“I don’t believe in love. I think all relationships turn into hate and difference. Well, yeah… those two things,” sounds like a line we’d hear on Mr. Robot. The hit television series, which premiered this summer on USA, questions the paths we’re all on. How much is really in our control? Do we decide our destiny? These questions are on the mind of Mr. Robot’s anxiety-ridden, junkie protagonist, Elliot Anderson (Rami Malek). Elliot, however, never claims all relationships end in turmoil. The creator of Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail, expressed that sentiment with his last protagonist, Dell (Justin Long), from his little-seen directorial debut, Comet, which, thematically speaking, is remarkably similar to his exciting television show. The past, present, and future all seem to collide in Esmail’s worlds.
Covering six years in 91 minutes, Comet, with an ethereal atmosphere, centers around Dell and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum), showing the beginning and end of their relationship. The way they first meet, their cute quips, everything, it’s almost too perfect – and these cutesy scenes clash with the realities of their doomed relationship. The narrative, which just so happens to take place in a parallel universe, jumps around the six years, almost like a dream. We see the peaks and valleys of their relationship, and how the the highs and lows relate to one another.
The key question is: Was Dell and Kimberly’s relationship destined to end? That’s what Sam Esmail is asking, and he poses a similar question with Mr. Robot. “Fate and chance are circumstance. Every action has a reaction,” has become something of a tagline for Mr. Robot, and Comet certainly covers similar ground. At the start of the film, Dell tells a lie. Later on he reveals his minor fib to Kimberly and explains that all relationships are founded on a lie, so why not make up a small one and get it out of the way at the start of it all? The lie ends up echoing throughout the story, serving as a source of conflict for the two lovers. We see the reaction to Dell and Kimberly’s actions at the beginning of the film, thanks to the nonlinear narrative, making Comet a ticking time bomb – and the same can be said for the journey Elliot Anderson is on.
Elliot makes a decision to hack and destroy E Corp (“Evil Corp”), a corporation which Elliot’s company protects – despite the fact they’re responsible for the death of his father. It’s a major decision, one he can’t run from. In episode three, Elliot attempts to scrap his plan. Not only does he attempt to have a normal romantic relationship with his drug dealer, the hacker also starts drinking Starbucks – something he usually wouldn’t be caught dead doing. The flawed protagonist tries to stray from his life of loneliness and isolation, but that sense of a new beginning and hope doesn’t last long. Greater forces at play – coincidences, illusions, the subconscious, and supporting players – push him back on his original path. Elliot doesn’t want to live a life of solitude, while Dell doesn’t want his relationship with Kimberly to end. They’re characters always contemplating the future, and how their actions can alter or suit that future.
Dell and Elliot are always the smartest guys in the room. Esmail focuses on character and theme first, not so much the worlds they inhabit. There’s a subplot in Comet about Dell curing his mom’s cancer, and it’s always on the sidelines. We never see or meet his mother, or get an explanation for this cure. None of that is important, though. While Mr. Robot delves further into world building, its characters are the stars, not the mechanics of hacking. The show isn’t about a character fighting a corporation, but, more importantly, his future.
Both Esmail’s film and television show come dangerously close to pretentsion. Sometimes the deep insights the protagonists share about humanity aren’t as poignant as the characters – or maybe Esmail – perceive them as, but perhaps that’s the point. Comet and Mr. Robot follow brilliant characters struggling to grapple with reality and their emotions. Dell and Elliot are geniuses, but that doesn’t mean they have everything figured out. Both characters also suffer from guilt. Elliot, like Dell, also told a lie, one to his father, which has haunted him ever since. They suffer for their lies and past decisions.
This all probably makes Comet and Mr. Robot sound unappealingly bleak, but that’s not the case at all. Comet and Mr. Robot are not some ostentatious, self-serious snoozefests. Sam Esmail is a very funny writer, with a clever, often dark, sense of humor. Esmail takes these characters and their struggles seriously, but that doesn’t mean everything is played as dreary and dour. Esmail knows how to have fun, even as he hands us the roadmap showing us the destruction his characters are barreling towards.
Comet is now available on Netflix Instant.