Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.

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Mr. Robot #108, “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v” by Bryce Rudow

Hannibal #311, “And the Beast from the Sea” by Charles Bramesco

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Mr. Robot – #108, “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v”

Hacking, Honeypots, and You

BY BRYCE RUDOW (@brycetrudow)

*Mr. Robot has become like LOST, with its ever-growing fanbase throwing out a multitude of competing conspiracy theories after every episode. However, since I personally find it more fun to try and piece these kinds of mysteries together myself, I’m going to be writing about the show each week with a tabula rasa# when it comes to outside information. Then, once TV Minus the TV is written, I’ll go back and do all my research and learn how off-base I was. Cool? Cool. – Bryce

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Let’s just get this out of the way: this episode, “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v,” was fantastic, possibly even the best one yet. In an interview with Grantland‘s Andy Greenwald from earlier in the summer, Rami Malek said it was all uphill after Episode 5, and dammit if he wasn’t telling the truth with that one.

But this episode was also a honeypot.

With all of the hacking and tick-tocking deadlines and risky-but-rewarded directorial decisions, you’d be forgiven if you were focused on the wrong things, but they, like the Dark Army’s attack on Allsafe, were really all a decoy for the real hack:

You.

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Everyone who has written about this show in any detail, myself included, has rhetorically wondered how this show got made, let alone ended up on USA. And it’s not just because the show lacks the ‘blue skies, better tomorrow’ feel of its network siblings, but because this show, if it knew it existed, would probably hate itself. It would hate the patronizing posters# and the out-of-touch stunt marketing campaigns# and every commercial break that interrupts its story with an ad that has us “chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate to buy shit we don’t need.”#

Basically, this show hates America in 2015.#.

In the opening scene with Darlene and Suit #1, they confront the issue dead on. Even when Suit #1 speaks on behalf of every network executive and advertiser and viewer who just wants to zone out and says, “We agreed to check politics at the door,” the show boldly continues to wonder about a hypothetical (and possible) revolution. Because it really does feel like there’s no middle anymore, it really does feel like there is just rich and poor.

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And it’s getting so bad that television characters, who rarely ever reflect the actual feelings of its viewing audience, are finally having to address our crippling economic reality. It’s either them or the government, and Bernie Sanders, the candidate who is saying all these same things, is still almost 20 points behind Hillary in the primary polls.

So what do you do when the world can’t take care of itself, when the world is filled with stupid people who think “this shit is way too heavy” this early in the morning? You trick them into hearing your message.

You wrap it in a fun story that is just similar enough to something they already know, understand, and enjoy so that they don’t get overwhelmed or turned off, but you make sure they hear what you need them to hear. That in between the Terry Colby rich and the halfway-underwater poor, there is a (relative) middle somewhere full of people who should expect more out of life than just survival. The narrative and the acting and the drama, it’s all a honeypot so that the show’s creator Sam Esmail can hack you. He knows that “corporate greed is a trickle-down desire that reaches even the bottom of the food chain,” he understands the “pathetic fable” that is the American Dream, so he’s created a fable of his own. Those that are complicit, those who aid the tyrants, those who accept the tyranny have now been warned that there is no place for them in the new order. It’s what happens when we get pushed past a certain point.

…which was also a nice overarching theme for this episode.

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Whether it be Angela ‘relaxing’ by commuting two hours from Jersey at 7am just to get in rank-and-file and be told by an instructor to stay on her tippy toes#, or Tyrell’s frayed nerves and vodka bingeing, we were treated to a wonderful display of characterization in “eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v.” Because you never really know someone until you know what kind of crazy they are underneath. Are they cute Shayla-the-morphine-dealer crazy, or are they scary stab-myself-in-the-leg crazy? These kinds of things matter because it shows us what really drives them. In the case of Shayla, it was consummate survival. In Tyrell’s wife’s case, it’s the promise of a specific future that consumes her (represented nicely by the olive-eating baby bump).

And that brings us to the craziest crazy revelation of the episode…

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Now this is why I mentioned the ‘tabula rasa’ thing in the beginning. I’m sure Reddit has already figured out every clue in this show and can definitively prove that Elliot and Tyrell are secretly AI’ed computer viruses or something#, but where is the fun in that? Instead, I have my own theory that I’m sure is probably similar to many other avid viewers’:

Darlene and Mr. Robot are Elliot’s family, but they’re also very much dead and are actually just specific parts of Elliot’s personality. Think of it like a bizarro id and ego situation.

My random bits of ‘proof’ from last night’s episode:
– When Elliot calls Darlene he says, “Darlene, she can help” as if summoning her, before explaining, “It’s hard to listen to an explanation, even when it’s from myself, especially when it’s from myself.”
– In that same scene he says, “It would be so much easier to only pay attention to her when I needed to,” meaning he understands that she is a part of him that is useful, but that he’s also not in control all the time.
– “We’re all slaves to each other’s paranoia.”
– “Do you know more than me? That wouldn’t be fair, my imaginary friend knowing more than me.”
– When Tyrell breaks down to his wife, he says “A couple of months ago I saw a tech” not “Earlier today I saw a guy who looked like a homeless version of the guy from Untamed Heart” because he was just in the limo with Elliot (Elliot knows that his ‘Mr. Robot character is the reasonable and suave one, which is who would do best speaking with Tyrell)
– When Darlene is at the pier, she’s pouty at first and feels compelled to cite her resume/skills because Elliot chose the Mr. Robot persona to talk to Tyrell and did the Whiterose meeting himself.
– Darlene even says “YOU did this. You did it…I would love to take credit on this one, but I can’t. Really, this was you.”
– All his memories of Darlene are from the age she would have been in that one picture or beforehand.
– “What else am I not remembering?”
– “I’m a ghost.”
– Once he has his mental break and has to confront rational thought, Mr. Robot magically appears and says, “I think we should talk.”

