by Joshua B. Hoe Last night was the finale of Mr. Robots (mostly) excellent first season.
Can’t say I big L loved the finale...but, whatever, it was a great summer.
Hack One: Esmail in my head
Mr. Robot is the product of a gentleman named Sam Esmail.
I have immediately known what every song, and songs are used for a reason and carefully on this show, was….Last night was no exception....John Lydon and Afrika Bambaata...check, one of my fave eighties throw downs ever (time zone where have you gone)....Brittany Howard and crew, check, one of the best songs from one of the best albums of the year (Alabama Shakes Sound and Color, I wrote about it months ago)....Jim Carroll Band...check...not one of my faves..but still iconic and immediately recognizable.
In other words, Mr. Robot seems to have hacked me...Virtually every music choice throughout the season was one that I enthusiastically embraced or at least appreciated (even the FKA Twigs song is a great song).
I do not know much about Esmail, but we obviously have very similar musical tastes.
Hack Two: BAP
World Destruction was always under-appreciated, even at the time it came out.
As anyone who has read anything on this blog knows, I think Hip Hop is - often but not always - a form of inner city punk music.
Where did I get that idea...where did it start? In all honesty, after I first say the video for World Destruction the song representing Time Zone, a collaboration between punk icon Johnny Rotten and Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.
In a sense, the collaboration was punk hacking hip-hop and hip-hop hacking punk...but, in another way, it was recognition between two artists who understood they were coming from similar territory.
I suspect that Esmail chose the song for three reasons:
- It fit the narrative - in the show (spoiler alert) FSociety, a group of hackers, has just killed ECorps (evil corps) data...and apparently other data too...the end result being that no debt exists...and most wealth is questionable too. The song is about meeting in the streets of the revolution.
- John Lydon was a Sex Pistol sure...but he also created Public Image Ltd….who, were kind of a test run for many of the ideas represented in Mr. Robot. Lydon was also famously a public punk god and a private reggae aficionado.
- Bambaata, according to many, invented the sample. Bap was the guy who realized that engaging in some creative destruction, you could make something different from the parts of other songs. That people without instruments could make music, different music,
combining captured elements from other people’s songs. BAP was THE music hacker.
I am certain that the smile on my face when World Destruction came on could have powered the wattage for my house.
Once again, Esmail (et al) carefully picked a perfect song for a situation that also fit the ethos and narrative of the show.
In addition, I am a big fan of at least one element of hacker culture - the concept of creative destruction. Often hacking is about much more than stealing or bringing down corporations...It is about creating something new from the elements that already exist.
Q-Tip was a master at combining existing elements into something new, BAP invented the idea, and the Dust Brothers maybe did the best pastiche of all time (Paul’s Boutique). Hip-Hop was a hack, but it was mostly a way of creating new out of old...of rebirthing new music from old. Of using the tools readily available to make NEW things.
And let us not forget how prescient some of the lyrics from World Destruction are:
This is a world destruction, your life ain't nothing.
The human race is becoming a disgrace.
Countries are fighting with chemical warfare.
Not giving a damn about the people who live.
Nostradamus predicts the coming of the Antichrist.
Hey, look out, the third world nations are on the rise.
The Democratic-Communist Relationship,
won't stand in the way of the Islamic force.
The CIA is looking for you.
The KGB is smarter than you think.
Brainwash mentalities to control the system.
Using TV and movies - religions of course.
Yes, the world is headed for destruction.
Is it a nuclear war?
What are you asking for?
This is a world destruction. Your life ain't nothing.
The human race is becoming a disgrace.
The rich get richer.
The poor are getting poorer.
Fascist, chauvinistic government fools.
People, Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Are in a time zone just searching for the truth.
Who are you to think you're a superior race?
Facing forth your everlasting doom.
We are Time Zone. We've come to drop a bomb on you.
World destruction, kaboom, kaboom, kaboom!
This is the world destruction, your life ain't nothing.
The human race is becoming a disgrace.
Nationalities are fighting with each other.
Why is this? Because the system tells you.
Putting people in faceless categories.
Knowledge isn't what it used to be.
Military tactics to control a nation.
Who wants to be a president or king? Me!
What is the Long Game Here? Or, “We Are Finally Alike” - exactly
I don’t get the feeling that Esmail is entirely sympathetic to FSociety or entirely hostile to Evil Corps...I don’t think this is a show about easy answers. I think it is more likely that, planned or not, they are more similar than different.
The people walking around in FSociety masks in the finale seemed mostly to be jackasses….Of course the CEO of Evil Corps could not really be more evil himself….But, while we recoil as he talks about how the world is better off because the head of PR (spoiler alert) committed suicide on air...we hear people spout almost exactly the same reasoning that he gave on every sports channel virtually 24 hours a day….The CEO was talking about how he hates weak people, about how the world would be better off without them…
Just a few weeks ago, when a Pittsburgh Steelers' player made his own kids return trophies they had received for ‘participation,” the phone lines, twitter lines, and social media spots blew up with the hundreds of thousands of millions of people basically saying the same thing. Decrying the wimpification of America…Calling for more tough coaching and harsher treatment of the wimps.
