The most recent episode dropped several bombshell revelations so big I haven’t been that stunned since LOST. It’s fitting, therefore, that one of my favorite LOST theories may just explain not only what’s happening on the show, but why it’s titled Mr. Robot in the first place.
To recap briefly, we learned that Darlene is Elliot’s sister and Mr. Robot was their dad. We also learned that Elliot periodically forgets they're family.
Many take this as confirmation of the theory that Elliot has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and that Mr. Robot is one of his alternate identities. When Mr. Robot interacts with other people, in other words, it’s actually always Elliot.
The problem with this explanation is that Elliot and Mr. Robot have conversations with each other. Alternate identities don’t typically interact in people with DID. This has led some to suggest Elliot has schizophrenia and that Mr. Robot is his hallucination. Yet this explanation has the same problem in reverse. Contrary to what you see in movies and television, schizophrenics don’t have multiple personalities.
But what if Elliot has both schizophrenia and DID -- or even some hybrid condition such that he has other personalities and can interact with them?
I want to stress that what follows is pseudo-science. Real psychology says that DID and schizophrenia are two completely different disorders with no relationship whatsoever.
Still, it’s interesting pseudo-science. The kind that blows your mind as a college undergraduate and sticks with you when you become a writer like Sam Esmail. It also fits perfectly with the conspiracy theories I could see informing the show’s paranoid outlook.
Basically, as the title of this post suggests, I think Elliot was brainwashed by someone Manchurian Candidate style, resulting in his current fractured and psychotic mental state. I'll get to who did the brainwashing and why in a bit. But first, some background.
The Bicameral Mind
In the 1970s, a psychologist named Julian Jaynes wrote a popular but controversial book, titled The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976).
In it, Jaynes argued that ancient humans were not conscious in the way we are now. Until roughly 1000 BC, human minds were instead characterized by a “bicameral” or divided state he likens to modern schizophrenia. As a result of this split between right and left brains, people literally heard voices that would later evolve into internal dialogues in “unicameral” minds like ours.
As with modern schizophrenics, moreover, these voices were irresistible to pre-conscious humans, quite literally the source of their will:
[E]ach person had a part of his nervous system that was divine, by which he was ordered about like any slave, a voice or voices which indeed were what we call volition and empowered what they commanded and were related to the hallucinated voices of others in a carefully established hierarchy.Jaynes even speculates that such hallucinations were the origin of religion. People heard the voice of their king after he died, and continued to worship and obey him as if he were alive. Eventually, this dynamic created full-fledged gods, whom regular people heard and obeyed like slaves. As proof, he provides close readings of the Iliad and the oldest parts of the Old Testament and Epic of Gilgamesh.
Jaynes claims that all this came to an abrupt end around 1000 BC, when religious texts from around the globe lament, in eerie unison, the departure of the gods. He argues this was when modern consciousness really began. The divine "departure" was not metaphorical -- people literally stopped hearing the voices of their "gods" as unicameral consciousness emerged.
Pretty crazy, eh? Keep reading, because it only gets crazier...
Starting in the 1950s, and continuing through the 1970s, the CIA conducted an illegal program of experiments on human subjects to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in mind control. The program was code named “Project MKULTRA,” and it’s actually recorded history. You can look it up.
The MKULTRA revelation spawned numerous conspiracy theories, including that the CIA successfully created a powerful mind-control technique known as “MONARCH.” Interestingly, the goal of Monarch programming is to induce a bicameral mental state that results in DID:
ALPHA. Regarded as “general” or regular programming within the base control personality; characterized by extremely pronounced memory retention, along with substantially increased physical strength and visual acuity. Alpha programming is accomplished through deliberately subdividing the victims personality which, in essence, causes a left brain-right brain division, allowing for a programmed union of L and R through neuron pathway stimulation.
* * *Still with me? Good, because there is a pay-off. But be forewarned, it’s dark. Really, really dark...
Due to the severe trauma induced through ECT, sexual abuse and other methods, the mind splits off into alternate personalities from the core. Formerly referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder, it is presently recognized as Dissociative Identity Disorder and is the basis for MONARCH programming. Further conditioning of the victim’s mind is enhanced through hypnotism, double-bind coercion, pleasure-pain reversals, food, water, sleep and sensory deprivation, along with various drugs which alter certain cerebral functions.
Here’s how all of this ties into Mr. Robot. I think Elliot’s father really did die from cancer caused by Evil Corp. Before dying, however, he created a weapon to some day avenge his death. That weapon was Elliot.
Elliot’s dad brainwashed him using MKULTRA/MONARCH mind control techniques to induce a split in the boy’s mind. As a result of this programming, Elliot became a brilliant hacker bent on bringing down Evil Corp. But he also developed a kind of "dissociative schizophrenia" that causes him to hallucinate conversations with, and sometimes adopt the identity of, his dead dad.
Here’s the kicker. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered what the hell the title “Mr. Robot” has to do with the show. Yes, it’s the name of Christian Slater’s character, but there has to be some deeper significance. Right?
There is. As Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright reminded us repeatedly in The World’s End, the word “robot” is derived from “robotnik,” the Czech word for “slave.” Robots are so named because they’re slaves to their programming. And that’s essentially what Elliot is now. A slave to his father’s programming.