Debugging Elliot – Mr. Robot S01E03

At first glance, Mr. Robot may seem to be your typical drama-thriller about hackers with elements of mystery, intrigue, thrills, and drama surrounding it’s cast of broken characters. It is, however, first and foremost a story about the human condition as explored through Elliot. The reason why I appreciate and love the first season of Mr. Robot is that every episode gives more insight into the character of Elliot upon repeated viewings. There is an incredible level of depth in seemingly inconsequential lines of dialogue and scenes. Once you know the entirety of Elliot’s story and character, the story opens up and lets the viewer take an introspective and retrospective glance at Elliot’s life through his perspective.

I’m going to try and keep this episode as spoiler free as possible but I would like to go over some of the insights this episode gives us into the character of Elliot and his raison d’etre.

Episode three is titled “Debug” and rightfully so. It may appear to be a seemingly insignificant episode with not much happening besides setting up plot elements for later development as the season progresses. However, this episode gives us a greater look into the character of Elliot and the reason for his existence, as well as that of Mr. Robot’s.

Before I go over the summary of the episode as usual, I’d like to take a short detour and shift the focus onto Elliot. The entire episode focuses on the concept of debugging. Elliot explains to the audience that debugging is not about fixing the bug but rather finding the bug and understanding it’s nature, and why it came into being in the first place. It’s existence was no accident and it came with the purpose of delivering a message.

If we translate this onto the character of Elliot, his so called “bug” would be Mr. Robot and F Society.

This episode has some touching moments where Elliot lives a normal life for the briefest of times. He is genuinely happy and connected with the world and people around him. And then the bug strikes again, destroying the maze of a happy life he had just recently built. Often times we are our own worst enemy.

Let us return our gaze back to the rest of the episode that so poignantly illuminates the character of Elliot. The episode beings with Tyrell getting ready for an interview with Phillip Price, the CEO of Evil Corp. Tyrell is preparing a speech in which he hopes to convince Price to make him the CTO. You can feel Tyrell’s intensity and insecurity as he slaps himself while practicing his speech in a mirror and repeats a mantra of “You will be the CTO of this company” in the hopes of making his dreams a reality. Unfortunately his dreams are cut short as Price cancels his meeting and reschedules it in two weeks due to the board finding a suitable CTO candidate. Tyrell tells the secretary to email him directly because this email is too important to miss.

We cut to Tyrell being chauffeured to an underpass where he pays a homeless man and proceeds to beat him up, taking out his frustration through violence. The homeless man quips that Tyrell must have had a rough day at work. Mr. Robot later explains to Elliot that people resort to violence when they don’t know how to communicate. This seems to be a regular occurrence as the homeless man asks for three hundred dollars this time, implying there had been previous instances of this arrangement. This is an odd complexity to Tyrell’s character. He is willing to resort to violence when he wants to but he wants permission and even offers compensation.

We cut to Elliot in a hospital bed. He has been admitted from the fall from the previous episode where Mr. Robot pushed him off the pier. He awakes to both Shayla, who was listed as his emergency contact, and Krista standing over him. Elliot was required to see a psychiatrist. He lies about being jumped by some kids and that everything is fine. Krista demands to know why Elliot refused a drug screening and Elliot admits that he has been taking morphine for no reason. He agrees to a bimonthly drug check knowing that he can easily hack the hospital’s systems and change his results due to the IT being taken care of by just one man, a William Donald Highsmith.

We have a humorous and immediate cut to Elliot sniffing morphine in a bodega. He then proceeds to buy an energy drink and cigarettes with Shayla. They walk back to their apartment where Shayla asks if Elliot was responsible for Vera’s arrest. He lies once again. He wants to know if Shayla is ok after everything that happened with Vera. Shayla notices Elliot’s doorknob has been dismantled. They walk in to find Darlene once again in his apartment. She mentions as a note of interest that Jessica Alba wants to join F Society. She tells him they have a lot of things to discuss and to get rid of Shayla. Elliot tells Darlene to stop and to get out. She walks out exasperated and tells him to get a grip.

Here we cut to Angela going on a run. She observes a man leaving in a hurry dropping a wallet and returns it to him only to find out seconds later that he is a thief. She returns home as Ollie is finishing up a conversation with Stella B about the hack and their photos being released. The hacker calls Ollie and lets him know that he has one hundred hours to complete the task or that everything will be released. The hacker is still spying on them and communicating with some third party in Chinese in an IRC channel. Ollie wants to tell Angela but changes his mind and shuts off his laptop.

We cut to a meeting between Gideon and Angela, Ollie, Elliot, and Lloyd. They are being briefed on methods to track the F Society hackers down. Gideon invites everyone to dinner at his place. Elliot turns down the invite and Gideon shows concern but Elliot politely tells him off. Elliot believes that by not showing any vulnerability, that no one will be able to exploit his weakness. As he is thinking this and walking to his desk, he finds Mr. Robot sitting there, casually hitting on a red head walking by. He threatens to make a scene if Elliot does not come with him to the nearby bar to talk.

Here we see Mr. Robot drinking an appletini and suggests Elliot order one too. Elliot begrudgingly does and drinks it one large gulp. Mr. Robot compliments the bartender but he doesn’t seem to notice. Mr. Robot chalks it up to him being unable to handle compliments. Mr. Robot wants to talk to Elliot but he refuses to talk to Mr. Robot for pushing him off the pier. Mr. Robot apologizes and seems genuinely empathetic for Elliot. He tells him that his father was probably sorry for what he did and that it was easier for him to push him away. Mr. Robot leaves, saying that without Elliot the plan can’t go on. Without Elliot there is no plan.