How many times have I heard someone, even official people bemoaning the loss of toughness in sports..especially football...who cares if people get CTE, it is much more important that people learn the toughness that can ONLY be delivered by viewer satisfying bone-shattering hits.
I am talking about me too, I love football, I am waiting to watch Michigan’s game tonight. I often hate appearing “weak” and have a hard time showing my emotions. I am not pointing at others. I am saying, Mr. Robot has seen the enemy and he is us.
Deep down, most of us are like Angela, both persuaded by the Shoe Salesman (who for some inexplicable reason has decided to be at work when credit isn’t working and to lecture her about Evil Corp.) and conflicted by our belief in the American Dream. We are both Fsociety and Evil Corp.
I get the feeling Esmail and maybe even the remaining sane parts of Elliot might get this.
When the gender bending White Rose (BD. Wong) talks about Nero fiddling (playing the lyre) while Rome burns at the very end of the episode...one wonders who exactly is playing Nero in this play...Is everyone, hacker and mogul fiddling?
And what ultimately decides what burning is or what burning means. I suspect both in our real contemporary world (which Esmail overlays with his created Mr. Robot world) what is burning is Faith.
And, how crazy has it been that virtually everything that happens on Mr. Robot is kind of happening all around us on one of the only shows ever to literally happen NOW.
But what is happening?
Angela believes in the American Dream but is full of doubts...Elliot can’t excise his memories of his family as they should be (including himself as a child) but can’t even come close to trusting them.
Trust in the bargains that unite us might be fraying….both ends of the political spectrum are becoming increasingly skeptical of the arrangements that hold us together. But, what is really starting to die is FAITH that the system really is looking out for our interests.
Faith in the idea that anyone cares about any interest other than their own.
In the middle is the person the system is supposed to look out for….the vast majority of the people in this country are not political savvy...they may be wrong about causes, but they know things are wrong….They are struggling in every possible way and instead of answers, most politicians are offering scapegoats.
Fsociety sycophants laud the hackers and blame Evil corps, but I suspect it does not end any better for them after the hack.
Evil corps sycophants talk about the weight and power of the largest conglomerate in the world giving them confidence...But I suspect it doesn’t end very well for them either.
Am I or Esmail talking about US or a fictional universe...Wink wink.
Is it odd that Elliot spends his last ten or so minutes of the finale having a conversation with his fictional/delusional images of his nuclear family...A nuclear family that seems to be fundamentally untrustworthy and even potentially both destructive and loving?
Does this make Elliot right on the border between Plouffe’s suicidal executive and Angela’s ambition?
And let’s not forget that the actions that Elliot has taken are Messianic and destructive (probably devastating for millions of people)..He is clearly an anti-hero mixed with a hero.
How are is he, how conflicted is he, how guilty is he, who is at his door?
Who Wants to be A President or a King...Not me...Me?
What About Plouffe?
I suspect Plouffe’s on camera suicide was the stand in for the millions of people that would be affected in real ways by the hack.
Fsociety could care less about devastating Plouffe’s and Evil Corps bemoans his weakness and is glad to be rid of him.
Again, the revolutionaries and the guardians of the institution care about virtually everything except the collateral damage they leave in their wake.
Donald Trump doesn’t care about real immigrants that get beaten down as a result of his xenophobia. And he didn’t care about the racism he set on fire with his birther nonsense.He cares about Donald Trump (damn the torpedoes and/or Mexicans).
Liberals don’t care about that banks (and most corporations) just pass the cost of regulations on to consumers. And god knows, most politicians care more about the endless election cycle than they do about the actual good of the people they are supposed to serve.
Again, nobody cares about what should matter most, the collective good...The people in the cross-hairs of all the schemes. Fsociety isn’t doing what they are doing to make the world a better place….
“Who wants to be a President or a King...Me”
Again, I did not love the finale...the best parts for me were the meetings between Angela and the CEO of Evil Corp., the confrontation between Elliot and (the force of nature that is) Wellick’s wife, and the absence (deeply felt) of Wellick himself.
How many times in any show has the main antagonist disappeared for a finale...totally and without explantation disappeared. It was palpable. I know one theory is that Wellick is just another aspect of Elliot...That Elliot is full on Tyler Durden with all these half-lives and delusions...And maybe that is what is real….real? But, I want to believe he is not a Swedish delusional member of Elliot’s head party.
I think Elliot and Angela might be initiating a conversation with us about who we really are in 2015...US...as in you and me.
As Fsociety members put it: “We Are Free…..We Are Finally Alike!”
Anyway, all hail Bambaataa!
Let me know what you thought of Mr. Robot’s finale or about the music of Mr. Robot. Leave a comment!