Mr. Robot has always had a "Twin Peaks" quality that invites theorizing about the underlying meaning of what's on the screen, gleefully fostered by its writing and production team. But the second season premiere turned that all up to 11. Less than a week after the premiere of Season 2, theories abound regarding where Elliot actually is, and how much of his world is real. Lead by the gang on the Mr. Robot subreddit, analyzed by any number of tech or TV sites like The Verge and Vulture, and spread across social media like wildfire, these theories are the hot topic of the moment. But do they hold water?
Well, yes, but based on one flawed assumption. More about that later. Let's look at what's out there first.
Various discussions and sites have differing spins on the evidence available, but the conversation has coalesced into two schools of thought:
- a. Elliot is in prison
- b. Elliot is in a psychiatric facility
Generally, both cite the same corpus of evidence:
- Elliot's spartan, cell-like room, with a bed, desk and chair, the bar-like motifs, long halls and red wall phone.
- His rigid routine (laundry, dishes, meal times, etc.)
- His mother waking him and telling him when to go to bed, sliding the pocket doors to his room open and closed, like a cell.
- His extensive journaling.
- He eats all his meals in the same place, at the same time, and with the same person, Leon, who has recently discovered Seinfeld (Leon being the opposite of the demographic to which Seinfeld normally appeals), and can't stop talking about it.
- The afternoon basketball game, complete with "Hot Carla" the trans book-burner and Ray, the chatty neighbor with a dog; and the evening prayer meetings that "socialize" Elliot.
- The visit from Gideon has an across-the-table choreography that suggests it takes place in some sort of facility with Elliot under supervision.
It makes a lot of sense, particularly if we work from the knock on the door, and add Darlene into the mix. The only person who could possibly have committed Elliot, assuming he did not commit himself, is Darlene. I've seen theories that Tyrell or Angela might have, but neither has legal standing to do so. It would have to be Darlene, his sister. The only sloppy point is that she'd have to stick her head up and make herself more visible than usual, but hackers live secret lives pretty routinely, so that's not outside the realm of possibility. She was very concerned about Elliot as the first season ended, and seems downcast, possibly guilty, when Mobley asks about him.
What about prison? That doesn't hang together as well. Simply put, how would Elliot have gotten there so quickly, and why the FBI hot on fsociety's tail if he is he in prison? It doesn't make sense. Yes, the bars and cell configuration suggest prison, but there's really nothing else, aside from the basketball game that does any more so than it suggests a psychiatric hospital.
That places me firmly in the "Elliot's in a psychiatric facility" camp, for some pretty compelling reasons:
- Elliot's story has always been about his mental illness; having him committed to a psychiatric facility either voluntarily or by Darlene fits the events of “eps1.9_zer0-day.avi”, and is in line with his ongoing arc.
- “eps2.0_unm4sk-pt1.tc” picks up one month after the 5/9 hack. Under what circumstances would Elliot have been caught, tried and imprisoned, and have been there long enough to have settled his routine in one month? It's far too fast.
- He views his confinement in terms of a safe metaphor: home. A prison? Never. A hospital where they're helping him with the problem that frustrated and frightens him (and he is afraid), yes. But that it's his mother's home, suggesting an element of self-imposed punishment.
Elliot's mother is the key, and this is where the flawed assumption comes in. Most theorists are making her fit the prison guard model to make the prison explanation work, and certainly there are women prison guards, but only in women's prisons. But if we think about the most traditional role a woman would take given the scenario we have, it's simple, and up to now, completely overlooked: his mother is a psychiatric nurse, possibly a Nurse Ratched type figure (remember Esmail's love of film metaphors), which fits his abusive history with her far better than a guard. The boys on reddit never considered that, and I'd argue, missed a critical clue.
From there, it all hangs together nicely. Journaling and therapy groups are common in psychiatric hospitals. Hot Carla's behavior is typical of a psychiatric patient. Krista is still seeing Elliot, however reluctantly; she wouldn't be able to in prison. Elliot's committing himself might have been predicated on his continuing access to Krista if that's the way it went. It would also explain the changes to her office: it's Elliot is attempting to reconstruct details of little consequence to him from memory.
One last factor: Ray. Easy. He's a staff therapist. He knows a lot about Elliot from his file, and is trying to form a therapeutic relationship with him. It's not unusual that mental patients will see more than one therapist, often a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist or a psychiatric social worker. If Krista is Elliot's psychiatrist, Ray is one of the others. It's also not unusual to use dogs for therapeutic reasons. They're even called therapy dogs. Ray knows Elliot had Flipper, making his dog a potential way in.
Works for me. Now, let's see how much we're overthinking it all, and how much we're being lead down the garden path.