I received a lot of messages about the surprise canon incest in Mr. Robot, so I know a lot of you watch it, but for those of you who don’t, let me start off by recommending the show itself. It is very good. It’s smart, it’s modern and topical, it’s stylized, it is well-planned, and compelling. The incest definitely provided some impetus for me, but all the good things I was hearing is the main reason why I decided to watch, and I definitely do not regret it.
Mr. Robot has aired 8 episodes of its first season so far, two more until the finale. (It was renewed for a second season before it had even premiered.) I’m a bit wary, writing anything about such a crazy series, right in the middle of a crazy revelation, before the season finale. But… I did it anyway. I hope people looking back on this from the future will be forgiving.
It centers on Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), our narrator, a hacker who gets involved with a group called fsociety that is attempting to take down the largest corporation in the world – the corrupt E Corp. Elliot has some mental and social issues and he’s very lonely. During the day he works at a cyber-security firm with his best friend from childhood, Angela. He also has a psychiatrist, Krista, and an antagonist of sorts, Tyrell Wellick, who is an executive at the aforementioned corporation. He has a morphine addiction, and has a friends-with-benefits arrangement with his drug dealer Shayla. The rest of the cast are members of fsociety – the enigmatic Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), the saucy Darlene, and a few other quirky characters.
I usually recommend that you watch before you read spoilers, but it is truer now than it has ever been that your experience will be a lot better without being spoiled beforehand.
Spoilers for the rest of this, including an explanation of exactly what the incest is and how it happens.
So, we don’t find out about the incest until episode 8, but the relationship is a part of the show right from the start. Elliot’s parents are mentioned – his mother was…difficult (mean), and we don’t know what happened to her or where she is – and his father died of cancer that was caused/ignored by E Corp (“Evil Corp” as it is referred to in the show). But we’re not given a lot of details about exactly what his home life was like. And there’s a reason for this – Elliot is not reliable. He’s not a reliable narrator. We know he has issues – anger issues, addiction issues, socialization issues – but it’s a lot more complicated than that. He has…reality issues. Memory issues. And it turns out that he has forgotten/suppressed the memory of something pretty significant: a sister.
Now, he mentioned delusions. When he was feeling paranoid, when he noticed people watching him and following him, he would ask himself if they were delusions. But it seemed like he had them under control. Maybe they weren’t as bad as he thought. Maybe he was exaggerating. But he wasn’t. And that doesn’t really become clear until 1.08.
And the most delightful part is that he is not reminded about the existence of this sister, and we do not learn of the existence of this sister, until Elliot tries to kiss her. And this sister character is none other than Darlene.
They’ve had a very interesting relationship up until this point. Elliot notices her very particularly when they meet “for the first time”. (She makes an expression at him that is supposed to indicate something – it definitely seems like she knows him. But when you’re first seeing it you just think she’s a little odd.)
In the second episode he comes home to find her showering in his apartment.
It’s really quite clever the way they made her seem like she was just a presumptuous type of person, acting like they were already best friends and treating his life and time and possessions like they’re hers, even though they had barely met, when really it was her brother all along.
The shower scene is interesting – he’s shocked to see her there so he stares for a minute.
There’s a strange woman showering in his apartment so of course he opens the shower right up. He’s less concerned when he sees who it is, even though he doesn’t know her very well. She tells him not to stare – which is pretty great. I suppose you could say she reacts sort of like a sister would, but I don’t know. It wasn’t flirtatious but I wouldn’t say that it definitely wasn’t in the manner of someone who could potentially be a love interest someday, which is sort of the red herring that was going on with this relationship.
Also, Darlene says that she was waiting for him, and yet she leaves the bathroom door open when she takes her shower (and the shower has see-through glass doors.)
She wears her towel to his bedroom, then starts dressing in front of him, but with her back to him. And she just grabs his clothes right out of his drawer and puts them on. She jokes that her clothes have “cum-stains” so she can’t wear them, but then says she’s just washing them. Sisterly jokes, right?
He’s also staring right at her bare back as she’s putting on his clothes, and she sees this when she turns to look at him after her joke, and she doesn’t seem to care that he’s watching her dress.
She’s essentially come to retrieve him during this scene (since fsociety doesn’t communicate with each other except in person), and while they are on the subway, Elliot thinks to himself, “What the hell am I doing? This chick is out-of-her-mind batshit crazy.”
LOL. But you can imagine how she must come across to the audience, and how she must seem to him, when she’s treating him like he’s her brother and he thinks he just met her.
Their relationship “develops” lightning fast, which makes sense from her perspective since it’s just going from one day of being brother and sister to another, but for him it’s definitely unusual the way this intimacy develops. When their plans start to go wrong later on, Darlene is desperate to just accomplish anything against Evil Corp, Elliot is the only one who is able to talk her down from doing something really rash.
They really connect in that moment. And he invites her to come crash at his place (even though in an earlier episode she had asked if she could and he turned her down), and she leans on him on the subway. It’s really fascinating how so many of their scenes can be read as two potential love interests coming closer together, or as siblings.
