Mr Robot is a surprise hit from the USA Network which reflects on contemporary social events as much as it draws influence from other edgy fiction.
This article contains spoilers and may give away plot points.
Every now and then a series seems to come out of nowhere and capture the collective imagination. With strong reviews and social media murmurings having already piqued my interest, the news that the entire first season of Mr Robot would be making its way onto Amazon Prime from October 16th in the UK was well received.
Writer and executive producer Sam Esmail has found influence in the recent dischords of modern society which he infuses with recognisable elements of other fictional works to produce a dark and scary series that visualises the boundaries that both good and evil are willing to exceed in order to achieve their ultimate goal. The story is told, not only in dialogue, the actions of the characters and the ‘fourth wall’ breaking narration provided by the internal monologue of lead character Elliot Alderson, but also through the clever presentation of interactions via social media.
Elliot is paranoid, delusional, a self medicating chronic depressive who exhibits all the traits of functional autism. He’s also an extremely talented programmer by day. Perhaps as a distraction from the compound loneliness he feels and to fill the void left by insomnia Elliot hacks everyone and everything by night. Violating people’s privacy, we soon learn that this illegal activity is motivated by a skewed desire for justice. He talks to himself. No. He talks to us- constantly. We are his imaginary friend through the many unexpected twists that reveal throughout this ten episode journey.
Finding that much of the cast are relatively unknown is a huge draw for me. I like to go into a series without the expectation attached to an actor whose work you are already familiar with. In fact I was initially as much surprised as disappointed to discover that Christian Slater fills the role of the titular character, I’ve never been much of a fan, however, that feeling subsided quickly thanks to Slater’s solid and mostly subdued performance.
Motivated by the discovery that his father’s cancer and resulting death could have been avoided, Elliot becomes pivotal to the plans of a small clandestine hacker group known as fsociety. His revenge, and fsociety‘s aim, are targeted squarely at Evil Corp (yes… Evil Corp, a little too on the money, no?) one of the world’s largest technology and financial conglomerates. Their goal is to hack Evil Corp, destroy the company’s entire digital archive and records, resulting in all debt owed to the company being erased.
This is where the show taps into and mimics real life. During the Occupy movement protesters adopted the Guy Fawkes mask made famous by the movie adaptation of V For Vendetta. The masks are a symbol of the hacker group Anonymous. Tapping into this concept the writers of Mr Robot have used a similar imagery, fsociety are a fictional representation of Anonymous, they wear Mr Monopoly masks which are adopted by protesters on the streets of major cities. Evil Corps too is based in reality. Like many others I spotted the similarity between the ‘E’ logo of Evil Corp and technology company Dell. However, it transpires that the logo is actually copied directly from the Enron logo. Enron was an energies, commodities and services company that went bankrupt in 2001. Evidence of wide scale fraud came to light.
So we have our protagonists, and our antagonists. The dynamics and intricacies of interactions between Elliot and members of both parties is complex, interesting and engaging. Where the show falls down is in the use of redundant sub plots that lead nowhere. Elliot‘s relationship with his neighbour/drug dealer doesn’t necessarily feel out of place in the context of the show, but upon observation feels contrived given the character’s complete reluctance to accept any kind of verbal or physical interaction with other people unless under duress. In fact the whole relationship appears to act merely as a catalyst for a bizarre tangent involving the supplier of drugs, a prison break and the eventual death of Elliot‘s girlfriend at which point the relationship built between characters goes completely cold.
What Mr Robot does very well though, is evolve very quickly over a short period of time. We begin by seeing Elliot as a quirky, awkward individual who is clearly troubled, but endearing. His actions are questionable but his motives are well meaning. Over the course of ten episodes this perception changes dramatically. We see the mental decline in Elliot‘s state right up until the end when the Fight Club twist is revealed. Elliot is more fucked up than we ever realised. He believed he was a part of fsociety, a group led by Mr Robot, except… Mr Robot in his mind is his father, and his father is dead. Elliot is Mr Robot, Elliot is the leader of fsociety. This was all his doing. As if to hammer home the similarities between this realisation and that Tyler Durden moment, a poignant piano rendition of Pixies ‘Where Is My Mind‘ plays, almost certainly in tribute to the scene in which the city falls at the climax of Fight Club.
Ignoring the few moments where the show loses its way, Mr Robot is the most riveting and addictive program I’ve come across for some time. Rami Malek as Elliot is pitched perfectly and relays the character so sincerely that even at his most messed up you can’t help rooting for him. The supporting cast are convincing and although heavily dramatised, many of the concepts prevalent within the show are bedded in reality.
A second season of Mr Robot is already in the works and expected next year. For more information on the show and to watch full episodes (subject to provider agreements) visit the USA Network Mr Robot microsite.