Screen: USA

Love On A Real Train

Sarah D. Bunting digs Mr. Robot's deep cuts.

One of the things I enjoy about Mr. Robot is its references. What I may enjoy most is that I can't entirely tell whether a given reference is intentional or not, at times, or if it's just my list of references that informs what I see in the show, and how. One I can't imagine is intended is Rami Malek's resemblance to my esteemed colleague John Ramos; I wouldn't call Malek a dead ringer -- Juanito has more of a Bafflecky thing going on -- but Juanito used to have that very haircut, and Elliot often stares at nothing in particular in the middle distance, either effortfully trying not to call someone an idiot or searching for how best to call someone an idiot. I have seen that look many times (and not infrequently been the idiot), and the similitude may only please me and the other peeps in the audience who know John Ramos personally, but please me it does.

Also pleasing: "eps.1.4_3xpl0its.wmv"'s Ocean's 11 vibe. I've watched that flick several hundred times and I still hold my breath a little when Livingston Dell is lost in the employees-only hallway because he's sweated off the map he drew on his hand. Elliot is a cooler customer, but the overall caper vibe of the assault on Steel Mountain appeals to me -- one of the same reasons I like Alias (Flinkman 2016) and Veronica Mars and the early seasons of White Collar. Watching a short con succeed while the team in the van is almost literally sweating bullets is one of my favorite narrative-consumption experiences.

I like Tyrell Wellick's unflappable and unapologetic twistedness (reminds me of Mads Mikkelsen's Euro-cool aspic-rendering-of-a-human Hannibal Lecter). I like Mr. Robot's assumption, a la The Wire, that the viewer who cares to can keep up. And I especially liked the use of "Love On A Real Train" by Tangerine Dream to score the last scenes of "eps.1.4_3xpl0its.wmv."

I kept thinking of Jonathan Bernstein's description of the original scene the song scored in Risky Business -- hooker Rebecca De Mornay giving Tom Cruise's entrepreneurial "man-dam" Joel a freebie on the El -- in his fantastically rereadable Pretty In Pink: The Golden Age Of Teenage Movies, the way he described De Mornay as a "frosty Hitchcockian blonde" whose chilliness is mirrored by the icy blasts of TD synth there and elsewhere on the soundtrack. In its way, Risky Business is a quintessential '80s movie -- it's a twist on a mismatched-buddy caper, it prizes ruthless capitalistic innovation, absent parents fuel its plot engine, and it contains Curtis Armstrong -- and if you swap in J.D. for Booger, you could say all of those things about Mr. Robot. There is a system to be gamed, so to speak, in both: Princeton admissions (and pimp vig); data storage. There is a battle against monopolistic power and influence that aspires to those things even as it turns them against themselves.

There is the fantasy/wish fulfillment of getting a sex worker to fall for you, or at least see you off-book...or to save the princess (Shayla) and leave the wicked kingdom (Evil Corp) in ruins. The Risky Business reference works, for me, because the parallels exist, but (movie title aside) aren't too exact or on the nose. Maybe it's intentional; definitely it doesn't matter. Time of your life, huh kid?

Update: The clip above features a Kristian Wallstedt remix of the TD track; you can find it on Happy listening!
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