‘Mr. Robot’: How USA’s Risk is Paying Off

Posted in The Screening Room by - September 08, 2015

SPOILERS BELOW

On its surface, Mr. Robot shouldn’t work. It’s derivative of several other works, most notably Fight Club and American Psycho, and none of its characters are particularly likable. Given the growing influence of, and reliance on, technology in our day to day lives, a television show that funnels in on that intrinsic and dependent relationship seems logical. We follow our addict savant protagonist, Elliot, portrayed by a fully committed Rami Malek, as he is led by the mysterious Mr. Robot, Christian Slater, to join a group of hackers, known as F Society, intent on bringing the overbearing companies to the brink of extinction by destroying all of their data. Somehow. Mr. Robot takes these pieces and forms them into something fresh and memorable. 

The plot isn’t that complicated, although there are plenty of twists to be had. Sam Esmail is the showrunner of Mr. Robot, and tonally, it feels like it belongs on a premium cable network channel like HBO. He brings a unique vision of a modern dystopia, wrought by our over reliance on technology and corporations. F bombs are dropped quite frequently, although muted, and gruesome violence is not shied away from. The finale was actually delayed due to the tragic events of the Virginia television shootings that had some parallels to a key moment in the finale. An air of satire follows Mr. Robot, with a faceless corporation known as E. Corp (The E is for Evil. Mr. Robot doesn’t really do subtlety.) controlling everything under its shadowy umbrella, paralleling the conglomeration of multinational companies to our present world economy. The Patrick Bateman-esque E. Corp representative, who is both antagonist and protagonist, is Tyrell Wellick, Martin Wallström in his first American role, gives one of the most intriguing looks into the human psyche this side of Hannibal. While most of the acclaim is being put on Malek’s intricate and layered performance, Tyrell is the true scene stealer of the show. The complete lack of humanity behind his eyes, and constant scheming makes the viewer unable to turn away every time he’s on the screen. His self assuredness stands in stark contrast to Elliot’s deluded mind and constant loss of touch with his surroundings. He’s always in control, planning several steps ahead, but in the process of the inaugural season, his plans go awry, and his one moment of losing control completely changes the direction of his character arc.The show revels in showing how mindless we, as a society, are, and F Society

Much of the buzz in Mr. Robot deals with the narrative twists, the key one being that Mr. Robot is actually a projection of Elliot’s father from Elliot’s mind (think Tyler Durden). As a matter of personal taste, I was not a large fan of the reveal, although it had been hinted at since the beginning of the season, especially given that most people around Elliot and Mr. Robot only reacted to one of them at a time, but the twist still struck me as cheap. Admittedly, the show played it in an interesting fashion, with Elliot being revealed to suffer from intermittent memory loss, including forgetting his own sister existed. This selective memory loss also works against the show, since we are rarely given insight into what Elliot doesn’t know, and since he frequently forgets what he’s done off-screen (much like in the season finale), we have to follow him as he retraces his steps. While this allows for dramatic build-up, it also builds a layer of tedium that I can only handle so much of. The critical consensus is that the show is a masterpiece, and is the best new show on television, but for me it lacks a certain property that keeps it from being completely incredible television. F Society is arguably the crux of the show, but only two of the characters are fleshed out in any meaningful way. The finale showed a member I hadn’t even recalled seeing before, and the show’s obsession to detail, going off on tangents with side characters, provides some unorthodox and interesting viewing material, but a bit of focus on the ostensibly main cast could help me connect with them more. 

While I have some issues with Mr. Robot, there is no denying that the first season was a resounding success, and it could possibly pave the way for more risky programming on basic cable networks to rival their premium competitors. The performances are tremendous, and the characters are unlike anything we’ve seen, even if they have some influences from other works. Sam Esmail has managed to craft a tale of paranoia, technology, and idealism into a beautifully dark show for audiences to lose themselves in. Just make sure you don’t fall too far down the rabbit hole. F Society Out.

This post was written by

Born in Arizona, he currently resides in Denton, Texas. When he isn’t watching movies he’s playing board games and drinking whatever he can get his hands on. John watches Djimon Honsou movies because he likes Spawn, which had Michael Jai White.

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