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What Do All The ‘Back To The Future Part II’ References In ‘Mr. Robot’ Mean?


Viewers who are currently confused by Mr. Robot need not feel alone. There are a lot of “What the hell?” moments in the series right now. Those of us who watch and rewatch every episode of the series in order to collect Easter eggs and other evidence deeply buried within the show are as confused as everyone else. The storylines aren’t lining up. There’s too many unanswered questions. The most recent episode only exacerbated the confusion. We don’t know if Elliot was asleep or awake. We don’t know if Tyrell was there or not. We don’t even know with absolute certainty if Angele and White Rose really met. It could have all been a lucid dream.

“Mind awake, body asleep. Mind awake, body asleep.”

What we do know is that Back to the Future Part II has inexplicably become intertwined with the series and some of us are beginning to wonder if the constant references to the movie foreshadow events of a more sci-fi nature. Something is definitely going on, but let’s back up a moment and catalogue a few of these Back to the Future references for context.

In Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to October 2015.

That just happens to be around the same period in which Mr. Robot begins. Here’s Elliot’s phone from the pilot of the series:

Why does Elliot’s phone in the pilot suggest the date is October 2015, when the 5/9 hack takes place five months earlier? Something is amiss with the timeline.

We also know that Back to the Future Part II is, inexplicably, Elliot’s favorite movie. He and Angela have often watched it together.

Elliot and his father were also big fans of the movie. Here’s an old picture of them dressed as Marty and Doc for Halloween.

In last week’s episode, Angela mentioned the movie again while she and Elliot were on the subway. “We have to talk to each other on the subway. It’s a long way from getting high and watching Back to the Future Part II.

In this week’s episode, the Back to the Future references were all in the soundtrack. There were four songs in the episode specifically from the Back to the Future soundtrack: “Night Train,” while Angela was in the van; “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” also while Angela was in the van; “Time Bomb Town,” when Elliot was in the taxi with Tyrell; and “Earth Angel,” when Elliot was with Tyrell at the end of the episode.

Also recall that, after the 5/9 hack, Elliot somehow blacked out and woke up three days later. Where did those three days go?

Ordinarily, I might just think that Sam Esmail was being cute and dropping a lot of Back to the Future references for kicks. However, there are a few things that suggest to me that Back to the Future is more than just a movie reference; it’s a plot point. When Angela goes to see her lawyer, for instance, there’s a blackout. The city has been experiencing blackouts, so it’s not unusual, except that when the electricity goes off and comes back on, the television newscast loops back about 60 seconds and repeats itself, suggesting that somehow time is being manipulated. Or that there’s another timeline where the newscast is 60 seconds behind.

Is this a more literal statement from White Rose than we might first assume?

Recall, too, White Rose’s obsessions with time and clocks.

“Have you ever wondered what the world would look like without the 5/9 hack?” White Rose asked Dom in this season’s fourth episode. “In fact, some believe there are alternate timelines playing out that very scenario. That the lives we are leading are the people that we have become.”

Bingo: Alternate timelines.

I don’t want to get too far afield here, because I’m not ready to believe that there is a sci-fi element at play here. But, alternate timelines certainly do go hand-in-hand with the dual identities of White Rose, of Elliot and Mr. Robot, of timelines where Tyrell is alive and timelines where he isn’t, of realities where Elliot is in prison and of realities where Elliot is living with his mother, and of the life that Dom almost had — where she accepted the proposal of her ex-boyfriend — and the life she has now as an FBI agent.

Back to the Future Part II was very much about alternate timelines. Marty and Doc traveled to the future — to October 2015 — and found Biff, who took an almanac, stole the time machine, and went back in time to create BiffCo, a company that invested in toxic waste reclamation and other heavy polluting industries. It’s hard not to see some parallels with E Corp, whose toxic chemicals killed Elliot and Angela’s parents. Is it such a stretch to believe — given the general confusion with timelines and identities in Mr. Robot — that there’s another timeline where the 5/9 hack never happened? Where Shayla and Tyrell are alive? Where Elliot is just a low-level vigilante hacker in October 2015 popping morphine pills?

Last season, when Sam Esmail put “Where is My Mind” on the soundtrack, he was clearly alluding to the Fight Club-like personalities of Elliot. Four songs from Back to the Future aren’t just happenstance. They mean something. If we want to know more about Phase 2, we need to listen.

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