Our Human Error, Exposed
Episode 2.5 of Mr. Robot and what it takes to be immortal
eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc opens with an extended sequence of Elliot at a terminal, doing what he does best: hacking. By intercutting shots of real text commands, Esmail draws back the curtain on what hacking actually is. We hear about hacks all the time in the real world, but how does it happen? Did a team of Russian geniuses use supercomputers to hack Hilary’s email? What about the bandits that made away with over $65 million in Bitcoin? Surely they must have been using top-of-the-line computers, fancy applications, or at the very least needed help from other individuals or reference material.
But in Season 2 Episode 5, Elliot needs none of that. Here he is, alone at a terminal on an outdated Windows computer. No fancy applications, no scripts, no copy-paste. Nothing but the sheer capacity of his own intellect. Here is an individual exerting his will on the entire world, attacking the unassailable institutions: big banks, data warehouses, the FBI. It seems to reason that whomever can influence the machines that allow an institution to function is capable of influencing the institution itself.
I didn’t do anything harmful my first time. Just looked around, but I felt so powerful. 11 years old and in complete control of the Washington Township Public Library. Today is different — I hack the world.
In Season 2 Episode 3, eps2.1_k3rnel-pan1c.ksd, Elliot delineates an argument against the existence of God. Integral to the concept of God is that of omnipotent agency — the capacity to influence any detail of the world to his or her own vision. If we understand God as a being with this radical degree of agency, then whomever among us that can exercise the greatest range of agency is thereby the closest to godliness. Throughout history, people have tried to gain this divine power in the mortal world. Kings build empires, doctors find cures.
However, most attempts at pursing godliness have been limited by our own physical capacities. We can only be in one place at one time, only do so much in one day, but technology gives the singular individual the capacity to transcend our floppy flesh vessels. Elliot can take down the FBI from the outside-in, never stepping foot near their physical offices, never revealing any flaws of his own. As stated in the show previously, all hacks are dependent on exploits. Therefore, accruing power is as dependent on discovering the flaws of your adversaries as hiding those of your own.
eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc serves as an important reminder that in spite of the power characters accrue, they are continually bound by their own human inertia. Our human foibles stop us from executing a perfect algorithm and living an optimized life. Elliot is plagued by his affection for Angela and his desire to do good in the world. FBI Agent Dom chose her career over love. Even Whiterose, the leader of The Dark Army who hacks time itself, has an exploitation within their duplicitous identities. These character traits make us who we are, but at the same time make us vulnerable. Even just having an identity can be considered a weakness.
Whiterose, masquerading as Minister Zheng, shows Dom a painting in his home:
The artist strives to reflect the desolation and anxiety that accompanies one’s loss of identity. His message is subversive to many in our country. Nevertheless the work appeals to the masses and to the individual.
If identity is an exploitation, then it is possible to detach from identity itself. However, as Zheng describes, the process may not be always pleasant. What is the price of true anonymity? What does one sacrifice when pursuing this perfect human security? Is it right to be a Mr. Robot instead of a Mr. Human? In discarding one’s human weaknesses one discards their humanity themselves, and as Elliot continues to struggle with his decision, we too are compelled to consider our own identities.
However, humans will always have one weakness that will continue to be exploitable — mortality. eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc reintroduces the existence of physical threats in Mr. Robot’s universe of digital threats. Even though technology has given the intellectual the capacity to exert agency on their world, the universe of brutalism and violence has persisted for decades before computers. For the timeline of human history, one’s own ability to inflict physical harm on another has been the source of a natural hierarchy. The strong on top, the weak on bottom.
The electric finish to the episode reaffirms that while technology has given people like Elliot the capacity to feel like gods, they will never be gods. Even though Elliot can hack the FBI, he will never hack physical existence. Mr. Robot continually challenges our perception of the world around us — which institutions are really infallible, who really holds the power, what can the individual do in an seemingly infinite world. eps2.3_logic-b0mb.hc blows up this intellectual exercise by taking the spectator out of the macro-verse and into the micro. All the coding in the world won’t stop two brutes from beating the shit out of you. Unfortunately for Elliot, there is no form of perfect security that can help him now.