Elliot feels a burden has been lifted. Without F Society, his life can return to normal. He mentions asking Shayla out to be his girlfriend, watching Marvel movies, opening a gym membership, hearting things on Instagram, and drinking vanilla lattes from Starbucks. He walks in and asks Gideon if he can still go to the dinner tonight and if it would be alright if he brought his girlfriend. Gideon is surprised that Elliot has a girlfriend. As Elliot walks out, Gideon stands up and walks to his secretary to ask if Elliot was drinking Starbucks. This is quite a charming and humorous scene. Elliot was actually drinking Starbucks.

Here we see Ollie contemplating putting the CD in his work computer to comply with the hacker’s demands. He changes his mind and takes the CD out as Angela walks by.

We cut to Tyrell spying on Anwar Raziz, Price’s secretary. He is getting dressed and going out to stalk him at the Kiss and Fly club. His wife asks where he is going and he responds with work and then she questions if he is doing everything for them or just for himself. He responds with “us is me” and leaves. Tyrell later finds Anwar at the club and starts hitting on him. They go back to Anwar’s place where Tyrell sleeps with him. He hacks Anwar’s phone to get information about the next CTO. He returns home to find his wife blindfolded on the bed. She tells him to tie her up and put on a gag. Apparently she seems to be into bondage. As this is going on, Tyrell informs his wife that Scott Knowles has been appointed CTO. His wife suggests they need to have dinner together as time is of the essence.

We cut to Elliot asking Shayla out. Shayla says that she doesn’t want to be used anymore. She says that Elliot doesn’t know the real her because none of that is posted online. Elliot wants to know. Here we see an intimate scene where Shayla pulls out some quilts that she’s been making in secret. Elliot calls them beautiful and recognizes that they are both alike, wanting normalcy but not knowing how to participate. They kiss and she begs him not to let her down.

We find Angela, Ollie, Elliot, Shayla and Lloyd waiting awkwardly outside Gideon’s home. Ollie is fidgeting around and knocks on the door. Perry opens their door and informs them the door bell was broken. Perry asks how long the couples have been dating. Ollie and Angela respond two and a half years. Elliot responds today. We see Angela pour herself a drink here. Gideon asks Elliot for help at the grill and asks him about the dat file once more. Elliot lies that he was worried about the company and was unsure about the file so he didn’t let Gideon know. Gideon hugs Elliot and Elliot lets him, despite his dislike of being touched, to dispel any suspicion. Elliot wants to protect Gideon from F Society. Gideon lets Elliot know that he cares for him.

Here we see a warm scene with the people conversing. Here is everything that Elliot could have wanted, a caring father figure in Gideon, a soul mate in Angela, friends and a warm place to call home. Elliot and Angela are reminiscing about their childhood antics of running away and ending up in a museum. Angela mentions the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frank Weiler and wanting to be Claudia Kincaid. Elliot’s brief moment of peace is interrupted by a notification from his cell phone. He seems perturbed and turns on the television in Gideon’s house. The news is reporting on the latest info dump by F Society and new information incriminating Terry Colby in the Washington Township toxic waste scandal of 1993 where twenty six employees died from leukemia, including his father and Angela’s mother. His perfect maze was destroyed in a day. Withing nothing to hide behind he walks out of the party. Angela follows Elliot.

Here we see a flashback of child Elliot talking to his mother. He is sad that his father passed but his mother is not and says that he was weak and pathetic.

Angela returns home to Ollie who wants to talk but she doesn’t. Ollie confesses about his cheating with Stella B and the hacker who has their information. Ollie is desperate to fix his mistakes. Angela wants to break up. She wants to know where the CD is so she can do what Ollie couldn’t. The hackers have her banking information as well as her fathers and she couldn’t put both of their finances in jeopardy. Ollie says that they’ll both lose their jobs as well as not knowing if the hackers will keep their end of the bargain. Angela apologizes and tells Ollie what he wants to hear, that she won’t break up with him.

We cut to Gideon in his office during the late night and him looking at the F Society dat file. He calls the Dallas data center and wants to talk to Shawn Skylar about server CS30 again.

With nothing to hide behind and nowhere to turn to, Elliot has returned to the F Society hideout. Here we can see Mr. Robot reading Leo Tolstoy’s Resurrection, a book Elliot’s father used to read to him. Wordlessly he sets up his laptop in the desk as people gather around him. He tells everyone that this is the plan and the episode ends there.

While this episode merely seems to set up narrative thrusts for future episodes, I have a fondness for this episode as it exposes the nature of the internal struggle ever present in Elliot.

In Elliot’s words, a bug is never just a mistake, it always represents something bigger. It is an error of thinking that makes you who you are.

I just want to take a minute here and let you know that you can stop blaming yourself for things that were out of your control. These traumas of the past that scar us don’t have to define us nor determine our future. Often times we share the same bug that plagues Elliot, an itch at the back our minds, telling us that we don’t deserve to participate in the normalcy we see all around us, feeling forced into the outer fringes of society. This is something that needs to be debugged. It’s ok for you to enjoy your life.

A bug exists to help you right a wrong.

Created by Sam Esmail. Season 1, Episode 3 released on July 8, 2015 (USA)
Written by Sam Esmail, Directed by Jim Mckay
Starring Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallstrom, Christian Slater, Gloria Reuben and many more.
Full Credits:

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