'Mr. Robot' - The 4 Hidden Quests In "Python Part 1"

"You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here."

So begins one of the most important, influential video games ever made. Infocom's Zork was birthed in an MIT lab in the late 1970s. It was released to the public as a series of text-based adventure games in the early '80s, and went on to shape much of the structure present in modern adventure and exploration games. Its enigmatic opening remains, perhaps, the greatest beginning to a video game ever made. Poor grammar aside, Zork's opening lines invite the player into a new universe built almost entirely by the player's own imagination. Where modern games max out on polygons and rendering detail and atmospheric effects to present a cinematic vision for gamers, Zork stands as a testament to the power of simple text on a screen, as well as to the underlying structures that make games work. Give the play a place to explore; set boundaries; create obstacles; leverage frustration. As you progress and fail and progress some more in search of a path to the end, the biggest question the game leave you with is, "what am I not seeing?"

It's fitting that Elliot asks himself the same thing near the end of "Python Part 1," the penultimate episode of Mr. Robot's similarly enigmatic, confounding, sometimes frustrating second season. Elliot—and not just Elliot—is searching through a dark, unknowable space, the boundaries of which keep expanding and expanding as the search carries on. At some point there might be an end, or an escape, or even just a door to some better place of the imagination. Our "hero" is caught in the second stages of an adventure. He's left the field, entered the house, found the door to a mysterious cellar, venture down and discovered the Great Underground Empire.

But what are we not seeing? 

If Mr. Robot's first season taught us the rules—how to play the game—its second season has revealed the endless possibilities the game can provide. Or, rather, that the possibilities are endless. This is a series with great ambition, but also great scope. Wide scope. In a single episode we can encounter the devastatingly real, get lost in a fever dream, and immerse ourselves in the heights of paranoid absurdity.

With "Python Part 1" in particular, Sam Esmail and company taken a long leap into the caverns of that ambition. It's as close to a mission statement as this show has ever given us, luxuriating in all those unseen possibilities, and telling us in the show's trademark roundabout way that while the season's major theme is "control," that control exists in a context. In this case, that context is an ever expanding, open-ended, perhaps bottomless cave waiting to be explored. As an audience, we're always at least partway in the dark. That's just the way it's going to be, but the meat is the process of discovery. Learning exactly what it is we are not seeing.

So let's explore the cave some more, and as always BEWARE SPOILERS!

Mr. Robot Python Part 1 Recap

The Cavern of Solitude

Mr. Robot has been a show about loneliness from the beginning. Recall Elliot in the pilot, sitting alone in his apartment, crying by himself in the corner, overcome by a spell of deep depression. In a sense, all the characters are alone in the world. Even when they've got each other, their trials are intensely personal. Elliot and Angela both lost parents, but their lives are not the same, nor are their emotional balances. They deal with the world in different ways, with Elliot inventing fantasy characters, setting, and plans to save the world. Angela, on the other hand, has invented a sense of self. This gives her a strong exterior. She's tough, but not on the inside. This leaves her with her own lonely battles.

Meanwhile, Dom is a more classically lonely figure. She lives alone with no real relationships to speak of. She goes to work, where she can banter with the best of 'em, but can't seem to form anything more than a superficial connection. She reaches out to the owner of her favorite convenience store, but it's purely a one-way relationship. In the aftermath of last week's attack on the Mexican restaurant—we still don't know if Darlene or Cisco are alive, but there's a reference to an upcoming interview that might just reveal whether they survived—Dom is in the hospital feeling utterly alone in her determination to go after the Dark Army and the Chinese government. Even her boss, Santiago, who clears the room in order to tell her that he believes her, ultimately leaves her alone in the struggle. They can't do anything anyway. She should go home.

But what's at home for her? Nothing. A shower and an empty bed. And Alexa, the Amazon personal assistant. Dom tries to engage Alexa in a conversation, asking whether the disembodied robot is her friend, and if she has a boyfriend, and if she's happy. "Alexa, do you love me?" she asks. "That's not the kind of thing I am capable of." There's a void. Something Dom cannot see, though she feels the absence. It's not clear why Dom has come to be this way, but her grasping in the dark for someone to hold on to painfully real. It's a mode Mr. Robot has explored before, but perhaps not in such a sustained, raw, unblemished way.

Mr. Robot Python Part 1 Recap

The Sword of Power

Control is the big theme we keep returning to, but adjacent to that is power. Hierarchy. Last week we got Philip Price's motivation, with his mustache-twirling soliloquy about being the most power person in any room. This week we saw him exerting that power over the U.S. treasury secretary, forcing Jack and the Obama administration into allowing E-Corp to accept a bailout in Ecoin, dollar-for-dollar pegged to the American currency. This, of course, would in essence be allowing E-Corp to create a new currency, which the secretary states is plainly unconstitutional. Price pushes back that it's the future, and furthermore, they need to beat Bitcoin, which is already becoming massively successful, and is controlled by Chinese miners. He also suggests that the U.S. government would be given a backdoor into every wallet and transaction in the world.

It's a bold play, and one that clearly works, as we witness in a news broadcast that confirms China is lending E-Corp $2 trillion in funds to bail the company out. That's what power looks like in the extreme, in Mr. Robot's world. But power bleeds through in other areas as well. From Joanna's steely self-assuredness and willingness to stop at nothing in order to find Tyrell, to Angela's work life domination. Control is so personal, but power is what give a person control over others. Elliot may have the loftiest goal of all, wanting to save the world, to save humanity. That takes a power even Price cannot imagine, for all his selfishness.

