The last few years have brought about a change in network television fueled in no small way by the likes of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon as they fight over the content rights to these network shows. Services like these having seasons upon seasons available at the click of a mouse along with their own brand of content that is more often than not dumped all at once has started a trend of more serialized story telling in place of episodic entertainment. Thank goodness! This is a trend I can get behind. The incentive for these streaming services is for large narrative endeavors leave people hooked and their asses in front of their tvs for hours on end which allows creators to flesh out what might have been smaller ideas into large sprawling stories. Such is the case with ‘Mr. Robot’.
What was once a screenplay being worked on by Sam Esmail turned into the “it” show of the summer which is great for both he and USA Network. I’m sure there’s a great story behind how this idea that was once intended for the silver screen ended up on the small screen but who gives a shit, right? This is great for you, it’s great for me and it will be great for everyone else who is smart enough to hop on this bandwagon. All of this is my jackass way of saying that this show is great. As someone who is not a frequent user of hyperbole please trust how great this show is. The synopsis as pulled from a little-known website called IMDB goes a little something like…
“Elliot Alderson (Rami Malek), a young cyber-security engineer living in New York who assumes the role of a vigilante hacker by night. Elliot meets a mysterious anarchist known as "Mr. Robot" (Christian Slater) who recruits Elliot to join his team of hackers, "fsociety". Elliot, who has a social anxiety disorder and connects to people by hacking them, is intrigued but uncertain if he wants to be part of the group. The show follows Mr. Robot's attempts to engage Elliot in his mission to destroy the corporation Elliot is paid to protect. Compelled by his personal beliefs, Elliot struggles to resist the chance to take down the multinational CEOs that are running (and ruining) the world.”
Esmail has crafted something brilliant here with a disturbingly relevant story of our brand-driven, tech-obsessed culture, its negative affects and the people who wish to bring about a change with power over the masses that few people have any idea of. As someone who is technically capable but not quite educated on the darker side of the internet or the wormholes that can allow others to see your every movement, desire and interaction so I won’t speak on how accurate this show is in its depiction of the hacker culture. Plus, don’t get hung up on things like this. We’re talking about fiction. What I am comfortable speaking on is Esmail’s ability to weave together a season of television filled with suspense, thrills, action, emotional depth and enough stakes to keep you coming back episode after episode.
Esmail is credited solely with writing this first season and has brought together a team of directors to carry out his vision with the seven out of the ten episodes he isn’t pulling the strings on himself. With a consistent tone narratively and a visual tone that helps it pop off of the screen, you’re left feeling as if you are inside of Elliot’s head as he weaves in an out of these two worlds, one filled with a hyer-realistic level of pretension, manipulation and depravity and the other filled with dirty, cultural refugees and digital renegades who are directly in opposition with the former. The scariest part of this over-the-top story is that these extremes are likely not that extreme at all. The elite executives depicted in this show are some of the more horrendous people you will see on television this year, and that was written by someone who has watched ‘True Detective’, ‘Game of Thrones’ and local news stations. Homophobia, sexual, mental and emotional manipulation and murder are some of the things that drive these characters and help them climb up the latter to more notoriety, money and power. With some obvious embellishments being made, these scenes will definitely hit home and make you think about the folks who make the decisions behind the phone in your hand or the computer on your lap.
This isn’t the majority of the show and I shouldn’t focus too heavily on it accordingly. This is the story of Elliot who is played with such a level of finesse and detail by Malek that I feel comfortable calling him a revelation in this show. This is a character with such mental issues and eccentricities that he could easily be alienating and offputting. Malek approaches this role with such a light touch and a surprising level of charm given that Elliot is all but on the spectrum in a big way that you can’t help but be drawn into his story and root for him to make it out in one piece if not in better shape. Taking all of this and adding a pretty unique addiction to morphine and suboxone makes for a performance that will hopefully garner some attention next time the Emmys decide to hand out some hardware. Malek’s revelatory take is supplemented by performances from Christian Slater, Portia Doubleday, Carly Chaikin, Michel Gill, and Sunita Mani. While more than serviceable these castmates can’t quite touch Malek, a bar that is only cleared by Martin Wallstrom who plays Tyrell Wellick, a non-descript white European man who is gunning for the spot of CTO for Evil Corp., the real antagonist of the show.
Tyrell Wellick is a character that has grabbed hold of my attention in a way that not many characters have recently as Wallstrom walks a fine like between smooth talking charismatic executive and master manipulator hiding back his robotic personality while being manipulated himself by his nearly-as-intriguing wife. This is another role in this series that could easily be played over the top or in a cringe-worthy manner but thankfully this is also knocked out of the park. Wellick plays out on screen like a creature trapped in a human suit driven to near madness by his innate desire for control over others and in general.
All of the aforementioned elements are aided by a unique take on New York City that fits perfectly with the visual tone established and is propelled forward by unique and perfectly suited score by Mac Quayle. With this synth-driven score pulsing through and matching Elliot’s mental state in all the right moments, it makes for a visceral connection that draws you further in than what the narrative has already done up to that point.
With all of the pieces one needs for great television Sam Esmail has capitalized on all of them and crafted together a season of television that has impressed me as much as ‘True Detective’ did in its first outing and has me even more intrigued for the second season. ‘Mr. Robot’ is a must-watch show and that is coming from someone who hates people telling them what new must-see whatever they’re into that week. Don’t sleep on this one as it is so far beyond mad decent that I lack the talent to describe it accurately.