Mr Robot 3.2 – Legacy

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Episode three of this season, titled ‘Legacy,’ takes us back in time in order to fill in some of the details leading up to Elliot’s incarceration in season two. It begins in the dimly-lit carnival atmosphere of the Eldorado Arcade – where FSociety originated – with Elliot (Mr Robot) and Tyrell examining the 5/9 hack that brought E Corp to it’s knees at the end of season one. With another clever ‘cowboy switch’ that visually communicates that Mr Robot is currently in the driver’s seat, we witness a confrontation between Mr Robot and Tyrell that illustrates a deeper emotional disturbance in Tyrell than we may have previously realized. The late night meeting, however, is interrupted by the series’ newest enigmatic character, Irving, and two of his henchmen.

“If you‘re seein‘ me, that means you boys fucked up.”

Presumably, this is some of the earliest contact Irving ever makes with Mr Robot, and it illustrates why Irving was so confused when Elliot didn’t recognize him when they met at The Red Wheelbarrow at the beginning of the season.

Irving is a masterful character that communicates – both to Mr Robot and to the audience – how much reach Dark Army truly has; it has eyes and ears everywhere and Stage Two has yet to be initiated. Tyrell is forced into hiding, guarded by Dark Army acolytes at a remote cabin in the woods, divorced from all of his contacts. Elliot is sentenced to eight months in jail for harassing his therapist’s boyfriend and Whiterose, during a private briefing, expresses his intention to pull the right strings to help manipulate Donald Trump into the Oval Office.

The play-by-play of much of the episode is unimportant. What is important are the details and character development. We begin to dig into the psychology of Tyrell Wellick, whose fanatical devotion to Elliot hinges on the disturbing. We witness the button-down demeanor of Tyrell shift to a wild-eyed frenzy, believing he is a demigod. We also see vulnerability in Tyrell when he expresses that he needs to “look good for Elliot,” when he admits that he is afraid he will become like his father, and when we see Irving begin to serve as something of a father figure to him out in the woods. Beyond all of this making Tyrell more three-dimensional and relatable, this also begins to humanize Irving who – up until this point in the season, at least – has only ever appeared calculated, methodical, cold, and threatening.

And if we pay close attention, there is one huge things missing from this episode: notice that Elliot is not narrating this episode, which is a significant departure from the show’s format. The result is that the audience feels more distant from the characters and events (especially Elliot), and adds to the cloak-and-dagger mystery tone of this season.

As each of the show’s central characters become increasingly aware of Elliot’s dissociative personality, Elliot himself becomes increasingly distant from the audience. As more of Elliot’s associates begin to navigate his dual personas, chances are good that Mr. Robot’s world is going to change, too. Last week we saw how Mr. Robot reacted to losing control over Elliot; moving forward, it’s easy to assume that this nervous rage is going to have real-world consequences, especially as Stage Two is implemented.

This television show has woven a complicated tapestry, constructing intricate connections between hacktivists, corporate executives, political opponents, economic balance, and organized & corporate crime. Mr. Robot is expert in revealing enough information to prevent the audience from feeling overly manipulated while simultaneously keeping us in the dark enough to keep guessing. That’s the strength of the show; we know that everything is connected, but aren’t quite sure how or why. All the while, the story is slowly unfolding, slowly filling in the blanks.

The split personality trope is still a shaky one, but it’s being handled with a unique finesse that hasn’t yet threatened to injure the overall narrative. ‘Legacy’ has certainly upheld the mystery and intrigue of Mr. Robot, and it’s certainly clear that there will be many more surprises down the road.

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Mr Robot 3.1 – Undo

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“You know when you fuck something up and you wish you had the power to hit ‘undo’? Like when you say the dumbest thing in front of your biggest crush? Or when you talk shit about your boss in an email and then hit ‘reply all’ to everybody at work?”

“We all have those days.”

Such is the way episode two begins, with an upbeat INXS song (“New Sensation”) and a montage of Elliot’s new routine at E Corp. Our unreliable narrator is hopeful that he can undo the damage he’s done, undo the hack. We see the painful virtual tours and corporate training videos he has to endure at his new job – the security checks and card swipes, the idiot greasy co-worker objectifying women and the other elements of his morning routine.

