Be Excellent to Each Other: Determined Optimism in ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’
One of the best TV shows these days is Mr. Robot, and last season was one of its best.
To me, the best episode of that season was episode 8 (titled “eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko”), which has a great scene where Elliot, the show’s protagonist, visits his love interest and childhood best friend Angela.
(Spoiler alerts for Mr. Robot and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are to follow.)
The shit has hit the fan. The world of Mr. Robot is falling apart in slow motion, and Elliot and Angela have a lot to do with it.
The episode begins with Elliot trying to kill himself by swallowing a bag of morphine. But this episode isn’t about Elliot killing himself; it’s about his journey back from the edge. Elliot’s suicide attempt is interrupted by a 10-year-old boy named Mohammed, and most of the episode follows the time they share together.
One of my favorite movies is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Here’s how my favorite scene goes down: Due to a misdial and a broken wibbly-wobbly antenna thingy, the time-traveling phone booth accidentally drops Bill, Ted, and the historical figures they’ve collected in the future.
Bill and Ted walk slowly out of the phone booth into a crystal, futuristic-looking room, while Socrates and Billy the Kid (two of the historical figures) peer out through the windows. It feels solemn. Guitar solos are whining in the background, a keyboard synth strikes up.
“They sure do play excellent music,” says Bill.
“Most outstanding,” says Ted.
They stand before three people — some sort of future council — floating in midair, who take off what appear to be sunglasses in awe and surprise.
“It’s you,” says the highest floating guy.
“Yeah! It’s us!” Ted responds, matter-of-factly. “Who are we?” He asks Bill in a quiet aside.
The future council strums an air guitar, and Bill and Ted do the same. More people start to walk out from hidden chambers, and it becomes clear that everyone is anticipating a speech.
The music playing in the background at this moment (“In Time” by Robbie Robb) crescendos: “Our dreams will all come true, I promise you, because I can see for miles!” Robb sings. “In time, we’ll be dancing in the streets all night. Everything will be alright!”
“What should I say?” Bill asks.
“Make something up,” says Ted.
“Be excellent to each other!” Bill declares.
The crowd nods.
“Party on dudes!” Ted exclaims.
Then Bill and Ted set off again, this moment having a quiet impact on these two shapers of the future.
“Later,” Bill and Ted say together.
“Later,” echoes everyone in the future.
There’s a popular theory that time travel is part of Mr. Robot’s plot. It’s a viable theory, I think: many of the characters reference a parallel universe or some form of time travel. And the show’s writers have nodded to Back to the Future in many episodes. Season 3, episode 8 (“eps3.7_dont-delete-me.ko”) is one of them.
Elliot takes Mohammed, the boy who unknowingly interrupted his suicide, to see Back to the Future II because it’s “Back to the Future Day” in the show’s universe. October 21st, 2015. The day when Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to the future. Everyone waiting in line to see the film is arguing about its meaning. After some back and forth, someone in the crowd provides the best answer: “It’s about how one mistake can change the world.”
When the movie’s over, Elliot goes to Mohammed’s mosque to pray with him. Then they go home.
“Elliot? Will I see you again?” Mohammed asks.
Mohammed thinks he’s asking a simple question, but for Elliot it’s existential. The kid offers Elliot a lollipop “because you said you were sick.” This simple question and gift stop Elliot from deleting himself.
But the episode isn’t over yet.
Elliot goes to see his childhood friend Angela, something he’s been avoiding. The scene is beautifully shot, cut down the center by a closed door that separates them. The two lean against it, lean against each other in a way, and Elliot just talks.
And then the song “In Time” by Robbie Robb (perhaps you remember it from the future scene in Bill & Ted) begins to play.
I had been able to hold back tears until that moment.
Thinking back on it now, I’m not sure why I cried. It was a combination of things. The song “In Time” has aged well. It’s a good song. And that scene in Mr. Robot is powerful.
But I cried because I realized that someone else, not just me, had felt the frisson of the future scene in Bill & Ted. It was like someone working on Mr. Robot had reached out into the universe of popular culture to find something specific to me.
Maybe it was Sam Esmail, the creator of the show, who decided that “In Time” should play at the end of the episode. Maybe it was a random music supervisor. It could have been a passing suggestion from an intern. Who knows? But someone out there in the universe feels the same way I do about the future scene in Bill & Ted, and they chose to use the song that plays in that scene to make a statement in an episode of Mr. Robot.
Both these scenes are about making a choice, a choice toward destined optimism. It’s a choice against the temporal mechanics we see in Back to the Future II, where one mistake changes the world for the worst. Bill & Ted and Mr. Robot are about choosing a reality where things. just. work. out.
I cried because it’s the choice I want to make. For me, for my daughters, for the world. A decision for the kind of destiny where things just work out because they were always destined to work out, kind of like Bill and Ted’s history report.
In this very particular moment, the optimism we see in Bill & Ted is what we need most.
Bill and Ted have a kind of Obama/MLK-esque perspective of time and history. They believe that progress happens, that history bends toward justice despite bad actors.
What is the opposite of dystopia where things always end in decay? What do you call a fated, inevitable paradise? Where everyone and everything is fixed? Utopia? Why doesn’t utopia sound as fated as dystopia?
What is the opposite of fatalism? What do you call a universe where entropy is undone, and chaos subsides into order and peace?
The answer is in Bill & Ted. The whole point of the future scene is that “everything will be alright”even if it will “take time.”
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is about reaching a future that works for everyone. Where the “planets are in alignment” as Rufus, played by the late George Carlin, tells Bill and Ted.
I choose to reject the idea that “one mistake can change reality.” I believe in a reality where the phrases, “Be excellent to each other” and “Party on” have a profound meaning. And I believe in a reality where the repetition of these words doesn’t diminish their meaning but strengthens it.
Be excellent to each other.
Party on, dudes.
John Beeler is a dad to three daughters, who he recently watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure with for the first time. “They thought it was OK,” he says. John thinks a lot about time travel and temporal mechanics, and he works as the label manager for Asthmatic Kitty Records. (That’s right, his boss is Sufjan Stevens!)