is because he is trying to get used to seeing the things that he used to dissociate from. Going to jail itself was a dissociation, a glitch. As much as we want to love the show's protagonist, he left his sister and friends holding the very explosive and dangerous bag which he himself imagined, implemented, and created by getting himself arrested. This is one of the many reasons why Mr. Robot is not entirely wrong in his criticisms of Elliot's choices.
Going to jail was an example of Elliot's narcissism and so is Elliot's fight with Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot is simply trying to continue the course that Elliot instigated when he decided to carry out the five/nine hack and Elliot wants to escape the nightmare that he has created. Just like many addicts and depressives, like Elliot, withdraw from the world after encountering trauma, Elliot is trying to escape to a fantasy of a connected and five/nine free world.
Elliot should try to connect to people and to see people as beyond binaries but he cannot run from what he created. He can try to end it, try to carry it out in the most humane way possible, but he cannot pretend that it never happened.
Season 2 is really about Elliot's battle decision over accepting what he has created, changing what he has created, or dissociating from what he has created (we do what we know). In the end, at the most critical moment, he chooses dissociation (at great cost, just like when he put himself in jail). In other words, you can view Elliot's battle as a battle between taking responsibility for his creation and hiding from what he has created.
I have suggested before that the show is about the ethics of corporatism, of sub-state actors, or revolutions, and of government. I have suggested that Mr. Robot is about the things that Fight Club left unsaid. Ultimately, it will be Elliot's friend who is responsible for coming up with the answers.
I personally hope that Elliot can live in the dream of kissing Angela (Portia Doubleday) but only if he kisses the real Angela in the real world. The real world that Elliot helped engineer.
Bon Voyage to Carla and to Red Wheelbarrow
At the end of the book, we find out that Santos gets out and returns to jail. We find out that Leon gets out of Jail too (anyone who watched Season 2 knew this already). And most important, we find out that Carla gets out of jail.
Carla was, in many ways, the breakout star of Red Wheelbarrow. I am glad she is free (in fiction).
She said that she was going somewhere that she can sip drinks out of coconuts, that she only told one person where she was going, and that she has an emergency number for Leon (a good thing to have...of course, she got the number on a business card for Art Vandelay).
I suspect that we will eventually see Carla again, I hope she remains a good moral referee for Elliot.
Which leaves me with one remaining problem, why the hell is the notebook called Red Wheelbarrow?
We know that Tyrell's father used to recite the poem to him when he was young and that Tyrell (Martin Wallstrom) hated his father (a fact that has spawned a Reddit theory that Elliot and Tyrell have the same Father). We know that Elliot was likely also familiar with the poem for similar reasons and that what connects Tyrell and Elliot is similarities between complex fathers.
I am going to suggest that like "so much depends on a red wheelbarrow" a lot depends on Elliot getting himself "glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens." In other words, the point of this exercise is that Elliot needs to be engaged with the world. In other words, what matters is how we act out in the world with other people.
Elliot's biggest remaining problem is figuring out how to crawl out from behind his many layers of protection and engage with the world as a truly ethical being. If he feels, for instance, that Stage 2 is unethical, he has to change Stage 2 not avoid the problem entirely by getting shot. If he wants to sit at the dinner table next to Angela Moss, he will have to engage with Angela Moss in the world (not by protecting her from afar or Doxing her).
In other words, activism is hard and buying a car most likely won't be enough to get Elliot where he wants to go.
This will be a very hard journey, but I suspect it will be a fun one to watch. But more important, like I said, I think the show is (in a way) a call to action. If you have been wondering why my posts have been a bit sparse lately it is because I have been on the streets at protests and speaking across my part of Michigan.
Time to wake up :)
Anyway, that is the end of Part 20.
So what is next? I am planning to write stand alone pieces about the several books that were highlighted in Red Wheelbarrow (like Tolstoy's Resurrection). I am also still working on my eBook which will hopefully answer questions or at least add some context to seasons 1 and 2.
Normally, during the season, I write a recap of Mr. Robot called “Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord.” I also recap Black Mirror, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, The Flash, Better Call Saul, and put out new Spotify playlists every Tuesday (among other music content).
Obviously, when S3 starts up "Who is Mr. Robot's Landlord" will be starting back up.
If you are not familiar with my writing on Mr. Robot, check out The complete #OPS Guide to Season 2 of #MrRobot. Mr. Robot tries to hack tv and I try to hack Mr. Robot.
And if you need to catch up on this series:
Missed Part One? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Two? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Three? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Four? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Five? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Six? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Seven? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Eight? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Nine? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Ten? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Eleven? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Twelve? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Thirteen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Fourteen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Fifteen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Sixteen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Seventeen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Eighteen? Catch Up Now. Missed Part Nineteen? Catch Up Now.
I authentically thank you for all of your support. It is really cool that so many people have been reading this series (literally thousands). I hope to connect with all of you here, on Reddit, or on Twitter.
But this is the end for Tales From a Red Wheelbarrow, parting is such sweet sorrow!