This article contains light spoilers for the first season of Mr. Robot. To those who are at all interested in checking out this show, I recommend closing this page and watching the show completely blind and then coming back to read this article afterwards.
Mr. Robot follows Eliot Alderson, a cybersecurity engineer with a social disorder and a strong distaste for society. Eliot (played by the brilliant Rami Malek) spends his daytime hours working for the cybersecurity firm Allsafe, however by night, he takes on a more mischievous role. Eliot has a proclivity for hacking, a pastime that he engages in almost any time he’s in front of a terminal. Driven by his social anxiety disorder, Eliot hacks into the lives of those around him — his friends, co-workers, and enemies — in order to understand them better and learn what it is like to live a normal life. Through hacking, Eliot discovers what makes people tick; their many wants, desires, and secrets. Whereas most of the secrets Eliot finds are harmless, sometimes Eliot discovers secrets that are far more sinister. This is why at night, Eliot spends his time as a vigilante hacker, exposing the evils of those he hacks — like a coffee shop owner who secretly runs a child pornography website and a husband who is using an alias to cheat on his wife with dozens of unsuspecting women. With the help of Mr. Robot’s outstanding writing, Rami Malek does an excellent job of bringing Eliot to life, as he is an infinitely complicated and conflicted character.
Now I know what you are thinking, “Another hacker show,” but stick with me. Pop culture has done a pretty poor job of portraying hacking in a somewhat realistic fashion; however, Mr. Robot is one exception to this unfortunate reality. Perhaps one of Mr. Robot’s greatest strengths is that its hacking is grounded in reality, and oftentimes shows the simplicity of the hack. Hacking isn’t always found in a line of code or malicious software, as Eliot and other hackers in this series frequently use social engineering to exploit their victims. Mr. Robot shows just how easy it can be to mislead and manipulate people into giving up their information or carrying out an action that these hackers can use to gain their foothold. Social engineering is often just the first step, though, as Eliot and other hackers do spend a fair amount of time in front of a computer in order to execute their hacks.
Furthermore, Mr. Robot is certainly a show for the technology-minded individual, as it doesn’t coddle its viewers by pausing the flow of the story to explain what it is that Eliot is doing while carrying out his many hacks. The show throws around terms like rootkit, honeypot, and R.U.D.Y. attacks with little to no explanation. Refreshingly, Mr. Robot doesn’t hold your hand but instead respects your intelligence and ability to follow along with Eliot’s endeavors. Moreover, unlike many portrayals of hacking in film and television, hacking in Mr. Robot isn’t a spectacle. In this series you won’t find depictions of hacking using CGI and fancy visual effects to make hacking seem more entertaining. Hacking isn’t a super power that Eliot uses to magically find a back door to any problem he faces. Instead, what you will find in Mr. Robot is a deep respect for technology and those who use it.
Eliot’s mission of being a social-justice-serving hacker isn’t the only aspect of his life explored in Mr. Robot. Throughout the series, the focus is shifted onto delving into Eliot’s psyche as he pushes himself to his limit in order to change the world. From the first episode of the series, it’s clear that mental illness is one of Eliot’s many inner demons, his mind haunted by depression, anxiety, paranoia, and delusions. In order to overcome the loneliness and pain of his own mind, he self-medicates with morphine. Eliot’s drug use and a hobby of “hacktivism” are both just forms of escapism, ways to temporarily dull the pain of the many demons plaguing his mind. As the plot progresses, though, Eliot quickly learns that he can run but he cannot hide from his demons. This focus on Eliot’s mind as he suffers from mental illness is an interesting twist that most television series today wouldn’t dare to explore, further setting Mr. Robot apart from the rest of the crowd.
Herein lies another of Mr. Robot’s greatest strengths; its social commentary. A great deal of Rami Malek’s performance is composed of inner monologues in which he speaks directly to the viewer, treating the viewer as a sort of imaginary friend. Because of his inherent shyness, the only time Eliot truly speaks his mind is during these monologues in his head. In these scenes, both Rami’s excellent performance and the show’s superb writing come into full effect, as Eliot lambastes society and contemplates his own sanity. Throughout the series, Eliot comments on the dangers of our consumerist society and the ‘fakeness’ of the internet and social media. Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail hoped to deliver a thought-provoking message through this series, a goal that he certainly achieves through Eliot’s monologues.
