9

In Mr. Robot, Chinese Minister Zhang, aka Whiterose, has at great expense and effort over the course of decades constructed some sort of machine in New Jersey. The interior looks science-fiction-y the few times the show has depicted it. Perhaps like ITER might look, or the Large Hadron Collider. It is clearly nothing mundane.

This machine is activated only once in the show, and never depicted in action. It is hinted strongly that if successful, it will allow Whiterose (but perhaps others as well, or even everyone) to undo past tragedies and wrongs. It is never explicitly described as time travel or a time machine.

The machine may only work correctly if installed in Africa (the Congo?), but logistical and bureaucratic hurdles prevent it from being deployed there. When it is activated, this is done in New Jersey and possibly without enough power for it to be safely used (despite being powered by the Washington Township Nuclear Plant, under which it is hidden).

While Whiterose is often brutal, she surrounds herself with many highly competent people and has the resources to extract cutting edge research knowledge from experts and geniuses around the world (but who aren't depicted in the show). Other characters (aware of the machine, its purpose) describe it as a folly, or even a delusion. Since the theme of the show is mental illness, it's not entirely certain that the machine is anything but this. While the machine really has been built, whether it would have worked or not is a question.

Well, it's this question.

So do we have any evidence at all that the machine was real? That it would have worked had Whiterose's ambitions come to fruition? The show's creator made it clear that it wasn't the important part of the story. But he was apparently quite fond of leaving little clues to various questions throughout the series.

2 Answers 2

1

You know, it is quite strange that this question hasn't been posed more often, considering it was the sole driving factor of everything that White rose did, and the underlying invisible hand that guided most of the "protagonists" actions as well.

I suppose it technically doesn't matter if the machine was real, (i.e., if it "actually" worked or not) since it still acted as the chief motivating factor in White roses universe. Like most things in Mr. Robot, I think it was more about what the machine represented than what it physically did.

If I were to guess the directors intention, I suppose the machines role was to underline the shows competing visions of what it truly means to create a new world, or whether that's even truly possible.

One vision(White rose's) required sacrificing the present world completely, throwing away all of the bad, but also, all of the good- including the memories and personalities people had cultivated for their entire existence- and exchanging it for a parallel universe were things (possibly) could be better. That's a huge gamble, and only one that a truly desperate, cynical person would make. Even worse, White Rose could have even believed it possible to just continuously jump from one parallel universe to another, effectively searching until White rose found the perfect world, or one that had the most equality, freedom and equity. The madness of not accepting reality, and actively attempting to usurp it instead of putting in any effort to positively change it (and with all her resources, she surely could have), is clear here, and its almost painful to think about how much someone would have to be hurting for them to spend so much time creating a machine for the singular purpose of no longer existing in their current reality.

The other vision (Elliots) was sort of always lingering in the back of his mind- and that is that we must embrace the good of our universe and fight to change the things that we see as unjust. For instance, the massive redistribution of wealth that occurred in the final season was an act of vengeance, sure, but it was also the ultimate way of altering the present reality just enough so that the entire present could be redeemed, and the world could move forward in a way that could truly start to amend all of the bad that came before it. I think its a much more sober vision, as everyone knows you cannot, no matter how much money and power you have, bring back the dead.

Both of these visions of "change" are completely tied to both Elliot and white rose's mental and emotional states. Elliot, who had been fighting himself the entire show, had both oblivion and destruction, and creation and resurrection in his heart and mind during everything he did. He escaped through compartmentalizing his pain, creating alternate personas that he could tap into whenever they were required, but during all of that, he still did everything he could to commit to changing the very world he lived in, and retained a moral compass that only strayed away from his will a few times throughout the entire show.

Whiterose mistook Elliots destructive rage to be in the same class as her own, but she did not realize that Elliot would never give up on the world like she had.

Suffering from the severe trauma of Gender and Body Dysphoria, and living with a mind so corrupted by the trauma of loss, self-rejection and alienation from society, she saw no redeeming qualities in the world and did not see the point in attempting to change it, but simply wanted to wholesale abandon it, no matter the cost. White Rose's complete rejection of her own pain led to her attempt to usurp reality in order to avoid the sad truth that she needed to eventually accept herself, her trauma, and her loss.

OF course, while I watched the show I felt differently about White Rose, as I suspect many people did during their initial viewing.

while watching originally, I too was immediately enamored with the possibility of White Rose's machine, and felt like it was simply cynicism on the part of those who did not believe in White Roses machine- after all, Why wouldn't you want to believe that it would be possible to make a world were everyone could be happy? But, the more I thought about it the more I realized why Price and her colleagues thought she was out of her mind- the sad reality of it is that Utopias don't exist- not even in our fantasies.

Even if it was possible, what kind of desperation would you need to feel to destroy everything we have ever known, for only the possibility that we may find a better world on the other side of it?

