Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord?: Your Problems Might Be Larger Than Misunderstanding Mr. Robot's Soundtrack Edition
Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord?
My recap of Mr. Robot is called "Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord?" Usually, I explain more, but if you have not seen the first two episodes of Season 2 *Spoiler Alert*
As many of you probably remember, it was the thoughtful use of music on the show Mr. Robot that started me writing recaps of the show.
But I just read an article titled, "Is Mr. Robot's Soundtrack Stupid" (only for some reason Mr. Robot has two '' between the t and the s, just saying) on a site called "Inverse."
Winston Cook-Wilson, who certainly writes like he could be a smart person, just penned one of the most idiotic articles I have read in recent memory (and I say this with due respect).
Just Because You Don't Understand Sam Esmail's Music Choices Doesn't Make You Insightful
The central thesis of Cook-Wilson's article is that Sam Esmail's show is very unhinged, non-traditional, complex, and often jarring so his music choices are too bizarre for the poor unmoored audience to use as a floatation device.
Think of it like reverse-rockism but reverse-rockism coming from a Hipster Douchebag.
Let me unpack what I just said so that I don't get accused of being a hipster douchebag too:
* Rockism is a term used to describe people who insist that fun pop music is inherently uncool. It was a theory suggested in a New York Times article many years ago to explain why Hipsters brutally beat down Ashlee Simpson after she had the temerity to get caught performing to a lip sync track during her performance on SNL.
Mr. Cook Wilson is suggesting that Sam Esmail is essentially a "rockist" who he wishes would just stop worrying and embrace music that is easy for hacking-tired brains to comprehend. He is asking Mr. Esmail to make his music choices into less of a Picasso and into more of a paint-by-numbers painting.
Even more bizarre, Mr. Cook-Wison makes this argument in the most opaque and hipster-douchebag way possible.
In case you are wondering, A Hipster-Douchebag is someone for whom being the smartest guy in the room is more important than having fun (kind of a personality rockist).
Anyway, Winston Cook-Wilson mocks Esmail's pretentious directing and music choices but all while he himself is throwing around references to Jean-Luc Goddard and phenomenology. He even says that Mr. Robot uses what he calls "turn of the millennium, pseudo-philosophical stylistic preferences."
What a gigantic load of horse-shit.
But it gets worse.
Deep down, what is really bothering Winston Cook-Wilson is not the music choices per se, it is that Winston Cook-Wilson isn't in on what the music choices mean.
He doesn't get Esmail's music choices, and he is brilliant, therefore, Esmail's music choices must be senseless.
The Unbearable Lightness Of Being Wrong #MrRobot Edition
The first song choice drawing Cook-Wilson's wrath is the Phil Collins song "Take Me Home."
Mr. Cook-Wilson explains:
"Such is the case with the full Phil Collins track which underscores one of the more eventful scenes in the two-episode premiere: Brian Stokes Mitchell as E-Corps executive, burning 4 million dollars at the behest of FSociety. Some people love it. But in some sense, it scans like stylization and ironic juxtaposition for the sake of it — the decadence very much on the surface and drawing attention to itself. Phil Collins’s influence on synth-obsessed indie musicians of today, and increasingly hip cult status, probably doesn’t help this one go over any better."
Except that he is totally misunderstanding the use of the Phil Collins song (by the way, Phil Collins is a drummer and singer, yes Genesis and some of his solo work could occasionally be synth-heavy but I find this comment bizarre - Phil Collins wasn't Vince Clarke).
Ok, first, "Take Me Home" is a song about fighting psychological manipulation in an Orwellian society (look it up). Yes, I know it sounds like a silly Phil Collins song, but guess what, SURPRISE, it is about exactly what the scene was about (trying to reverse the tables on fascist corporate evil).
I mean it takes a lot of balls to write an article in a real live publication suggesting that a song was placed in an episode for "no reason" when the problem is that it was you yourself who actually had no fucking idea what the song was about.
Second, the use of that song could be even more meaningful. One of the more popular theories after the premier is that Elliot (Rami Malek) is in prison.
As I suggested a few days ago in response, it is much more likely that Elliot has had himself committed to a low-security mental facility. At the beginning of the episode when Elliot has the session with his therapist Krista Gordon (Gloria Rueben), he mentions that Darlene (Carly Chaiken) visits him occasionally at his Mom's place (possibly Mr. Robot speak for the mental health facility).
So, the use of Collins song could also be a bridge that connects Elliot to the ransom hack on E-Corps. We are told several times in the episode that the Edward Alderson aspects of Elliot's personality can still hack Elliot's new routine, so it is quite possible the whole point of the scene is to connect Elliot to Darlene's hack.
Cook-Wilson ramps the nonsense up even higher claiming that Esmail thinks it is, "All the better if his choices don't make "sense" narratively.
He also gets mad that a snippet of "Bull in the Heather" by Sonic Youth is played after Angela Ross (Portia Doubleday) talks on the phone. It seemed to be about her living in a moment of tension which that part of the song (the intro) seems to convey. As near as I can tell Cook-Wilson's gripe is that he wanted to hear the lyrics.
It is getting kind of hard to make sense of his article, to be honest.
Then he claims the show seems like a Gibson novel...Yes, Esmail has explicitly claimed to be influenced by cyberpunk and thank goodness for that.
He then says that the point of Esmail using Lupe Fiasco and the Marriage of Figaro is to make the audience increasingly uncomfortable. I mean Figaro is a comic-opera about two lovers fooling an employer. Who could that be a reference to in Mr. Robot? Maybe the two masks Elliot (the employer) wears so he can carry out daily tasks? Maybe Esmail is suggesting that "Good-Elliot" and "Bad-Edward" are really working together and that the fighting is just negotiation?
I don't want to go much further into this here since I already wrote a great deal about how dissociative disorders work in last week's recap.
Finally, he gets mad because they use a WW1 song during the last scene in the episode when Elliot is at his church support-group meeting. But, I have a sneaky suspicion Esmail actually had a reason on this one too.
Okay, I am done.
I have nothing personal against Winston Cook-Wilson and I will admit that he writes very well (better than me).
I just have no idea how you can accuse someone of deploying random music choices just because you don't get them. Phenomenology aside, of course.
What did you think of the Cook-Wilson article, let me know, leave a comment!