The tricky thing about power, of course, is that wielding it takes responsibility. Power can be corrupting. We see that in Price, of course. But we see it in Elliot, and Angela, and Darlene, too. These are people wrestling with the way they can exert their will on the world around them. What they've learned is that they have both more and less power than they could have imagined. Angela has the power to move up in the world, and to secure her own safety despite herself, but doesn't have the power to make serious moves–not yet, at least.

Then there's the power Whiterose has, which has taken on an almost omniscient quality, with her ability to run a dangerous hacker army, infect the Chinese government, make moves with E-Corp, stage elaborate tests of will, and appear seemingly out of nowhere. Mr. Robot is slowly leaning in her direction, spiraling into her orbit, with reality coming undone the close to her we get. That is some kind of power.

Mr. Robot Python Part 1 Recap

The Tunnel of Imagination

Possibility. Whiterose is in love with possibility. It's what her elaborate kidnapping of Angela was all about. There she is transported in the back of a truck to a sterile home in the suburbs, left to imagine what could possibly be in store for her. And that's nothing. Once in the home, she's led into a room that looks like something out of a David Lynch movie crossed with Lost. Dark wood paneling, light streaming in through ceiling windows, a red velvet carpet floor, an old desk with a Commodore computer, a red rotary phone, an 8-inch floppy disk, and a tattered copy of Nabokov's Lolita.

The door locks, leaving her to contemplate her situation, until it unlocks and a little girl walks in. "We don't have much time. Let's get started," she says. She promptly loads the disk into the computer and prompts open an old computer game called Land of Ecodelia, and begins asking Angela questions. "Have you ever cried during sex?"


The girl pushes on, telling Angela that she will be punished if Angela doesn't cooperate. She shows Angela the scars on her back. Angela begins answering the questions. What is going on? Mr. Robot has given us some strange stuff before, but this is on another level of strange. Unreal, but not in the usual Fight Club psycho-twist manner. This is Twin Peaks stuff.

Finally she gets to the last question. "Is the key in the room?" Angela doesn't know. The girl presses her. Then the phone rings. The girl hands it to Angela, and on the other end is a computerized voice.

"You are standing in a dark room and can't see anything. There is a torch and a match. What do you do?"

It's a game. A text adventure. Angela plays along, and finally understands, the key is in Lolita. Or, rather, it's a reference to Lolita. "The key was in my fist. My fist was in my pocket." The game is over. The girl leaves Angela to wait several more hours as the fish tank beside her slowly drains of water.

Finally it's empty, and the door unlocks. In walks a woman with blue nail polish, lighting a cigarette. Whiterose sits in front of Angela, and the two begin to have a conversation about what Whiterose needs from Angela, which in simple terms is to stop what she's doing in attempting to bring down E-Corp or investigate the Washington Township Plant. Angela is willing to give her the drive with all the information, but that isn't enough. Whiterose intends to break Angela's need to push the issue at all. She tells Angela that her mother died for a reason. She also tells Angela about the nature of possibility, the endless possibility represented by a door waiting to be opened. She tells asks Angela if she believes that she can will things into reality. Angela tells her that she used to, but that's not the real world. "Well, I guess it all depends what your definition of real is."

The next we see of Angela, she's gone to her lawyer to tell her to drop the case and never call her again. Something has shifted. Angela's conversation with Whiterose was meant to last 28 minutes. We didn't see all 28. What happened in the remaining time is just another intriguing variety of possibilities.

Mr. Robot Python Part 1 Recap

The Pit of Mindfulness

Elliot has taken Angela's advice to heart. He can't trust Mr. Robot, but he also can't let Mr. Robot just do what ever he wants. He needs to approach this sideways, and that's when he remembers his friend Sam (ha), who used to be able to induce a kind of lucid sleep by repeating a phrase. "Mind awake. Body asleep." He invites us to join him, as the picture fades out and we enter the world of Mr. Robot. What a way to open an episode.

When we finally return to Elliot, after Angela's strange Whiterose meeting, we find Mr. Robot up and at it, finding a takeout menu on the floor, with ciphers written all over it. He goes to the computer to decode, and Elliot watches. We do it. We are now the observers, as Elliot says, able to watch Mr. Robot work on his own. He decodes the message that leads to a phone number. He calls the number and gets an address to meet at.

Elliot follows him there, but loses him. Then he realizes that, of course, he is Mr. Robot, so he needs to go forward himself. He spots a taxi and opens the door. The driver inside already knows his name. He's there for Elliot. Elliot gets in, but when the driver asks for the destination, Elliot doesn't know. Then another man gets in, and the look of shock on Elliot's face was a dead giveaway.

Tyrell Wellick. The one and only.

He gives the driver the destination, and the start moving. But Elliot is still processing. He doesn't know what to believe anymore. "What am I not seeing?"

Elliot asks the driver if he can see Tyrell, too, but the driver gets weirded out. Elliot starts freaking out, raising his voice while Tyrell tries to quiet him. Finally the driver kicks them out of the taxi.

"Enough of these games. We're close," Tyrell says. But Elliot doesn't know what he's talking about. The Dark Army has apparently informed Tyrell that Stage 2 is ready, and that Elliot will be pleased when he sees it. "It worked, Elliot. It's up to us now. Let me show you." And the two walk off, with Tyrell quoting the ending of Casablanca.

Mr. Robot Python Part 1 Recap

Stray Thoughts

  • Excellent use of "Earth Angel" there at the end, of course in reference to Back to the Future II, Elliot's favorite movie.
  • Speaking of great use of music, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" playing on the car stereo as the van Angela is trapped in drives up to the suburban home is wonderfully disquieting
  • We got one scene with Joanna, but it doesn't pay off. I suspect it's a casualty of having split the finale into two parts, so I look forward to seeing how she intersects with the story next week.
  • Are you a giraffe, or a seagull?