Putting that much trust into such a massively desperate person, who had no qualms with killing hundreds of thousands of people, even if they truly did think it was "reversible", is a madness far beyond Elliots.

That does leave one question, however- What could have been shown to Angela to make her such an ardent believer in the plan? And what of White Roses actual inner circle? What made them so confident in White Rose that they would sacrifice everything for her vision? I don't think Angela could have been so easily swayed with words. If she was duped, It boggles my mind as to how. She wasn't exactly the most naive person, and easily manipulated and saw through others, much like her father Price.

ANYWAYYYYYY, While I wish we were told more about the machine (and especially whether White roses' plans could actually come to fruition) I think leaving it as an opaque message on the nature existence, trauma, exclusion and despair was the more powerful move.

An ending like that, while it may cause the more cynical critics in us to roll our eyes, is powerful because we are allowed to interpret its meaning. We are allowed to believe or disbelieve White rose, and that is sort of the Rorschach test that makes a work of art like this one truly stand out. How much do we want to believe? How much do we need to?

3
  • 2
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. While in the larger context of the show you are perfectly correct that it doesn't matter if the machine was real, unfortunately that is specifically what this question is asking. An proper answer to this question will tease clues out of the show and things the creators have said to determine if there was a (fictional) basis for the machine working, or if it was only ever a delusion.
    – DavidW
    May 14, 2021 at 2:07
  • @DavidW A proper answer can also make the case that there are no details that would allow us to tease out a yes or no. This answer could use some work in that direction, but I don't believe that it's just a drive-by "metoo" that offers nothing at all.
    – John O
    May 14, 2021 at 13:44
  • @JohnO I've now carefully read through this twice, and other than the single dismissive sentence at the start of the second paragraph there is no content relevant to a serious search for evidence for or against the proposition that Whiterose's machine was real. There doesn't appear to be any attempt to find and analyze things that other characters say about the machine, how it might be described in the script/show notes or any attempt to investigate the creation of the show.
    – DavidW
    May 14, 2021 at 14:19
-1

I think it was deliberately meant to be enigmatic. Several characters, some incidental and not directly connected to Whiterose, talk about or reference parallel universes.
Even Elliot-Mastermind's last speech is all about the possibility that if you have the will, the world might change around you. Is it the same world everyone else lives in, are they the same people? We cannot know.

Whiterose is an amazing character but I was disappointed in the end, after the sterling representation in the first season, that Esmail fell back on the 'queer coded villain' and 'deceptive trans/gender-fluid person' trope. I really felt like Whiterose and the conflict with Elliot deserved more time and examination in the show.
The flashback to Zhang's past managed to be more confusing than illuminating - so Zhang seemed to be a bisexual man who's lover turned out to be a trans woman who killed herself thanks to repressive and transphobic society... and then Zhang suddenly became trans? It doesn't make a great deal of sense on its own. What it does suggest to me, though, was that Whiterose was also an Alter created by Zhang to deal with the trauma and loss of his love so that, in a sense, they could always be together. I would've liked to have seen that, and the kinship with Elliot and his Alters, to be more widely explored. I think even after the flashback episode, a lot of viewers didn't really understand the real nature of Zhang/Whiterose. There is one really good scene in, I think, the third season? Zhang is having a conversation on the phone, suddenly he loses his cool and a few folk may have overlooked it, but everything about his speech, his body language, changes. Suddenly it is Whiterose speaking, not Zhang. BD Wong is an amazing actor!

I did like that no-one ever questioned the gender of Zhang or Whiterose. Zhang was always unquestioningly called a man, Whiterose was always unquestioningly called a woman and that is the sort of representation needed in media. They simply were who they were and there wasn't a big, clumsy, heavy-handed 'transition plot' attached to the society.

But overall, the show did a good job at discussing, in a nuanced fashion, the nature of reality. Is it fixed? Can it be altered? Is there one or many parallel realities? Are we ever the same person across time, and can we ever be considered reliable narrators considering the limits and biases of our perceptions?

Sam Esmail will have a hard time ever making anything quite as good as Mr Robot!

3
  • Hi, welcome to SciFi.SE. After the first paragraph this doesn't seem to really answer the question "Is there any evidence that Whiterose's machine was real?". Please take a look at the help center and see How to Answer for some more info on how this site works, and how you could improve your answer
    – fez
    Mar 10 at 14:47
  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Other than saying "meant to be enigmatic," you don't appear to say anything about the machine in the question at all. Please make sure that your answer actually addresses the question, and focuses solely on that subject.
    – DavidW
    Mar 10 at 14:50
  • I do enjoy this commentary, even though it doesn't answer my question. I wish there was a way to preserve it... it never occurred to me that Whiterose might also be multiple personality. I have to go back and try to find that scene too, if that exists then it's not just crappy fan theory, that's the sort of thing Esmail would do.
    – John O
    Mar 10 at 14:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.