The beginning of this episode is rhythmically interesting. In many ways it mimics the Aronofski cut that was established in Requiem For A Dream – shirt, pill, train, turnstile, swipe the I.D. card, hit the elevator. All fast cuts. All on repeat. And we listen to upbeat ’80s music and watch Elliot slowly chip away at the senior staff members of E Corp.

Each iteration of the routine ends with Elliot in the middle of a presentation – about cost, efficiency, and security. And each roll-coll introduction of a new “upper-middle” manager reveals a lazy, distracted, arrogant, ignorant, and unconcerned corporate shill – fiddling with their smart phones, ignoring the presentation, interrupting the presentation because they’re bored.

“I’ve got a soul-cycle class I’m late for. Let’s pick this up sometime…next quarter?”

The beginning of this episode has the stains of American Psycho all over it, right down to the ’80s music, the polished surface of corporate America, and the roiling ocean of distraction and discontent beneath the surface. At the end of each cycle, we see that Elliot has managed to remove another corrupt manager; the space-bar click sound effect machine-guns the exit of corrupt corporate leaders – the sub-prime scammers, pension embezzlers, ponzi schemers, and sexual harassers.

Until he finally gets a receptive audience who gives him what he wants: the digitization of all corporate records.

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The first act is the most important. Elliot grinds through the days until he gets what he needs in order to try and begin reversing the damage he has done. Act two finds Elliot speaking with Krista, his therapist, who later recognizes his dissociative personality and seizes an opportunity to speak directly with Mr. Robot. Little comes of the conversation; the audience watches Krista come to terms with truths that the audience is already aware of.

Copycat organizations begin masquerading as F-Society and the noose tightens around Darlene. A currency war is introduced, presenting the tired notion of an “America Versus China” conflict. Joanna, manipulative and beautiful as she is, dies at the hands of her lonely and jealous lover, leaving her blood-stained infant wailing in the back of a car. No character shows remorse, even with the presence of the crying child, and I don’t believe the audience really cares, either. The woman was something of a robot herself.

Obviously Mr. Robot is building tension and stacking pieces together; long-form narrative is chess, not checkers, slow and patient strategy, rather than impulse. But there is absolutely nothing about this episode that stands out. Elliot crazy. China bad. Crazy wife dead. Audience not surprised.

Perhaps this is an insulting analysis. Maybe this is all building toward something more. But for now, I find myself not giving a single f*** about any of these characters, what they’re doing, or the world they live in. The story is pregnant with intrigue but lacks sympathetic characters. Let’s hope something changes.

Let me know in the comments what you think. I’d be curious to know.

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February 20, 2017 – Analogue Landscapes of the Digital

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This is probably my favorite thing about photography – it’s a tool that lets the photographer share images with the world that would otherwise remain in the shadows, ignored, misunderstood, or unrecognized. This is a photograph of the metal casing and interior parts of a computer hard drive. The steel case has corroded from humidity, giving it an organic and interesting texture, and edits have been made to the color.

There is a whole world that exists in our bedrooms, in our pockets, inside our car doors. We never see what’s inside of our television, and we usually don’t question how the light-emitting diode actually functions, even though we’re obsessed with all of the flickering screens in this modern world competing for our attention.

This image is a meditation on that invisible world.

“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”
Matt Hardy

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February 15, 2017 – The Circuit

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This is a completely synthetic landscape, the subject matter based on function over form. Whoever designed this circuit board was focused on making the disc drive it was a part of to function properly – they weren’t interested in inspiring aesthetic interest from a photographer like me. For whatever reason, though, there’s an elegant beauty here. Most of my macro photography focuses on raw textures and plants – stones and concrete, flowers and insects.

But I find something incredibly inspiring by images like this.

To me, this type of image represents possibility. It’s a representation of human creativity.
I hope you like it.

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February 14, 2017 – The Rose

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What else but a flower would work for Valentine’s Day?

I’ve never really been interested in this holiday. External pressure to shell out some cash to show your significant other that you love them – as though it wouldn’t be more spontaneous and romantic to do that on any other day of the calendar year. I’ve never had much luck with this holiday, and never much appreciated long lines at restaurants and the procession of perpetually dissatisfied partners; when expectations are artificially inflated by marketers, it’s hard to clear the bar.

Maybe that’s just me, though.

This year was a little different, I must admit. My lovely girlfriend seems to share my attitude toward Valentine’s Day, which is a first. We both had to work today, and we both seem to feel the same about crowded restaurants and bullshit expectations. We spent some quiet time together and watched a couple of movies, and I had the best Valentine’s Day I think I’ve ever had as an adult.

