Sep 7 2015

Elliot and Angela’s identity crises in Mr. Robot

maureen

Mr. RobotMr. Robot offers about as unreliable a narrator as you can find. Early in the season Elliot seems part Robin Hood hero, part tech wizard on a mission to take down EvilCorp as a member of F Society. His occasional departures from reality seem attributable to his drug habit. But as the season progresses it becomes clear that Elliot is suffering from some sort of mental disorder. Dissociative identity disorder, aka multiple personalities, according to the show’s creator, Sam Esmail.  

Late in the season the audience discovers that Mr. Robot isn’t real. Whatever happened in Elliot’s childhood to trigger this disorder, he doesn’t feel like himself and can’t fulfill his role as avenging hero, the purpose that defines him, unless he is able to interact with this other ego. 

Throughout the course of the season Elliot alternately rejects and searches for Mr. Robot. Mr. Robot tells him “You’re losing it kid. I’m only supposed to be your prophet. You’re supposed to be my god.” Elliot is too confused and damaged to be able to assume control of his own identity all the time.

Early in he season Elliot argues with Mr. Robot when Elliot refuses to participate in something that will result in deaths, and Mr. Robot tells him that “This is war. People will die.” There are some things Elliot can’t see himself doing but believes need to be done, so Elliot needs Mr. Robot in order to carry them out. Elliot doesn’t want to be god of his own identity. When he awakens to street celebrations after three days in Tyrell’s SUV Elliot is unable to remember “saving the world” from Evil Corp. And so he finds them. Not only Mr. Robot, but his mother, and his younger self who tells him that he will never be free of them, and at this point Elliot seems resigned to that.

Most of the story takes place from Elliot’s perspective, and the audience eventually realizes that his perspective is not reality. At about this point some story lines diverge so that we see Angela’s viewpoint, and the point of view here does not seem clouded by the unreliable narrator, but in a more traditional sense Angela seems uncertain of who she is as well. She waffles a lot. She doesn’t seem to be able to fully commit to a course of action or position. Initially Angela struggles between her desire for EvilCorp to pay for her mother’s death and her own climb up the corporate ladder at AllSafe. Her resolve against EvilCorp grows until she understands the effect going after EvilCorp will have on AllSafe. Then she decides to confront EvilCorp exec Colby, who she holds responsible for her mother’s death. He ends up hiring her to work in the very corporation she tried to take down.

After Colby’s suicide and F Society’s hack, Price’s blatant hubris seems to appall Angela, but then she does exactly what Price tells her to do. Angela needs money so she may simply be accepting the defeated view that personal survival is steeped in moral compromise and necessary alliances with evil. But there is a suggestion at the end of the last show that another Angela is emerging. Perhaps she is experiencing something akin to a spiritual or moral rather than a mental break. At the very least she seems to feel the temptation to draw her identity from this more aggressive, hard-edged Angela.

The people who seem to know who they are and what they are about are Elliot’s sister Darlene and Phillip Price, the head of EvilCorp. While F Society’s attack wreaks havoc on the average technology-dependent business and its own executive commits suicide, EvilCorp’s head honcho Phillip Price throws a party and declares EvilCorp untouchable. He is utterly convinced of his own power. He seems to interpret the reluctance in others to take charge or declare certainty as his right to dominate them. And on top of all that, we discover that Whiterose, leader of the Dark Army, who seemed to be an F Society ally, and Price are collaborators, implying that the same people who always make the rules are still making them in spite of F Society’s attempted financial revolution.

Darlene knows what she wants to do and why. She has a plan and a goal.  The hack takes down the financial conglomerate. After using an animal shelter incinerator to burn evidence, F Society releases the dogs scheduled to be destroyed and turns them out in to the street to fend for themselves. What will those dancing in the street do tomorrow? With her goal realized Darlene seems to feel anticlimactic emptiness. A big question this season leaves hanging is what will people do with freedom, and who is really free?

 


Nov 29 2013

Of Rattlesnakes and Mockingjays: Sacrifice and Symbol in Catching Fire

maureen

It started with Benjamin Franklin more than 20 years before the revolution. The rattlesnake was chopped into eight pieces. It illustrated Franklin’s editorial about the “disunited state” of the colonies and was originally used to encourage the 13 colonies to unite and fight with Britain in the French and Indian war. Revolution was not on Franklin’s radar at that time, but after years of paying a less costly tribute than the 13 Districts of Panem, seeds of revolution took root and Franklin’s “join or die” snake began appearing all over Colonial America The snake metaphor was later recycled into the familiar coiled rattler on the yellow background known as the Gadsden Flag. The snake and motto appears on Navy SEALS patches. Variations of the coiled snake and motto have been used by various political groups as a symbol of protest.join-or-die

Gadsden-flag-original-Marine-flagMockingjay_on_fire                                                                                                       In the first Hunger Games, the thirteen Districts were concerned about themselves. Each one sent their Tributes and kept their heads down. Some trained their Tributes in hopes of assuring survival and gaining status but mostly they hoped the Capitol would accept the annual sacrifice and ignore them. But something happened in the year’s time between the co-victory of Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Melark in the 74th Hunger Games and the decision by the Capitol to bring them back for the 75th. What is the tipping point for revolution?

For the 13 Colonies it was Lexington and Concord. Fifteen years of griping about taxes and oppression came to a head when the British shed Colonist blood. The 13 Districts put up with the shedding of blood for seventy-five years, in a controlled way. Their revolution had failed and they were living with the Capitol’s bizarre vengeance. But they too have a tipping point.

Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins says that the ancient Greek myth of the Minotaur was her inspiration and that she views Katniss modern Theseus. According to the myth King Minos of Crete demanded fourteen young Athenians, 7 male, 7 female are paid in tribute. Athens paid to avoid war. Sending the young people into the labyrinth where he kept the Minotaur, Minos enjoyed blood sport with political motivation. That does sound a lot like President Snow. In the Greek myth, the demi-god Theseus volunteers to be one of the tributes and eventually defeats the Minotaur and saves the young Athenians.

Katniss is no demi-god, but, like Theseus, but she begins as a volunteer, a willing sacrifice in The Hunger Games. Salvation stories require willing sacrifices. In Catching Fire, Peeta is the volunteer and the other tributes are sacrifices. They sacrifice themselves to save Katniss, not because she’s Katniss but because she’s the Mockingjay.

Any revolution worth its salt is going to offer an inspiring symbol, like Guy Fawkes mask or Rattlesnake or the Mockingjay. Katniss is comfortable with the role of volunteer and sacrifice, she’s comfortable when she’s the one using her platform to convey a message, like putting flowers around Rue’s grave. But Katniss is not as comfortable with her role as symbol of the valiant Tribute when the Capitol tries to use her in this way. Now she’s the Mockingjay and the District dissidents are willing to sacrifice others to save her. They have plans for her as symbol of the revolution, plans that require sacrifice.

In thinking about the spiritual implications, Jesus as volunteer and sacrifice, as dissident and revolution leader, overturning the system wasn’t His mission. Love was His mission. Jesus wasn’t setting Himself up as a symbol but as a sacrifice. He lived in a brutal and oppressive age but wasn’t teaching His disciples how to stage an uprising, yet the results of His teaching caused revolutionary change. As Katniss is lifted in the helicopter, arms stretched out in the traditional “Christ figure” movie pose, Snow’s granddaughter says, “Someday I want to love like that!” Now there’s a goal worth starting a revolution over.