Mr. Robot Eps2.2 and Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, a Trip to the Depths
In Sam Esmail’s killer start to Season_2.0, Mr. Robot succeeds at expressing cinematic genius and narrative prophecy. Esmail’s intimacy with the production of the show pays off in seamlessly executed episodes and a greater narrative arc communicated through every minute detail of dialogue, framing, lighting, and sound design.
Mr. Robot Season_1.0 was no one-hit-wonder. The fanatic sensation of living within brink-of-insanity mind performing contemporary acts of societal heroism paralleling real-world networks like Anonymous, fighting parallels to real-world corporations, like Bank of America, Enron, and so on, is nothing less than thrilling. Its real world symbols allow the show to speak so fluidly in open criticism to contemporary societal structures that it almost feels like it should be illegal (wait, we still have freedom of speech, don’t we?).
But now that these themes have captured our attention, how will Sam Esmail maintain, and take further the depth of meaning and narrative significance he gave us with Season_1.0, throughout Season_2.0? Can we trust Sam Esmail to take us farther into Elliot’s journey for reasons that are just as important as in Mr. Robot’s first season, and not just for continued income after a successful smash hit? Watching a multi-season series means putting our pliable minds and hearts in the hands of writers, directors, and producers who we probably don’t know personally. There is a trust assumed to these creators that we, the viewers, sign up for as soon as we become mentally entranced by the series.
There is no way of knowing until the end of the entire series if we should trust the story, but from what I’ve seen thus far, I’ll gamble to trust Sam’s mind and directorial drive. Though his characters are dynamic and complex, his message is bold and thought out in full depth; after all, Sam edits episodes himself.
So what about eps2.2, which aired July 27th? Boring? Slow? Lacking serious plot movement? Have you lost trust in Sam’s motives? No fear. Sam did not lose touch with his creative genius and create an episode that falls short in any way; eps2.2 drops Elliot and his viewers into the deep dark, a slow and drawn out trip to the depths where temptation and death, and the potential to willingly void one’s own existence torture us for a period of time that deserves at least one episode. Darlene, Elliot’s sister (played by Carly Chaikin) says to Elliot, “…in this day and age it’s sicker not having panic attacks,” in response to his questioning her own mental health. Though Esmail’s choice of lighting is often quite moody and natural, his dark style was accentuated in this episode, in which many extended, two person conversations took place in barely-lit rooms. The belly of the whale; stuck in a dream; ceasing to exist. Every slow camera push, every room lit with only one cornered desk lamp, and every sardonic yet heavenly song accompaniment allows Sam to get us exactly where he needs us in order to communicate whatever it is he has ready for eps2.3 on August 3rd, and for the rest of the season.
Just like in Scorsese’s 1988 film, The Last Temptation of Christ, adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1953 book of the same name, Scorsese allowed the viewer to drop into an extended experiential pit just to pull us out again. Near the end of the film, or so it seems, the story breaks hard from Biblical narrative when Jesus, about to die upon the cross, cries out in pain, and is approached by an angel, who discredits his role as the Messiah, and who gives him freedom from death on the cross. Rather than following through with his crucifixion, Jesus (Willem Dafoe) engages the temptation of living a full life of human joy and pain, marriage, family, and daily hoo-ha, all depicted within the film. Considering Western familiarity with the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, this narrative break near the end of the crucifixion story seems to extend Scorsese’s film into overtime, allowing the viewer to durationally share Jesus’ experience in the throes of temptation. Only after this durational distress on both Jesus’ character AND the viewer did Jesus realize his desire to bring salvation to the world as God’s son, through going forward with the crucifixion. Suddenly returned to his position on the cross and Messianic role, the redemption of Jesus’ turn away from temptation brings tangible relief.
Eps2.2 brought Mr. Robot viewers into Messianic overtime, allowing us to durationally experience the distress and ruins of Elliot’s prophetically insane mind.
Elliot faces the temptation to play Mr. Robot in a “once and for all” battle to the death; a game of chess to determine whether Mr. Robot takes full control or surrenders full control of Elliot’s mind. Ray, Krista, and Leon all give Elliot different insight and advice concerning the game. “Did you know that Moses heard voices too? Abraham, John, Paul, Jesus. In fact, many prophets confess to hearing voices. People like you, what you have, it can be divinity, Elliot. If you let it.” (Ray said this to him). Elliot must weigh the voices, deciphering their application in his situation in a sub-text battle of black vs. white, good vs. evil. “What do you think? Is Ray right? Should I listen to the voice?”
Elliot, though tormented by his inner Mr. Robot, shows signs of escaping the indecision by choosing the fight, thought it may be self-sacrificial to both himself and his Mr. Robot alternative, by not destroying either. “If I do close my eyes, what is it that I picture years from now? Like Leon said, doesn’t one need to understand that before they’re ready to fight for their existence? How would my future fairy tail unfold? Will I finally connect with those I deeply care for? Will I reunite with old friends long gone? See the ones I love find true happiness? Maybe this future includes people I’d never dream of getting close to. Even make amends with those I have unfairly wronged. A future that’s not so lonely. A future filled with friends and family. You’d even be there. The world I’ve always wanted. And you know what, I would like very much to fight for it.”
Thanks, Leon (played by Joey Bada$$), for being the character who most directly leads Elliot back to his own vision. There’s no fear in risk or death when the potential reward and salvation is worth the fight. Thank you, Willem and Rami, for playing characters who figure this out before the end.