Although there is a fun little period previous to that where he really resents the way she keeps invading his privacy (he finds her in his apartment again, and he had changed the locks to keep her out) and there’s a fun tension.
She gets angry at him for the way he’s treating her, not understanding what he thinks is going on. (During this part she also tries to get rid of Shayla, really talking down to her.)
And then comes episode 8. The fsociety project requires the assistance of some dangerous other parties, and so Darlene gives Elliot her cell number, even though that’s something that’s forbidden in fsociety in order to protect their identities if any of them get caught or hacked.
When Elliot protests about her breaking the policy: “We don’t do that”, she responds: “That’s to protect fsociety. But we need to protect each other right now.” So she sets their relationship apart – it’s different from fsociety, and it’s more important.
Elliot is very obviously touched by this. (Oh, and she also tried to give him a gun here.) He keeps looking her over all through this scene.
She also hugs him, which is unusual for Elliot. He doesn’t like being touched and everyone knows it. (I guess sex with Shayla doesn’t count?) He doesn’t narrate during this part, but judging by the look on his face, he really doesn’t mind. (This is also significant in the subway scene from the earlier episode.)
At the end of the episode, after they’ve accomplished something huge for the project, Darlene is praising Elliot and they’re both taking a moment to celebrate. Elliot smiles a lot during this scene, which is really strange.
He’s actually happy and not lonely for five minutes. Darlene tells him that he did this, and that he is going to change the world. (In Elliot’s withdrawal dream, Angela tells him that he’ll never change the world.) He tries to share the credit with her, but she won’t let him.
Then she puts her hands on his arms (which he allows, no protest), and he shifts to face her. (And you can tell he’s starting to become interested in her physically.)
Then Darlene says, “You are seriously the best person I know. You know that.”
He can’t seem to believe she’s really saying this.
And then she says, “I love you so much.” And she doesn’t say it like it’s a confession, but it’s definitely not casual at all.
And so he leans over and kisses her. Not slowly, but very quickly, which is great for us, because it means that the kiss actually happens even though Darlene wouldn’t have allowed it if she had had a chance to stop it.
I’m having trouble describing her reaction – a little angry, a little confused, I think. But anger is sort of written into her personality. It takes her a minute and then she realizes that he has forgotten who she is again. (Again!) Darlene keeps asking him who he thinks she is, and then when she’s about to say, “I’m your sister”, he’s able to finish the sentence himself. Prior to that, poor Elliot is so confused, and while he feels bad for misreading the situation and kissing her when she didn’t want to be kissed, he can’t quite understand why she’s so upset.
Except for the part where he has forgotten that she’s his sister, I really don’t blame him for kissing her. I would say he was definitely getting all the signals. I mean, this scene is carefully crafted by the director and the actors and everyone so that you want them to kiss. (Hardcore shippers who have already fallen in love with other ships aren’t going to go for it, but everyone else.) This is, of course, all in service of the OMGWTF that’s coming, but this moment still exists.
I like that they move beyond the kiss pretty quickly. Darlene is, understandably, quite upset that Elliot has forgotten her.
And he’s freaking out too much to be thinking about kissing her. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like for her. He’s been acting weird towards her for months, not showing any love towards her. And here she is, telling him how wonderful she thinks he is, and how much she loves him. Then he tries to kiss her! And then she learns he has forgotten all about her! Her own brother.
This is not ideal canon incest. It’s one-sided (although it would seem this is the first time Elliot has tried to kiss her, so she’s still in shock). Elliot didn’t even know it was incest when he leaned in to kiss her. And it could be said that his romantic feelings towards her are a confusion of his familial feelings towards her.
But here’s what I see: on some level Elliot still knows this is his sister, and he wanted to kiss her.
Also, I wanted to point out that she had just said that she loved him, in a very serious way, and his reaction is to kiss her, not run the other way.
Once Darlene has gotten him thinking about who she is, he begins to remember. It was there the entire time, the memory of her. And this episode isn’t the only indication we have of that (and I’m not including the possible hints that lied in Darlene’s odd behavior). We also have 1.04, when Elliot was going through withdrawal and has a fever dream. We don’t know it at the time, but the little girl on the scooter in the dream is Darlene. (We find this out later on when he is beginning to remember Darlene, he remembers that she used to ride a scooter in front of their house, and they’re also linked by the song Frere Jacques.) In the dream, Elliot is standing outside his childhood home (it reads “the Aldersons” on the mailbox, his last name), and Darlene is riding a scooter out front. She’s right there, even though he doesn’t know who she is, she’s still right there. He says “Hello, friend” to her, which is the title of the first episode, and refers, I believe, to the imaginary person he is narrating to. That’s an intimate relationship, Elliot and his imaginary friend, and in the dream he refers to Darlene the same way.
She responds, “But we’re not friends.” Presumably meaning, “I’m your sister.”
Their childhood house is missing (there’s a 404 error, which I think is brilliant). He asks the little girl where the house is, but she won’t answer, and instead asks him what his “monster” is. Then she hands him a key.