That’s not the end of Mr. Robot’s intriguing story, though. Eliot’s day job becomes much more difficult when Allsafe’s largest client, the monolithic corporate conglomerate E Corp, is hit by a major DDoS attack. Being the genius with computers that he is, Eliot is called in to stop the attack and find the hackers responsible. Eliot is more than capable of completing the tasks at hand, but is reluctant to do so because of the conglomerate that he will be helping in the process.
Greatly resembling Abstergo Industries from the Assassin’s Creed franchise (except without the whole Templar Order part), E Corp is the largest and most powerful conglomerate in the world. In fact, E Corp has so much weight in the world’s economy that it controls seventy percent of the global consumer credit industry. Mr. Robot’s antagonist without a face, E Corp is the perfect picture of a conglomerate with absolute power in the world’s economy, an equally interesting and frightening conception. Seeing E Corp as “a perfect monster of modern society,” Eliot has reprogrammed his mind to hear, see, and read the conglomerate’s name as Evil Corp, as he perceives E Corp to be a conglomerate of pure evil. In Eliot’s eyes, the greatest crime against society is that those in control of E Corp “play god without permission.” In spite of all of this, Eliot has to help E Corp, as E Corp is the only client keeping Allsafe afloat.
Little does Eliot know that E Corp wasn’t the only target of the attack and that the attack was actually a trap designed to lure him into joining the hackers’ cause. He discovers that the ones behind the attack are an organized group of hackers known as fsociety: a group whose sole purpose is to bring down E Corp. When Eliot is approached by the leader of fsociety, a mysterious man known only by the name “Mr. Robot,” he finds himself faced with a decision — turn in fsociety to the authorities, or join them.
As events transpire, Eliot finds himself roped into a plot to not only destroy the most powerful conglomerate in the world, but also to erase all records of debt, causing the “single biggest incident of wealth redistribution in history.” Eliot is a key player in this plot, and his decisions will decide whether the world spirals out of control or is freed from its shackles of debt to an oppressive conglomerate — an awe-inspiring set up for a TV series by today’s standards.
Although the spotlight is primarily shown on Eliot, Mr. Robot also follows four other characters — Angela (Portia Doubleday), Eliot’s childhood friend and co-worker at Allsafe; Darlene (Carley Chaikin), a boisterous fsociety hacker; Tyrell Welleck (Martin Wallström), E Corp’s scheming and sadistic Senior Vice President of Technology; and the titular Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), fsociety’s fearless leader. Each of these characters have important ties to Eliot that continue to unravel throughout the series. Although not as interesting as Eliot, these characters add further depth to an already solid plot and help flesh out the many facets of the show’s protagonist.
Likewise, Eliot isn’t the only character to engage in social commentary. Eliot’s rhetoric of the dangers of consumerism and the internet is taken to the extreme with Mr. Robot, the anarchist, anti-capitalist leader of fsociety. Mr. Robot is a brash and charismatic leader — a quality that Eliot is clearly lacking — and uses his voice to expose E Corp’s crimes against society. Mr. Robot and Eliot develop an interesting dynamic throughout the series as they argue over the ethics of their campaign and how far they will go to achieve their goals. Eliot is more reserved and cautious than Christian Slater’s Mr. Robot. On the contrary, Mr. Robot is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, which just so happens to be a societal revolution against a major conglomerate and an overly capitalistic society.
Mr. Robot has cemented itself not only as USA Network’s hottest show but as the current forefront drama in television. Through superb acting, writing, and directing, Sam Esmail has created a show worth watching, and at the very least, a story worth experiencing. With deep storytelling, interesting characters, and thought-provoking commentary, Mr. Robot excels past the current uninventive norm of mainstream television. Do yourself a favor and check out this gem of a series. You can watch the first season online at Amazon Prime Video, while the second season can be watched on USA Network’s website — just be careful what you do online. Also, you can read Evan’s reviews of each episode from season two below, and he will be reviewing each episode as they air going forward. Now excuse me while I go and change all of my passwords and remove all of my information from the internet.