I was moderating a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival with Mr. Robot cast members Rammi Malik, Carly Chaikin and Christian Slater, as well as technical show writer Kor Adana, and I asked how many easter eggs they hid in the show. I assumed, and Adana confirmed, that E Corp SVP Tyrell Wellick is an homage to Blade Runner’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell, creator of the human replicants, whose company motto is “More human than human.” (That’s also the name of a White Zombie song, but I digress.) The allusions and Easter eggs don’t stop there: The video games in the Cony Island El Dorado Arcade are all named after various hacking teams, like the Lizard Squad. In hacking scenes if you freeze frame you can find references to real IP addresses, and if you go there you can find real-life puzzles. You are watching the show, but you’re surrounded by invisible details. You’re encouraged to peek around corners and pull at the threads.
Last week I predicted things would start going badly for the hacking crew known as fsociety, and I was wasn’t disappointed. When the phreaker character Romero is found dead and an incompetent computer forensics team triggers a self-destruct device inside his computer I smiled. Talk about anti-forensics! I’ve known hackers who have actually built such panic devices. One real-life hacker, Zoz, gave a talk at DEF CON demonstrating all the ways to quickly destroy a hard drive, from drills and explosives to thermite and rifles. Fun stuff—but it’s better to never produce the evidence in the first place.
Too bad Romero wrapped his mom’s glassware with his computer printouts and a party flyer. That mistake leads an FBI agent to the cursed arcade where fsociety planned and executed the attack against E Corp. That mistake of leaving printouts, notes and other incriminating stuff lying around is really common, despite two decades of Law and Order episodes. When I was young I referred to this as the “Bust Me Book” because every time someone got raided it seemed like exhibit A was a book full of incriminating access codes, credit card numbers and user accounts. I get it: You can’t keep that stuff all in your head. You gotta write down your world domination plans. Unfortunately for you, it makes for great reading by the local prosecutor.
The panic and paranoia suffered by the rest of the fsociety crew can only get worse, especially once they realize the feds are getting close and Elliot is nowhere to be found. Who will crack first? Who can you trust? A hacker I knew of ended up quitting because worrying about all the ways he could get busted was burning an actual hole in his stomach. He was “popping Zantac like Tic-Tacs,” and they weren’t working anymore. Like some immune system response, his body forced him to quit hacking illegally.
Elliot tries to self-medicate Mr. Robot out of the picture with a six-day Adderall binge, ultimately crashing in an orgy of code, glitch imagery and Windows 95 tones. “I’m crashing. Next my consciousness will go.” Cinephiles: Is this ringing a bell? When David Bowman pulls the circuit boards out of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the computer monotones, “I’m afraid, Dave…Dave…my mind is going…I can feel it.” When Elliot finally comes off his high, he goes on an epic anti-religion rant in an attempt to regain his agency. “All we are to them are paying fan boys of their poorly written sci-fi franchise…” Here I’m sensing a reference to the writings of L. Ron Hubbard, which led to the creation of Scientology, which led to the creation of the group Anonymous, which protested them, which led to the Guy Fawkes masks for anonymity, which is all similar to the hacking collective fsociety and their Monopoly-man masks, which are currently going for as little as $6.60 on eBay…