The key is threaded through the dream. In another part of the dream, Elliot proposes to Angela. She appears in a wedding dress, but she’s at the location where fsociety meets.
So there’s some potential Darlene/Angela confusion there, because Darlene is his most meaningful relationship at that location. (If you don’t count Mr. Robot.) Also, during this part, Angela tells him that she doesn’t want to marry him, she only said yes because he had proposed in public. Then she starts talking to him about his monster, and eventually hands him the key. Angela and Darlene are the only two in his entire crazy dream that ever did any of that. VERY INTERESTING, EH?
Elliot spends the rest of the episode freaking out after the kiss and the reveal. He leaves right away and goes home. On the subway back, a bunch of memories about Darlene come flooding back, including the thing about the scooter.
He almost remembers they used to sleep in the same bed when their mother was mean to them (no age specified lol) and a bunch of other things, like how they used to spend all day together hiding out in movie theaters. He also mentions that in the third grade she tried to run away. (Did she leave him behind?) Interestingly, in a much earlier episode, Angela mentions fantasizing about running away when she was 8, and the book From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. WHAT IS GOING ON?
And I actually love that Elliot started having romantic feelings for Darlene when she began to really act like his sister. They’ve had some interesting interactions all along, but their first major romantic-ishical “moment” was the phone number exchange scene when she acted so worried about him.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that Darlene has a love interest – Cisco. He proposed and she turned him down, but she still wants to be with him. They’re broken-up right now because she put him at risk in order to contact another hacking group that fsociety needed for the project, but I don’t think he’s gone for good. I do like Darlene and Cisco, and the relationship is both good and bad for Darlene/Elliot. Bad that she’s probably got a long-term love interest, but good that maybe a large part of the reason Darlene was so quick to reject Elliot was because she’s already in love with someone.
Obviously I don’t think Darlene/Elliot is going to happen. This show has surprised me, being on USA and everything, but that would REALLY blow my mind. But shippers gonna ship and if it’s going to be non-canon then the better the circumstances the happier we are. Angela’s a threat on that front too. Presumably she’s Elliot’s endgame love interest, if he has one, but it’d be nice if that wasn’t true (personally I’m just not into it).
Now we’re not spoon fed all the details, but it would seem that Darlene is a full-blood sister and she and Elliot were raised together. Their father died when Elliot was 8. Presumably Darlene is younger – the actress is 9 years younger and she looks younger in the picture of them as children. When Elliot went back to his apartment after realizing he had forgotten his own sister, he begins searching for all the documentation he has about his past. He finds a bunch of photographs of him and Mr. Robot, and this is when he realizes that Mr. Robot is his father. I was a little worried because Darlene wasn’t in any of the pictures, but then he pulls out one of the few ones that isn’t digital, and it’s the entire family, all 4 of them.
In the second episode he actually pulls a photograph off his shelf taken the same day, but it’s a picture of him and his mother only.
It’s the same picture. Did he look directly at this picture and not see Darlene and his father in it?
And id he hide away the pictures of his father and Darlene on purpose? In his withdrawal dream, Angela says to him that he was born only a month earlier. I’m guessing that’s when he forgot Darlene, and whatever else he did.
As for the Mr. Robot thing, I haven’t read any speculation or interviews or anything, but I am guessing that Elliot and Darlene’s father really is dead (Darlene’s desperation for the fsociety project seems like good evidence of that). I’m definitely getting Fight Club vibes. And we do know that Elliot looked in the mirror one time and saw Mr. Robot. I’m not sure of the logistics exactly, we’ve seen Mr. Robot interact with Tyrell and Darlene and others when Elliot wasn’t present (at least he didn’t appear to be present to the audience), and I believe we’ve also seen characters talk to Mr. Robot and then turn and talk to Elliot. (But maybe not. I’m rewatching a scene in ep. 2 – it’s at 21 min. of the web-dl – and Darlene is speaking to Mr. Robot, but he’s standing directly in front of Elliot, right in between them.)
I think it’s also possible that Elliot has transposed his father’s face onto Mr. Robot? Sort of like the way that whenever someone says “E Corp”, Elliot hears “Evil Corp”. I’d actually love it if Mr. Robot was their father, alive and in the flesh. But if Mr. Robot is actually Elliot, then the interactions between Mr. Robot and Darlene become VERY interesting. But we’ll wait on all that.
I don’t know what else we’re going to learn about Elliot’s mental illnesses, and why he forgot Darlene. But from a shipping perspective, it’s a pretty great headcanon that he suppressed the memory that she was his sister because of his incestuous feelings for her. But that may become incompatible with canon depending upon what we learn.
Also, the actress who plays Darlene is named Carly Chaikin, and it took me 7 episodes to figure out that she was Dalia from Suburgatory. All I could think was, “I know that’s not Kat Dennings, but is it Kat Dennings? No, of course it’s not, it couldn’t be. I know it’s not. But is it?” And then finally I got it.