I wrote about Mr. Robot when it came out. Today I watched the first episode of season 3.
The show functions as very slick propaganda. It accomplishes the system’s psy-op goals just as much as the alt-right. Probably more effectively, since it’s targeted at people who understand what it’s about, the ones who can empathize with the left. Change is driven by the fringes. Neutralizing (and eventually eliminating) our fringe is just as important as advancing theirs.
The first season of the show indulges the viewer, letting them see the fantasy of sticking it to the corporations. That’s just to build trust and a reputation for edginess. The message of the show obviously can’t be that the vanguard taking direct action will inspire the masses to smash the state and we’ll have hippie utopia.
The arc of the series is supposed to be a sobering reminder that they will fucking crush you if you even think about trying some shit like what’s in the show. Oh, the agony we’ll see them go through as punishment for getting ideas and letting things get out of hand.
Helpfully, Hollywood Reporter has a lengthy transcript of exactly what I wanted to comment on about the season 3 premiere.
Elliot Alderson: Darlene’s right. I can’t trust them. This was too easy. But at least I stopped them for now. I can go home knowing that. But was she right about me? Am I sticking my head in the sand? Did my revolution just bury our minds instead of freeing them? Decrypting [sic] Evil Corp’s data was meant to empower us. Instead, it left us powerless, scaring us into even more submission. Five/Nine didn’t get rid of the invisible hand. It turned it into a fist that punched us in the dick. Like a botnet, the fear I’ve created is spreading so fast, it’s practically airborne. It’s swallowed us whole, digested us, and now we’re stuck in its asshole, waiting to be dumped out. And while we’re here? They’re having their way with us. They’ve packaged the fight into product, turned our dissent into intellectual property, televising our revolution with commercial breaks. They’ve back-doored into our minds and robbed our truth. They’ve refurbished the facts, then marked up the price. This is what they do. It’s what they’re good at. This is their greatest trick.
The viewer is supposed to listen to that in a trance where they forget that it’s a corporation saying this to them through their television, between commercial breaks. They’re laughing at us. That’s the horror of the show. It’s actually happening.
Elliot Alderson: This all started because I tried to hide from society. Remember? Fuck society. Well, I fucked society alright. I reset it to zero. If I don’t do anything about it, it will continue to grow in this malignant way. And that’s what I’m afraid of most: the future that I set into motion. Who knows what could come from this? What if instead of fighting back, we caved? Gave away our privacy for security? Exchanged dignity for safety? Traded in revolution for repression? What if we chose weakness over strength?
Donald Trump (Video Footage): These are not the people who made our country great. These are the people who destroyed our country.
Even within the reality of the show, it’s nonsense that “this all started because I tried to hide from society.” It all started because E Corp killed people, which made his life suck, so he needs revenge. What this means is that the viewer is supposed to dislike people who try to hide from society.
Elliot is expressing the viewer’s conscience, but the words are put in the mouth of the person who fucked everything up, so the message is that there’s something wrong with the view that dislikes safety-seeking normals.
Then the Trump clip spliced in. Trump hasn’t been elected yet, in the reality of the show, so the clip makes it seem like Trump is denouncing hackers in hoodies. He’s not like the fine people from Charlottesville.
Elliot Alderson: They’ll even have us build our own prison. This is what they wanted all along: for us to buy in on our worst selves. I just made it easier for them. I didn’t start a revolution. I just made us docile enough for our slaughtering. I can stand here and blame Evil Corp and every conglomerate out there for taking advantage of us, and I can blame the FBI, NSA and CIA for letting them get away with it, blame all the world leaders for aiding and abetting them, and blame Adam Smith for inventing modern day capitalism in the first fucking place, and blame money for dividing us, and blame us for letting it — but none of that’s true. The truth is, I’m the one to blame. I’m the problem. This was my fault. All of it. I did this. Fuck me.
All of that’s true except that it’s Elliot’s fault. It’s an explicit instruction to hate people like Elliot IRL. They’re nothing but trouble. They’ll bring on primal chaos if we don’t eliminate the threat of them. Near omnipotent ability to create badness.
The “Great Individual” theory of history isn’t consistent with Elliot’s ideology, which is all about structure. Blaming the individual is consistent with neoliberalism, though.
The viewer is only supposed to keep identifying with Elliot because he’s turned on his earlier self. The viewer can cleanse their sin of rooting for him in season 1. Psy-op mission accomplished.