This image is one of her favorites from my archive, so it makes perfect sense to share it all with you today. I hope you like it and, despite my antipathy, I wish you all a Happy Valentine’s Day!

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How Gamers Won The Format War

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We all know who was victorious; the war was won almost a decade ago. There was a time, though, when two forces were vying for market share in what would become the next physical home media format. In the end, it all came down to movie studio support and the consumer electronic industry. What many people don’t know is how hard-fought the battle actually was, and the fact that a little black box developed by Sony Computer Entertainment dealt the most significant blow.

The seeds of the burgeoning format war began much earlier, but those seeds only began to take root in the summer of 2005. A discussion began around this time to develop a unified format, and the format war began in earnest when HD-DVD approached the BDA (the Blu-ray Disc Association) to combine efforts in developing these new technologies. When Toshiba and the HD-DVD camp insisted on too many changes to the format developed by the BDA, nascent cooperation transformed overnight into outright competition.

Paramount and Warner – two studios who had initially expressed interest in HD-DVD – were the first major entities to frustrate the competing formats by abandoning exclusivity, opting rather to release titles in both formats. Netflix also chose ambivalence over risk, announcing intentions to make titles available in both formats. At this stage, Universal Studios was the only major studio that remained solely in the HD-DVD camp.

Both formats were showcased at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. HD-DVD appeared to have a significant time advantage, with an earlier release date by a two-month margin, but many tech-industry insiders lauded Blu-ray’s substantial capacity advantage. At the end of this run, there were a handful of malfunctions with both formats upon their initial release. HD-DVD hardware was recalled and Blu-ray titles presented atrocious film transfers and had significant audio playback issues. Replacements were ordered and film transfers had to be re-coded and discs replaced. These seem to be minor and forgivable missteps with first-gen products, but neither format gained significant foothold.

The true game changer? Gaming consoles.

In November 2006, Sony Computer Entertainment released the Playstation 3. Consumers balked at the $499 price-tag, the highest ever seen on a gaming console. They were also skeptical about the Playstation’s abilities as a Blu-ray player. Keep in mind that playing movies on a gaming console was a new and foreign concept. Playstation’s Blu-ray player ultimately proved to be the most affordable at that time, and out-performed other hardware options. The X-Box 360 – Microsoft’s competing console – required a $199 add-on to achieve what the Playstation had accomplished at the time of its release. The Playstation 3 outsold Microsoft’s add-on five-to-one. The impact of the Playstation 3 influenced the format wars magnificently.

During the lead-up to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2008, the two formats still appeared to be somewhat evenly matched, but many rumors abounded that major studios were preparing to drop the HD-DVD format. Just before the show, Warner dropped HD-DVD. Toshiba did not fire back in defense of their flagging product, but instead canceled their showcase altogether. After the Consumer Electronics Show Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart, all within a week of one another, also dropped HD-DVD.

The Playstation 3 and its owners are responsible for Blu-ray’s victory. Playstation 3 owners were buying Blu-ray movies. Their purchases accounted for a small fraction of home movie purchases, but it was enough to convince major movie studios that the Blu-ray format had the greatest potential. Additionally, the BDA was willing to offer anti-piracy features like BD+ and region coding, industry-protecting features that were left unaddressed by Toshiba. The intent of BD+ was written specifically to prevent unauthorized copies of Blu-ray discs and the playback of Blu-ray media on unauthorized devices. This technology, even today, has proved to stem the tide of pirated high-definition media compared to older formats like DVD.

Certainly, the competition between red (HD-DVD) and blue (Blu-ray) motivated improvements on the winning format. Many pieces of hardware, and a variety of major movie studios, preferred to remain purple during the competition, but one would inevitably win-out. Toshiba mounted a noteworthy effort, and forced the BDA to focus on transfer quality and authoring, intellectual property protections, and price reduction on hardware. Gamers and home-video film geeks responded to the BDA’s improvements and adopted the Blu-ray format, eventually closing the chapter on the debate between HD-DVD and Blu-ray.

Never underestimate the power of gamers. The video game industry has surmounted Hollywood in earned revenue, and the interactivity of game-based story-telling is catching the attention of a larger and larger number of consumers. This gaming industry, at this particular point in time, isn’t just ahead of the curve. It is the curve.