The Mr. Robot season finale airs tonight. It has been a critical sensation on the USA network this summer, a moody drama that at one level is about cybersecurity and hacking, at another about mental illness, but at heart about loneliness.
In the first episode, Elliot Alderson, the main character, ends up between a wall and a dresser weeping, and he tells us, “I hate when I can’t hold in my loneliness.”
During the day, in the real world, he is among the last people you’d imagine weeping. He is a computer geek, a hacker, and becomes an integral part of fscociety, which seeks to destroy the capitalist powerhouse of the 21st century culture that Elliot calls Evil Corp.
If you haven’t seen it, you may have a hard time imagining how a show about hacking can be riveting, but it is, and I know almost nothing about computers.
If you’re interested in the hacking aspect, read this article on engadget about how realistic the hacking actually is. I can’t really follow the article, much less any of the technical aspects of the show. It all just feels like magic potions and gobbledygook.
But grasping the details of the plot isn’t why I watch Mr. Robot. While I care about how the story is unfolding and about the critique of consumer culture and technology, it isn’t what compels me.
I watch the show because it deals so honestly and bluntly with Elliot’s depression and social anxiety. His inner monologue, a relentless series of rationalizations and consuming thoughts, tells the story of the human condition in our moment, of profound loneliness and alienation.
Elliot is incapable of establishing and maintaining relationships, at least in part because he hacks everyone. Including his therapist, Krista. He reads her email and her texts and her online dating profile. He hacks her boyfriend, a man who has lied to her about being married.
He blackmails the man, forcing him to break up with her, and at his next therapy session has an active internal monologue about Krista’s heartbreak while remaining almost silent in her presence.
He is crippled by his own loneliness, but he is almost broken by the loneliness of others. He bears the burden of knowing everything about the people in his life, while remaining completely unknown by them, because he has stolen their stories.
Hacking is, ultimately, about crossing boundaries. We can get across those boundaries or around them and enter into the digital worlds of people and corporations. We can do that without being seen. And in crossing those boundaries we have power.
Mr. Robot is, for me, more about the danger of not being seen than it is about power. Elliot is in the world, but he is not of it. He lives inside his head and he talks incessantly to us, the unseen and unknown audience of his own creation. We can’t talk back.
Of all the plot points that have slapped us in the face so far this season, it is his meeting with therapist Krista in episode 7 that almost does me in. He tells her everything. As she stares at him, stunned, hearing him describe her personal emails and texts, we see the destruction Elliot has unleashed.
He tells Krista, bluntly, that he is lonely, that he wants to know how to not be lonely anymore, but that he knows she is lonely, too. In showing himself, in being seen, he destroys any possibility of connecting with her because he has violated her trust and crossed fundamental boundaries.
There is huge speculation about tonight’s episode, and we have already found out gut punching details about Elliot’s mental state, the fragile space between the lived experience inside his head and the reality outside of it.
I think the season finale tonight is going to underline that loneliness, confirm it, and drive it home. And, it’s going to break my heart.
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