I fully admit I could be way off, but that’s the fun of this show, learning that you’ve been blinded by a myopic focus on the wrong players. But what makes this show so brilliant is that all of these twists and turns and secret revelations are all just a distraction from the real point of the show: to get you to peak over your walls, even though you’re afraid of what you might see.

That’s what this show does, it looks.

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Hannibal #311, “And the Beast from the Sea”

Got Me Again

BY CHARLES BRAMESCO (@intothecrevasse)

HANNIBAL -- "...and the Beast from the Sea" Episode 311 -- Pictured: Nina Arianda as Molly Graham -- (Photo by: Sophie Giraud/NBC)

This week’s Hannibal begins with a curiously representative one-two punch. The episode, written by Steve Lightfoot and showrunner Bryan Fuller, picks up right where last week’s installment left off, as Will drily informs Jack Crawford of Dolarhyde’s misconduct at the museum in Brooklyn:

“He ate the painting.”
“He ate the painting?”
“Ate it right up.”

It’s a rare moment of self-awareness for a show that’s often serious for a fault, the writers’ good-natured recognition of just how crazy things have gotten. In a program with Hannibal’s commitment to bizarreness and grotesquerie, eking out a laugh is sometimes as simple as stating what has just happened. But mere moments after, Will casually tosses off one of those throwaway lines that inadvertently, succinctly encapsulates the whole of the show. When he senses that Jack’s attempting to goad Will into continuing with his investigative work, he utters a phrase that contains all of the key elements that make Hannibal what it is.

“Jack Crawford, fisher of men, watching my cork move against the current. You’ve got me, again.”

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We’ll break it down piece by piece. That bit about Jack being a “fisher of men” comes right from the Bible. In Matthew 4:19, good ol’ Jesus Christ invites Andrew and Simon Peter to leave their nets behind and instead be fishers of men, an idiom for one who attempts to save the soul of those who have gone astray. In this instance, Will’s making the reference ironically — he’s had it up to here with Jack’s constant enticements to assist the FBI — but even so, obscure allusion remains the show’s lingua franca. Then comes one of Fuller’s trademark top-shelf metaphors, a comparison full of gloomily portentous gravitas that would never actually be spoken by a human being. Whether a viewer sees that as “stylized” or “overwrought” determines if they’ll be able to stay onboard the S.S. Hannibal, but either way, there’s no denying that this is extremely writerly language.

The sentence that Will almost adds like an afterthought seals this inconsequential line’s microcosmic significance. The quality of being “got” or “had” guides the show on its basest level, finding no shortage of fascination and dramatic heft in the game of mental domination and submission that cruel minds play with one another. In some instances, this feeling of being “got” can originate from within, as with Will’s indefatigable need to rid the world of serial murderers or, on a more literal level, the scaly and long-tailed demon that threatens to take over Dolarhyde’s consciousness at any moment.# Just as critically, the feeling of being got again carries its own implications about the frailty of willpower and the ease of relapse. Characters on Hannibal assume the stance of progress, of forward motion, of (as Will meekly asks at the episode’s conclusion) change, but the follow-through always poses more difficulties than simply mustering up the resolve to do so. We fall into cycles, defaulting to destructive behavior, getting got again.

It’s an outstandingly typical phrase in an episode marked by typicality. Aside from the supremely well-executed centerpiece of the episode, in which Will’s wife Molly and stepson Walter narrowly avoid an all-out home invasion from Dolarhyde that leaves Molly hospitalized, “And the Beast from the Sea” sticks generally to table-setting.

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In preparation for the final episodes of what it now appears will be the final season, they’ve got plenty of plot legwork to get done, and manage to do away with a fair amount of it in this episode. The endgame between the FBI and Dolarhyde fast approaches as Alana realizes how Hannibal has been keeping in contact with the “Tooth Fairy”, and remands him to a cell no less ornate, but decidedly less dignified. They piece together how Dolarhyde has been selecting his victims# and Will sets out on the warpath to track him down, now that his family’s been brought into it. If Hannibal was a cop drama instead of a cop drama swaddled in the gothic finery of psychological horror, this is the part where Will would turn towards the camera, his face edged with shadow, and say, “Now it’s personal.”

It’s a downtempo episode, but not one that viewers will begrudge the program at this juncture in the game. There’s some peripheral business with a pulse — Dolarhyde’s tormented refusal of Tara, despite playing into the most tired “I’ll only hurt you!” rationale, struck a chord — and the sight of Mads Mikkelsen finally rocking an updated version of the iconic facemask induced chills. For now, though, feel free to select the food pun of your choosing: “And the Beast from the Sea” is an aperitif/appetizer/amuse-bouche for a feast/feeding frenzy/sumptuous meal to come.