We Need To Talk About The Violent Gang-Rape Scene In Mr. Robot

Photo: Courtesy of USA.
Warning: Spoilers from episode 7, "eps2.5_h4ndshake.sme," of Mr. Robot below.

Last night's episode of Mr. Robot brought us the belated reveal of where exactly Elliot has been for the season: in jail. But the revelation came after a scene in which a gang of guys attempt to rape Elliot as retribution, after he shut down Ray's website where they could buy guns, drugs, and humans. It's a difficult thing to watch, as it appears that the whole gang of men is going to rape him. But just as we hear the sounds of belts unbuckling, his friend Leon shows up. Leon, played by Joey Badass, is the guy with whom Elliot eats every meal. Leon often pontificates on all sorts of unimportant matters, including one truly masterful monologue in which he says nothing about Seinfeld. We're never told how they met, although the reveal that they're in jail helps clear up that up a bit. Leon is often around whenever Elliot is in mixed company, also accompanying him to watch basketball in several scenes. Prior to the attempted gang rape, the all-white crew of guys try to get Elliot at the court, ordering Leon to leave his side. Leon stands up to them in a way that is unexpected — so far this season, he hasn't been violent or aggressive. But was he Elliot's protector the whole time and we didn't realize it? When Leon shows up, he brings a razor blade. Leon slashes the throats of the entire gang, taking down five guys, and then cryptically tells Elliot he'll be getting a letter next Tuesday and to do what it says. As the leader of the gang moans in agony after having his throat slit, Leon sticks the razor blade inside his anus, cutting it. The incident is shown in graphic detail, making it one of the most violent scenes on TV in recent memory.
The show is obviously using this to establish the depth of Elliot's debt to Leon; he not only stopped his rape but saved his life. The scene is undoubtedly meant to set up Elliot's motivation for doing something transformative or out of character. But that piece of storytelling could have been accomplished without showing the anal assault. Prison is a brutal world, and the brutality, between Ray's thugs beating up Elliot and Leon's bloody decimation of this gang, would have had a major impact on how a character like Elliot behaves. It's difficult to believe that actually seeing a man get knifed in the anus is necessary to further drive that point home. The incident was shown for shock value, plain and simple. Creator, writer, and director Sam Esmail is known for lifting visual elements and even story lines from media he idolizes, and this has Oz written all over it. HBO's prison drama was fond of showcasing the brutalization of male prisoners using rape and extreme violence to break down characters, essentially transforming them into different people. Elliot is on the verge of a major transformation, but not into a shell of his former self. Rather, he is on the precipice of becoming what Mr. Robot calls a leader. He's been talking himself into finishing what he started with fsociety and taking down Evil Corp. Esmail is using this defining moment as a push to get him there, to embrace who he really is — that's very likely why the rape didn't happen. He would probably have gone the other way, turning inward and hiding inside himself if he had been abused in that extreme fashion. The level of violence on this season of Mr. Robot is unprecedented, but its beginning to echo the levels reached in Fight Club, one of Esmail's clear influences. Elliot's ability to withstand, and possibly flourish, in this ultraviolent environment is the same process of "becoming a man" that the nameless narrator of Fight Club undergoes. It's a little disappointing, because one of the few things separating the story of Elliot from just being the narrator was his vulnerability, his moral compass. This path of embracing his own overinflated sense of greatness and rejecting capitalism is one that's already been explored.

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