Boxing has been a fixture in cinema as a metaphor for manhood, and for the protagonist to seize his (usually) life. Chess is light years away from the physicality of boxing, but the mental strategy is as intense, if not more punishing as a few jabs to the jaw. From The Seventh Seal to X-Men, chess has been a thinking man’s match, but in this week’s episode of Mr. Robot, “eps2.2_init1.asec” it was a fight for Elliot’s soul.
Borrowing a board from his new friend Ray (Craig Robinson), Elliot (Rami Malek) psyches himself up with dreams of a future he wants until it’s time to duel against his dark side, Mr. Robot (Christian Slater). The match up is rhythmic and visually pleasing, but, of course, is imagined; it’s a game he’s playing against himself, in his mind.
More significant than whose rook takes whose bishop is what Elliot is fighting for: His future. Elliot is a human being, who wants to eat and sleep and have sex as much as anyone, and in his bedtime fantasies, he dreams of something resembling a normal life. He’s with Angela (Portia Doubleday), he’s friends with his co-workers, he likes drinking wine with dinner, and meeting his friends’ kids. He’s liked and loved – and he enjoys being liked and loved.
In the dream world Elliot’s reality is heightened and kind of odd — who wants an elaborate dinner in an alleyway? — but that’s just Elliot’s head going into overdrive. Elliot wants what many people havee: Normalcy. And it’s a normalcy that comes when Elliot topples the institutions that keep him down. Makes sense.
Elliot’s chess matches end in a stalemate. Three stalemates, as if it isn’t clear already that Elliot cannot get rid of Mr Robot. Returning to Ray, Elliot gets roped into Ray’s shadier business, but Elliot doesn’t care. His goal is bigger. In reuniting with his sister Darlene since last season — the episode begins with a lengthy flashback with the two of them at the beginning of fsociety, which was founded on Halloween night — Elliot decides the FBI, who seized the arcade, is his next target. Elliot will fight for his future – but even if he messed up E Corp he may be punching against his weight class.