TV Minus the TV: Mr. Robot is the best show you’re not watching and Hannibal gets all in the family
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 #106, “eps1.5br4ve-trave1er.asf” by Bryce Rudow
Hannibal #309, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” by Charles Bramesco
Mr. Robot – #106, “eps1.5_br4ve-trave1er.asf”
The Power of the Inhuman Spirit
BY BRYCE RUDOW (@brycetrudow)
Mr. Robot is the best show on television right now.
It’s only six episodes in, so you’d be excused if you haven’t heard of it yet. And it’s on USA, which is an even better excuse to not have heard of it. But like anyone else who has pimped this show, I have to emphasize that it’s not like those USA shows. With a complete absence of blue skies and brighter tomorrows, it’s gloriously out of place on the same network that numbs its audience with Suits# and Royal Pains.
Wikipedia describes it as a “cyberpunk–thriller drama,” but I’ve found an easier elevator pitch is “it’s The Matrix meets Fight Club.” A hacker with crippling social anxiety is tapped by a mysterious hacker group led by the even more mysterious Mr. Robot who wants take down the seemingly omnipotent E-Corp, only our hacker protagonist is also a morphine addict who suffers from delusions and none of this might be real. Sounds a bit trite when I write it out like that, but trust me, the phenomenal writing, directing#, and acting make up for any reliances on pre-existing narratives. Hell, the pilot premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival and won the Audience Award for episodic television, and if you can’t trust SXSW to be hip and relevant who can you trust?
But for anyone who has already had the keen sense to jump on this show’s bandwagon (about 2 million each week to get Nielseny), let’s get to last night’s episode…
That opening scene was a doozy, and it was a pleasant reminder of a major theme of not just this episode but Mr. Robot as a whole. To quote Elliot himself:
Nothing is actually impenetrable…If you can hack the right person, all of a sudden, you have a piece of powerful malware. People always make the best exploits.
Elliot wore his vulnerability (Shayla) like a neon sign screwed into his head, and Vera was able to take advantage of that, which is what makes Vera such a dangerous antagonist.
Where Tyrell Wellick is the (relatively) white-hat hacker foil to Elliot’s anarchist black hoodie, Vera represents Elliot’s weaknesses personified. Elliot can hack any computer and he can even hack the right human if given the right code (see: Bill at Steel Mountain, Isaac), but as Elliot said early on in the episode, Vera is inhuman. In fact, Vera even goes so far as to call himself “a spirit, one with all the heavens” when he finally leaves Elliot to discover what happens at the end of a zero-sum game.
In that moment where the camera holds steady and we’re frozen watching Elliot react to Shayla’s body in the trunk, we’re reminded that all those deus ex machina hacks that can turn cell phones into spectrum spies and that can unlock entire prisons are all for naught when there are “a powerful group of people out there that are secretly running the world.” All those unbelievable technological tiny victories are red herrings that make that sucker punch of a narratively-realistic ending land even harder.
The only consolation we’re really left with is that for anyone who believes in superheroes, this is one hell of an origin story catalyst. It could be show creator Sam Esmail ‘playing his best move’ to get us from Point A to Point F Society Going Gangbusters, and I’m very excited at the thought of a vengeful, recently-sober Elliot hacking names and asking questions later.
Hannibal #309, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…”
Reach Out, Touch Me, I’m Right Here
BY CHARLES BRAMESCO (@intothecrevasse)
The titles of this week and last week’s episodes seemed to suggest some kind of complementary companionship between the two hours. Last week’s “The Great Red Dragon” as well as “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” both form the full title of the William Blake painting over which our fascinating new villain Francis Dolarhyde has become obsessed. Discounting the semantic confusion over including ellipsis at the end of the second part of the full title instead of the first, an enterprising analyst could be forgiven for assuming that the episodes would form some kind of diptych.
They don’t, because this week’s episode has plenty of its own ideas to bat around. A re-reunited Hannibal and Will exchange plenty of words about the ties that bind families together, but that’s only a single dimension of the hour’s primary thematic concern. In a broader sense, “And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…” fixates on the delicate intimacy between lonely souls in search of a kindred. While the family is the most familiar unit by which an individual can dispel the mere darkness of loneliness and alienation, Hannibal finds unlikely bonds between work acquaintances, ex-lovers, and however we may characterize the fraught relationship between Hannibal and Abigail. (Something between “surrogate daughter” and “homicidal mentee”.)
Last episode saw the wordless introduction of Richard Armitage as Francis “The Tooth Fairy” Dolarhyde. Though that vow of silence was initially a strong method of diminishing the villain’s accessibility, turning him into the inhuman murderous force he dreams of becoming, to further develop as a character, he had to speak sooner or later. In a finely-wrought and surprisingly well-acted B-plot, showrunner Bryan Fuller reveals the man behind the oversized bite marks and, lo and behold, he’s stricken with the same abiding isolation that plagues the rest of Fuller’s dramatis personae. His belief that his true form is that of a dragon trapped in the impotent flesh-prison of his human body# has done a number on his mind, but beyond compelling him to commit murders so that he might vicariously see his own humanity in that of his victims (hence the carefully placed mirrors in the eyes, mouth, and private bits), it’s made him a hard, sad man.
With rare gentleness, Fuller plays out an interaction between Dolarhyde and his blind coworker at the film-processing lab, played by True Blood alumna Rutina Wesley. She offers to use her blindness to process his special digital photographs in complete darkness, so that the exposure doesn’t suffer from light pollution. It’s the rare gesture of kindness and decency that pops up on Hannibal just frequently enough to ensure that the audience’s faith in humanity’s fundamental goodness has not been completely degraded. They share a moment of true-blue intimacy tempered by the insecurity that drives Dolarhyde’s killings when she reaches out to touch his face so that she might feel if he’s smiling — I defy you to conceive of a more innocent, pure expression of the desire for a connection — and he rebuffs her, flatly intoning, “Trust me, I’m smiling.” He isn’t, but he doesn’t want her to know that. He would like very much to share in this flash of vulnerability, but he doesn’t quite know how.
Elsewhere, the gulfs separating characters from the people around them shift, widening and contracting. Will and Hannibal continue their years-long dance of death, with Hannibal capitalizing on the evident phoniness of Will’s painfully constructed domesticity. Hannibal goes so far as to drop the actual f-bomb, saying, “Family values have declined over the last half century but we still help our families when we can. You are family, Will.” Here, ‘family’ acts as a catchall for a far more primal sort of basic connection. Hannibal thinks of Will as family, but that could mean anything from a surrogate son to a brother to a lover. Theirs is a bond that English has no word for, something that spans deeper than the bonds of family, goes darker than the plane of friendship, and is too fueled by mutual animosity to be fairly labeled a romance. In his dynamic with the dearly departed Abigail, Hannibal had found someone he could actually care about. One of this week’s standout scenes sees Hannibal and Abigail carefully faking the scene of a murder by pumping her blood all about the room. It’s as paternal as we’ve seen Hannibal get, giving her pointers on proper spatter distribution like a proud dad teaching his little girl how to ride a bike. We all know how she ended up, and this is the sad truth of Fuller’s universe on Hannibal: death is the fate of things we allow ourselves to grow attached to. Abigail’s in the ground, so all that’s left to do for Hannibal is worm his way back into Will’s life, the point of entry being his susceptible brain.
There was no especially natural way to integrate this into the flow of the review, but hey, how about Hannibal’s scene with Alana? She makes the mistake of saying, “I love a good finger-wagging,” leaving Hannibal open for the ultimate lay-up of “Yes, and how is Margot?” Is this the finest lesbian-sex double entendre in network TV history? Yes, yes it is.
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